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Winter Care Considerations




For many pleasure and competition horses, the winter months are time to unwind and enjoy a well-earned break.  However, turning horses out for winter is less common in the modern era, as many enthusiasts train at specialist facilities, which include all weather riding surfaces or an indoor arena.

Eurohunter RugExercise is good for people and also good for horses, so winter activity adds to the health and wellbeing of all concerned.  Owners who take a holistic approach to winter management will reap the rewards, as paying special attention to general horse care; exercise, feeding and rugging will ensure that no undetected changes can develop into serious health or management problems.

Owners should not neglect regular hoof care, worming and vaccinations just because their horse is taking it easy.   It is important to inspect the horse’s feet daily (if possible) and keep hooves trimmed and well maintained to minimise the risk of water damage, foot abscesses and other conditions such as seedy toe and thrush.  Routine oiling and removing the horse to dry ground for a period every day, will keep the hooves water resilient, healthy and strong.

Raisheet ComboWinter places an increased demand on the horse’s energy requirements and it is well accepted that a good rug is worth a bucket of feed a day!  The right choice of rug is an important consideration, for the comfort of your horse and the benefit of your wallet.

Winter feeding requires special consideration and it is recommended to give horses access to grazing.  With the slowed growth of pasture grasses, there will be reduced “green pick” so careful paddock management is required, this ideally means resting and rotating grazing areas.  If such management is not possible, free access to clean pasture hay should be offered. The horse’s digestive system relies on significant quantities of low nutrient roughage to make up the majority of the daily energy requirement.

Adequate pasture and/or hay is essential and horse owners are advised to pay special attention to the individual feeding requirements for each horse/pony in order to maintain an ideal body weight and keep them nourished, sound and healthy during the colder months.  It is important to check the horse’s condition regularly, as rugs can hide weight loss that would normally trigger a call to action and change of diet.

Woollen RugPasture and hay contains much higher fibre content than grains and concentrates and this roughage is broken down in the horse’s gut by bacterial fermentation within the cecum and large intestine.  This process produces heat, which helps to keep the horse warm, from the inside.

It is important not to make a sudden change to a horse’s diet or to increase the grain or ration of concentrates, thinking that this will keep him warm or cheer him up in miserable weather!  Even though winter is not usually associated with Laminitis (founder), increased grain in the horse’s diet presents risks and in severe cases of Laminitis, the pressure in the hoof can causes the pedal bone to rotate and affect the horse’s soundness and freedom of movement, which will compromise the horse’s action for the rest of it’s life.  Laminitic horses are prone to other foot problems such as “seedy toe” and separation of the hoof walls, which will be ongoing and troublesome – particularly in winter.  Healthy hooves are a great example of “prevention is better than cure”!

The horse’s water intake will be reduced during winter months but it is very important to ensure that horses with free access to hay are drinking well, as they could be at risk of impaction colic if they do not drink enough to “wet down” their dry roughage diet.  Checking that the water source is clean and plentiful is a must.

NRG StockgainMany owners do not favour automatic waterers, as it is impossible to observe whether or not the horse has been drinking.  For colic prone horses, it is wise to disconnect automatically filling drinkers and place a large container, which needs filling and can be monitored.  Horses can be encouraged to drink more by adding a favourite flavour such as NRG Stockgain or NRG Apple Cider VinegarApple Cider Vinegar to their water.  They may need to become accustomed to this, but when the horse recognises an additive as a treat, they can be encouraged to drink water that comes from an unfamiliar source such as a different dam or treated town water.  Check for NRG products at your nearest Saddleworld Store.

Throughout the entire year horses are constantly shedding hair and growing a new coat to accommodate the changing seasons.  The horse will lose the summer coat in early Spring and very quickly, a longer double layered winter coat comes through to insulate and waterproof the horse and help to maintain a comfortable body temperature – even without a rug.

Rugging saves grooming time and helps to keep horses clean and sleek.  An unrugged winter coat is difficult to manage and horses seldom look their best, as they have a “goose bump” reaction to being cold (just like us) and this makes their coat stand out, to trap warm air that makes an “air bubble” of insulation to cocoon their body.  Sadly, this is not the look that a horse-proud owner is aiming for, as no one wants to have his or her horse resembling a “woolly mammoth”.

