Agriculture

Winter Management of Horses

Manitoba's winters can be notoriously harsh and without proper care and management may be detrimental to the health and wellbeing of your horse.

As a horse owner, the starting point for your horse management in the winter should be ensuring that they enter the winter months healthy and well acclimated to the cold weather with a heavy winter coat and adequate fat cover.

This means that your horses should be receiving adequate feed and water, be dewormed in the fall or as advised by your veterinarian and have their teeth examined and floated, if applicable, before winter. This also applies to other animals such as donkeys, mules, llamas and alpacas.


Winter Feeding 

The average adult horse requires 1.5 to 2 per cent of its bodyweight in feed per day to maintain its bodyweight. For example, a 1,000 lb horse requires between 15 to 20 lb of hay per day to meet its daily needs, When temperatures drop below -10 degrees Celcius, the amount of feed required to meet maintenance needs increases and the metabolic rate may increase by up to 50 per cent or more as the body burns more energy to maintain normal body temperatures and organ function. A good rule of thumb is to provide a horse with feed (hay) increase of 50 per cent or more (i.e., 3 per cent or more of its bodyweight) in winter conditions.

Roughage (hay) is very important in a horse's diet. While supplemental concentrates (ex: grain, oil) may be included in the overall feed regimen for horses in winter; daily access to good quality, free-choice hay is of utmost importance. Feeding hay free-choice makes it easier for the horse to consume what it needs to maintain its body temperature, body condition, proper gut function and to stay healthy. A horse's body condition should be routinely assessed and the feeding regimen adjusted accordingly.

Feed testing of hay stores prior to winter is also good practice. This will help to highlight the level of feed supplementation required, if any. Additionally, ensure that horses have free access to a trace mineral salt block.


Water

Access to clean, fresh, "warm" water (5 to 15 degrees Celcius) is very crucial to the overall care of horses in winter. A mature horse needs between 10 to 12 gallons of water per day. If the water is ice cold or frozen, consumption will decrease leading to a decrease in feed consumption, loss of condition, and an inability to maintain its normal body temperature. If water if not palatable or is inadequate, horses will become dehydrated and may suffer from impaction colic.

According to the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Horses, snow alone will not meet the hydration needs of horses and is not acceptable as a sole source of water for equines. Heated water troughs should be provided and should be checked and cleaned daily to ensure that clean and palatable water is always available.


Shelter

Horses must have access to shelter from adverse weather conditions, including cold winds, rain and snow. Shelter may either be natural shelterbelts or man-made.

Adequate amounts of dry bedding should be provided.

Additional insulation may be obtained by using blankets especially for young, old, ill, thin or compromised animals. When blankets are used, they should be removed at least weekly to inspect the horse's condition.


Other Care

  • Exercise: horses require exercise and if kept indoors during the winter, they should be turned out regularly to exercise and socialize with other equines.
  • Hoof care: hooves continue to grow during winter and should be trimmed on a regular basis to prevent injury or discomfort to the horse. 
  • A heavy winter coat can easily hide weight loss. Examine your horses visually on a daily basis and carry out a hands-on assessment regularly to feel the ribs and determine its body condition score (See Body Condition Chart) to ensure your horse is in good health.

For More Information  

If owners have question or concerns about the condition of their animals and winter requirements, they should consult their veterinarian. If Manitobans are concerned about the welfare of an animal, they are encouraged to contact the Animal Care Line at 204-954-8000, toll free at 1-888-945-8001 or animalcare@gov.mb.ca.