The British winter can be very hard for animals that are kept outside. Horses and ponies that are native to Britain have evolved to withstand our cold and harsh weather, therefore if these animals are given the chance to adjust to their surroundings they will handle the cold better than what we would expect.
Despite these horse's natural hardiness it is always a good idea to go through a few tips and reminders on how to help your horse cope with the cold season. It is also important to remember that breeds that are originally from warm countries are not naturally prepared to handle our winters and additional support becomes even more important for these horses.
All equines grow a winter coat, an extra layer of hair that helps them keep their body heat. This hair is coated with waterproof oils, which protects them from the rain and the snow. Excessive grooming can remove some of these oils from their haircoat, reducing its waterproof properties.
The balance between your horse's energy intake and energy output is essential to deal with winter's low temperatures. It's very important to provide plenty of hay or haylage so your horse has lots of fibres to digest. This will compensate for the reduced amount of grass that is being ingested and will help them fight the cold. The fermentation process in their gut produces considerable amounts of heat that literally warms them up from the inside out.
If you decide to do any changes in the amount of hard feed being offered to your horse please remember to introduce them gradually, as sudden diet changes are more likely to cause colic.
It's not uncommon for their water to freeze during winter's cold nights which means that they will be left without a water source for several hours. Please check their water in the morning and make sure they always have drinkable water throughout the day. Unlike what most people might think, a horse can easily drink more water during winter since it will be consuming a lot more dry food and less grass.
Winter rugs are a great way to keep your horse warm and there is a wide variety of them to choose from. Please make sure you take their rugs at least once a day to check underneath it and to give your horse's skin the chance to breath. If hair or humidity starts to build up under the rug, not only it will become itchy and uncomfortable for the horse but it can also lead to skin problems.
Having a safe shelter to protect your horse from the wind is always recommended. A shelter, closed on three sides, with an area of clean bedding provides a safe and comfortable spot for the horse to lie down. It is also very useful during summer.
Providing an appropriate diet, a good quality winter rug and a field shelter can help your horse go through winter with a lot more comfort. Please remember to check on your horse at least twice a day and keep an eye on its body condition to make sure he or she is doing well.
Read the previous article: Ethylene glycol - The deadly substance in antifreeze