Equine Physical Therapist, Massage and Treatments for your horse

Winter regimes. It doesn’t have to be as gloomy as the weather!

Author: jenadamson

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Date Published: 3rd December 2019

I think we can all agree, Winter can be a really tricky time with our horses.  Long dark nights, adverse weather conditions and restricted or reduced turnout can seriously disrupt everything from exercise regimes to feeding routines and much more.

It’s cold, dark, windy, wet and slippy… And that might be a good day!

So when our friends have to be stabled more frequently and for longer each day, what can we do to help with boredom, stress, lack of exercise and energy levels?  And how can we adapt their exercise regimes accordingly and maintain their bodily systems in good general health?

Routine! Routine! Routine!

As difficult as it may seem, routine is the key to maintaining a good balance during the Winter months.  The days are shorter so feeding times and length of time between feeds and haynets will probably be longer than during the lighter months. As horses are trickle feeders, these extended periods without food will undoubtedly cause stress, boredom and even digestive related issues.  It’s essential that we adjust according to the longer nights by providing additional forage to last through the night or using extra small hole haylage nets to make the forage last for longer.  Small changes can make a big difference.

Keep it moving

Exercising your horse can definitely be challenging in the winter months! The weather can really get in the way…rain all day, frozen ground, reduced daylight hours or a howling wind that can really bring the arena monsters out on every corner.  Added to this, if horses are stabled for longer with limited turnout it’s even more important that they have regular daily exercise.  Lunging, hand walking, ride and lead, long reining, are all useful alternatives if we need to think outside the box!

The White Stuff

And for the ultimate challenge… the white stuff!  Even with snow on the ground it is still possible to exercise.  Take the time to dig a track to the arena and then a slim 20m circle or oval in the arena, and you can safely do a 20 – 30 minute hand walk or long rein once or twice a day.

Top tip: Once you have dug your track, make sure you grit / salt it to prevent any thawing snow from freezing on subsequent nights.  Time spent on the first day of any snow fall will pay off as your track will need minimal maintenance. 

Super charged horse?  or just “fresh” 

Most of us have experienced or described our horses “fresh, especially during the Winter. We need to plan carefully to reduce the peaks of energy by maintaining daily exercise, reducing calorie intake (swap haylage to hay, reduced hard feed etc) and reducing stress levels.  And of course turnout when ever possible will really help.

Boredom

Horses are not really meant to be stabled, so it’s important that we recognise this, and work with them to alleviate some of the issues created by stabling. Here are some ideas to help reduce boredom.

  • If their usual routine is seriously compromised it is a good idea to adjust their daily exercise by splitting their sessions in to 2 -3 shorter ones, if your schedule allows it.
  • Daily grooming becomes vitally important when they are stabled for longer. So even if you assume you have got off lightly by not having to rake the mud of a freshly rolled horse, think again. If you groom anyway, the positive effect that it will have on your friend will speak volumes.
  • Carrot stretches and groundwork will create interest, help with their physical well being and give their brains great stimulation during long periods stabled.
  • A treat ball with low calorie fibre nuts and also different plaements of haynets around the stable will all be helpful in breaking up their day.

Chill (in the chill)

Stress can be quite an individual thing for each horse. Some horses will stay in on their own and others hate it, so it’s all about working out what’s best for your horse. As a rule it’s better for them if they can see other horses and have company. Your horse may appreciate ‘scratching time’ with another horse? Let them do this where possible, it’s totally natural. Continuity with daily exercise, grooming and carrot stretches can help to alleviate not only boredom but stress too. Sometimes moving stables so they can see outside, or giving them turnout in the yard or arena, whatever you have access to.

Digestion is key

Their digestive system is another really important consideration in the winter months. Colic and dehydration  can be serious issues, often triggered by lack of movement and reduced water intake. Here are a few handy tips to help adjust your feeding regime.

  • Daily exercise increases blood flow, prevents muscle wastage, and keeps their bodily systems moving, including the digestive system.
  • Water might be frozen or very cold during the winter possibly leading to reduced intake. Many horses will be more inclined to drink slightly warm or tepid water, so its worth diluting their water with warmer water to encourage them to drink, and of course reduce the risk of their water freezing all together.
  • It may not seem directly influencing, but trickle feeding is a strong factor in the level or stress that a stabled horse may experience. Several small haynets throughout the day would be better than one haynet that can be eaten quickly, and a variety of different forage foods in the stable would also help.
  • Also it may be worth considering a digestive supplement for the winter months, to ensure their digestive system is fully functioning while they are stabled.

All in all, unfortunately there isn’t one quick fix that will enable you to keep your horse happy, fit and healthy during the Winter months. But with careful management and a little bit more planning (and grafting in the snow by you!) there are many options to improve the well being and physical wellness of your horse.

If there is any aspect of this article that you would like more information on, or if you have a query about how these suggestions could work for you, then please get in touch.