Care for your horse during the winter months

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MADISON, Wis. – Living outside and surviving through the winter months can be stressful for a horse.
However, by following a few simple health care practices and managerial procedures, University of Wisconsin-Extension equine specialist Liv Sandberg says horse owners can provide more desirable living conditions and keep horses more comfortable during the cold weather.
Most horses can acclimate to the colder temperatures. They have two lines of defense against the cold weather – having ample body flesh and growing a thick hair coat.
Feed and water. Increasing available energy is the most important feeding requirement for the winter months. An ample supply of high quality hay will help provide a continuous source of energy and heat throughout the day.
You also can feed concentrates twice a day to horses that are harder to keep in good flesh. Continue to provide salt and minerals using a salt/mineral block or as part of the concentrate ration.
Because horses are consuming more fiber, it’s important to provide plenty of fresh water, at a temperature higher than 45 degrees Fahrenheit, to maintain proper digestive activity and decrease the risk of impaction colic.
Shelter. Exposure to cooler temperatures through the fall will stimulate a thicker hair coat, preparing the horse for the cold weather.
You should also provide additional shelter as protection from freezing rain, sleet, wind and severe storms.
Common forms of shelter include a grove of trees, a windbreak wall, a three-sided open shed, or a stall.
Regardless of the type of shelter, make sure all horses can take shelter when needed, including the inferior horse within the herd.
Hooves. Maintain routine hoof care through the winter. Shoes should be removed unless the horse has hoof problems or will be ridden during the winter.
Normal shoes decrease traction and collect “snow balls,” which cause unnecessary strain on tendons, ligaments and muscles in the legs and make it difficult for the horse to move.
Applying a form of oil on the soles can temporarily decrease snowball buildup. If shoes are necessary, your farrier can recommend snowball pads and traction enhancers.
Health check. Before winter, update fall vaccinations and plan to vaccinate pregnant mares for Rhinopneumonitis during their fifth, seventh and ninth month of gestation.
Continue rotational deworming practices through the winter months. Following a hard frost and the decline in the fly population, administer a deworming product that is effective in breaking the bott parasite cycle.
Effective products contain ivermectin, avermectin, or moxidectin. If you remove visible bott eggs from the skin, there will be less parasite winter carryover.
As always, to ensure appropriate vaccination protocols, deworming protocols and special health care needs for your horses, consult your attending veterinarian.

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