Horses and Cold Weather

With winter upon us, and some regions of the Country (USA) are experiencing extreme cold weather for their areas, additional care is needed for our horses.

First and foremost as a guideline, a typical horse (weight around 1,000 pounds) needs 15-20 pounds (depending on activity) of quality forage per day to maintain their body weight to 32 degrees Fahrenheit (for more detailed analysis see iGrow SDSU Extension February 2011).  So for every 10 degrees below 32 degrees, a typical horse will need 3 pounds of additional forage or .66 pounds of additional grain to properly maintain their body weight and protect them from the cold.  I prefer a mixture of forage and grain, so that I can easily make adjustments in the amount of feed fed to my horses in correlation to changing weather conditions.

For grain, I prefer Nutrena Empower Boost which is a high fat rice bran supplement (Please note I am not endorsing this product for you, but rather saying what works for me).  Most of my horses are fed a pound to two pounds per day, depending on body size of Boost through the winter.  With Boost, I have noticed that my horses coats (pelage) become extremely fluffy and thick also, and having a good thick layer of insulation is an added benefit to keeping warm.

Do not dramatically change your horse’s diet over night!  Rather, gradually make adjustments in your horses diet until you have reached the desired feeding ration.  Horses do not like their diet changed dramatically, and if you do so, you run a strong risk of horse colic.  Winter doesn’t just come overnight, plan a head and a way to plan ahead is to take your average monthly lows and feed accordingly a month in advance so that your horse is properly heated(insulated) from the inside out.  Then make adjustments to changing weather conditions.  Stay ahead of Mother Nature!

It is also extremely important to have clean fresh water available to your horses at all times.  In some areas water heaters will be necessary to avoid the freezing of water troughs.  Also, having salt available, whether it is a salt block or crushed rock salt, will help encourage your horse to drink water during cold weather.  Your horse should be drinking about 10 gallons of water per day, even in cold weather.

Remember all horses are different and will be effected differently with cold weather.  Body size plays a role, as larger horses, typically can regulate their body heat better than a smaller horse.  Environmental factors play a role too, such as wind and the type of shelter provided for your horse.  Be smart and take care of your horse.

Slash at 24 years of age in -10 degree weather.

Author’s note: I do not blanket my horses.

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