Canvas RugHorses grow a long thick coat as nature’s protection against the elements, but on warmer days or during work, a winter coat can lead to over heating and riders are challenged to find the right management for changeable and cold weather.  Horses in full winter coat are prone to excessive sweating and this sometimes means that the horse is returned to the paddock after work, still wet and likely to stand and become uncomfortably cold and shiver to get warm. A wet rug will take a long time to dry and the horse will be colder than if not rugged at all.

Horses with a full winter coat and kept in work will sweat freely when exercised and the rider will probably need to consider having their horse clipped to ensure that the long wet coat does not make the horse uncomfortable.  Expert horse clipping contractors are available to advise and do the job, which will probably need to be done twice through the winter season.  A trace clip will take off selected areas of long hair where the horse sweats during work.  This clip leaves the winter coat where the horse most needs the warmth and protection that nature intended, but keeps the sweat prone areas dry and easy to maintain.

ComboPrudent horse management over winter will include good quality waterproof rugs, with spares in the cupboard to ensure that horses are kept dry and warm – even when it rains for days on end and a dry replacement is required.  It is recommended to change rugs regularly and turn them inside out so that they air to refresh the lining.  Brushing or sponging the lining can help prevent skin irritations and give owners the opportunity to check for wear or broken fittings, which may expose the horse to danger.  A broken leg fitting will allow the rug to slip and cause fear or flight, which can have disastrous consequences.

Buying cheap rugs is false economy as they are seldom waterproof, often ill fitting and cause rubbing or chafing.  The fabrics and manufacturing process do not meet best practice standards as cheap fabrics and weak threads are used.  Rugs fall apart with broken fittings and snap locks inviting accidents and injury.

Careful consideration to the objectives of rugging, will ensure that the horse is protected from cold winds and winter rain, but not at risk of overheating, should the weather warm up.  Modern synthetic rugs provide warmth with the convenience of lightweight materials and easy care features.  Synthetics are a good option for horses with adequate shelter to enable them to get out of the direct sun.  On sunny winter days, synthetic rugs can lead to over heating and excessive sweating.   Synthetics do not breathe as well as natural fibres and the warm nylon fill and lining magnifies and traps the radiant heat and the horse’s  long winter coat accelerates the warmth. 

Jersey RugIn such circumstances the horse will overheat and sweat, saturating the rug lining or under-rug and causing discomfort which could lead to the onset of skin irritations or loss of mane which can be hard to rectify.  If the horse’s neck and mane become overheated, it is common for hair roots to become moist with a weakening of the hair follicle and resultant hair loss. It can be difficult to encourage the hair to grow back and a permanently balding mane area can result from over-rugging and not giving the mane area the chance to “breathe”.

Many modern rugs are labeled with a warmth factor rating and it is good practice to “layer” just as humans do when dressing for changeable weather.  If a “what rug” decision must be made early in the morning when it is still cold, it is better to under-rug than over-rug.  Horses are better equipped to handle the cold than the heat and a lightweight, but waterproof rug that protects from biting winter winds, is the best way to keep your horse comfortable.

Eurohunter RugWinter riding and enjoying the delights of the season can add a wonderful dimension to your horse experience.   Planning your activities to fit in with reduced daylight hours, wet paddocks and days of rain will mean that you are prepared for everything that the season brings and you will make winter a time of great adventures with minimal inconvenience to horses or people.

Saddleworld stock a wide selection of high quality and very competitively priced Eurohunter synthetic rugs in all weights and warmth factors as well as more traditionally manufactured rugs made with natural fibres such as canvas and wool – there is a rug to suit every horse and every rugging requirement.

Be sure to ask how each Eurohunter rug performs in order to make the right choice for your horse.  Eurohunter Rugs are made exclusively for Saddleworld Stores, from top quality materials and will give years of wear and service.

The beautiful rugs featured in this article are part of the extensive Eurohunter Rug range at Saddleworld Stores.

Article by Saddleworld Media.