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In the fairytale-like winter, an abundance of snow is followed by a cold snap, and the snow ensures a firm grip on the frozen ground. Unfortunately, winters like this are a rare occurrence. When the winter weather shifts from constant rain, it often leads to an initial freeze, followed by delayed snowfall.

This can be problematic since the snow may conceal the black ice, leading to potential challenges for horses with one or two slides ahead of them. Due to their hooves, larger size, and greater weight compared to dogs and cats, a slip on a concealed patch of ice can prove fatal for horses, in the worst case even resulting in a broken leg.

Hence, exercise extra caution when walking in winter, and make sure to clear snow from frequently used pathways, including those used by horses. If left unattended, the snow can clump together, thawing during the day and freezing overnight, transforming into a slippery surface, resembling a great slide the following day. If needed, you can also spread sand or shavings in especially hazardous areas to prevent slips for both people and horses. This advice is relevant not just for the paths around the yard but also for the turnouts!

While riding through the snow, always be mindful that packed snow or ice might be concealed beneath the loose snow on frequently used paths. Opt for riding alongside the path or directly across the meadow, ensuring the snow layer is thick enough to avoid damaging the turf. When uncertain, it’s preferable to dismount and lead the horse a few meters rather than risking a fall together.

© Adobe Stock / Tanja Esser

As soon as snow falls, it’s crucial to promptly equip shod horses with snow grips. It’s advisable to use the grips right from the beginning of winter. It’s akin to having winter tires on your car: better to have them and not need them than risk an accident due to their absence. When things go awry, the consequences for a horse can be as costly as they are for a car.

Fortunately, barehoof horses don’t require grips; their hooves are naturally designed so that snow easily falls out of the sole. Nevertheless, if the snow becomes sticky, ‘plateau soles’ can develop, depending on the shape of the hoof.

During winter, everyone in the stable should stay vigilant to this, and a hoof pick should always be readily available to quickly assist affected horses in the turnout. If you prefer not to risk sliding with your horse, it’s advisable to avoid trail riding in snowy conditions.

Despite the winter, it may not always be necessary to unwrap the thermal blanket. Horses are naturally well-insulated against cold and snow thanks to their winter coat. In contrast, many horses find joy in being snowed in and rolling around in the snow. Despite their enjoyment of the snow, it’s crucial to have shelter available for sensitive horses to seek cover and escape the wind.

On the other hand, older or lean horses, as well as breeds like many thoroughbreds that don’t develop a robust winter coat, often appreciate having a rain rug during winter. The thickness of the rug should be adjusted based on the horse’s condition and the prevailing weather. As a general guideline, waterproof and windproof rugs typically don’t require a thick lining.

Older horses are generally appreciative when provided with the option to stay in a stable or a small, separate area in the open yard during unpleasant winter evenings, particularly in wet and cold conditions. This allows them to stay out of the wind and dry off.

Furthermore, it’s crucial to ensure that horses always have an ample supply of hay during cold temperatures. The large intestine, responsible for digesting hay, acts as a kind of built-in heater in every horse. A significant amount of heat is generated during the hay fermentation process, constituting the major source of the horse’s core body warmth.

Hence, they require hay for warmth. The colder the weather, the more hay they need. On the contrary, providing large quantities of concentrated feed, protein, or oil is not only unnecessary but also counterproductive. In the small intestine, they undergo digestion and contribute significantly less heat energy, placing additional strain on the metabolism. A mash also provides limited assistance.

Simply because a warm stew ‘warms you up’ for humans doesn’t imply the same for horses. While mash is undoubtedly popular, it doesn’t play a role in generating heat. Offering hay ad libitum (until saturation), ideally through close-meshed hay nets, is a preferable alternative in this case.

In cases where the amount of ingested hay isn’t sufficient as an energy source, warm soaked hay pellets and/or sainfoin pellets are also advisable. This enables an increase in the amount of roughage, as horses can absorb this form more quickly compared to hay. After all, hay pellets do not require prolonged or strenuous chewing. This aspect holds particular significance for older horses and those facing dental problems.

© Adobe Stock / Rita Kochmarjova

Using warm water not only reduces the time the hay pellets needs to thouroughly soak but also enhances the palatability of the mash for horses, while aiding in increased water absorption. In cold weather, the shortage of water is a significant concern, even when the drinking troughs and vats have not frozen yet. Cold water often leads to insufficient water intake in many horses, elevating the risk of constipation colic. Warm-soaked pellets serve as a nutritious and healthful supplement.

This combination of measures should see any horse through the cold days.