Winter horse care can be absolutely brutal, even when we love our horses more than anything.
Everything seems harder in the winter, from frozen water hoses, to ice in buckets and hooves, to worrying if your horse is warm and dry enough.
Winter is when many of us enjoy being outside the least. Unfortunately, the coldest season is exactly when routine daily horse care is more important than ever!
The risk of impaction colic from consuming more hay and drinking less water runs rampant in the winter. Thrush from muddy conditions and scratches (or dermatitis of the pasterns) are also huge winter risks. Rainrot can afflict your horse if it is allowed to remain in wet conditions without the opportunity to dry off. And, if your horse is in work, you need to take extra steps to ensure your horse’s safety and comfort.
Fortunately, there are many products on the market that can make your life a little easier as you count the days for the spring leaves to come out again.
This post contains affiliate links to useful products. That means I gain a small commission if you decide to buy anything from this post. However, I never recommend anything I wouldn’t use myself and promote only quality products. Happy shopping!
You won’t be able to take care of your horse very well if you’re shivering and miserable! Your own safety and comfort should come first, especially if you’re working in subzero conditions.
At a minimum, you need a heavy winter coat, boots with good traction, and warm gloves. Waterproof gloves are perhaps the most important winter accessory; never underestimate how fast gloves get wet in the winter! Even a horse taking a treat from your hand can lead to your fingers catching a chill if your gloves aren’t up to the task.
And, of course, never venture out into the elements without the standard cold gear–scarves, ear protection and the like.
HotHands Hand Warmers - 40 Pack
These 10 hour hand warmers are a godsend if you’re working in truly brutal cold, or are prone to cold hands. The idea is that you stick them in your pockets and can warm up your fingers at any time. They last for 10 hours, so they’re good for at least two daily trips out in the elements.
There are so many blanket options, blanket selection could take up an entire post on its own!
But, there are a few basic things to keep in mind when shopping for a blanket. The most important question is… does your horse even need a blanket?
If your horse grows a thick coat, has access to shelter, and is not body clipped, chances are it doesn’t need a blanket. Each horse’s individual needs should be considered when deciding whether or not to blanket. But, generally speaking, horses with very thin coats, old horses, very young horses, underweight horses, and hard keepers tend to benefit from blankets in the winter.
When selecting a blanket, you need to consider weight. A blanket that works on a blustery but sunny day may be entirely unsuitable in subzero conditions.
Blankets come in the following weights:
- Light (turnout sheet) – for sunny or above freezing winter days, waterproof with protection against wind
- Medium (turnout blanket) – for below freezing conditions; unlike sheets, blankets have padding that provides insulation
- Heavy (turnout blanket + neck cover) – especially important for subzero conditions or for horses who just need the extra warmth
There are certain supplies that make life a lot easier around the stable in the winter. If taken care of properly, these supplies can last for years and years–I had a heated winter bucket that lasted for 20 years before it finally cracked!
There are two main stable supply risks in the winter. The first is frozen water, which necessitates either heated buckets or the means to break the ice in frozen troughs. The second is cold damage to tack.
There is absolutely nothing more important in the winter than making sure your horse drinks a lot of water. Horses are more at risk for colic than ever in the winter. The reason for this is because in the summer, horses naturally get hot and want to drink to cool off. But in the winter, increased hay consumption combined with little instinctive need to drink can spell huge problems.
You can help make sure your horse drinks a lot of water by making it convenient to do so. If your horse is stalled, or has access to a structure with electricity, absolutely use heated buckets. Many studies have been conducted that say horses drink more water if they only have access to heated water. If your only option is to have water in stock tanks, make sure you can frequently break the ice, and that low horses in the pecking order aren’t being prevented from drinking.
In regards to tack, you don’t plan to use any leather tack for a while, it’s worth your while to take it indoors. Leather dries out and cracks in the cold. If it’s tack you’re currently using, conditioning it more often than normal will help keep it supple.
If you’re going to break the ice over a water tank, you absolutely NEED eye protection. If you’re wearing sunglasses, it’s likely good enough–but on those overcast days, take clear eye protection with you to the tank. Ice is like glass, and having chips of ice fly into your eye is no joke.
A standard kitchen strainer can be invaluable when breaking the ice on large water troughs. After breaking the ice on a trough or stock tank, there are floating shards of ice in the water. Instead of leaving these for your horse to sort through, it only takes a few seconds to use the strainer and scoop them out of the surface of the water. This helps keep the ice from getting too thick, too!
Himalayan Pink Salt on a Rope
My horses LOVE Himalayan salt. I can’t seem to get them very interested in loose minerals or more traditional salt licks, but they love licking away at the Himalayan salt. Since salt encourages horses to drink, it’s definitely worth your while to make sure your horse has a salt lick it really loves in the winter.
Huntley Equestrian Leather Conditioner
Leather tack left outdoors, even in a barn, in the winter will dry out and crack. You can keep your tack supple and safe all through the winter by conditioning a little more often than normal. Huntley Equestrian makes a premium quality conditioner that doesn’t leave tack feeling greasy after use.
Flexzilla Garden Hose, 25 feet
There is nothing worse in the winter than having to lug buckets around by hand since your hoses froze. I bought this hose last year to get me through the winter and don’t regret my decision one bit! Not only is it heavier and thicker, which prevents it from freezing quickly, but on extra cold nights I can just roll it up and take it inside overnight to keep it usable.
It’s logical to assume horses wouldn’t need a lot of grooming in the winter, but the opposite is true. Daily grooming is hugely important in the winter. This is especially true if your horse is ridden or driven, wears a blanket, or has a long winter coat.
The reason for this is long hair traps moisture easily. If moisture from sweating or getting rained on stays trapped against the horse’s skin with no way to dry, fungal conditions like rain rot can fester.
The best type of brush to use in the winter is a shedding blade, since it strips away the dead hair that makes it hard for hair to dry.
If your horse is in regular work, you may also consider body clipping your horse with a quality pair of clippers. Even if you don’t want to body clip, if you live in an area that gets lots of mud, clipping your horse’s fetlocks and pasterns can increase their comfort and keep scratches or mud fever (dermatitis) from forming.
If you have snow, it’s important to make sure your horse’s hooves aren’t accumulating ice. Cold metal shoes seem to especially attract snow, but any horse is at risk. Ice can build up and create a slipping hazard, which requires chipping out with a hoof pick for your horse’s safety and comfort.
Oster Turbo A5 Clippers
If you’re in the market for a purchase that will last many years, you can’t go wrong with the Oster A5. My A5 clippers are 13 years old and are still in excellent condition. Just keep them clean and don’t wear them out by using dull blades. Having a pair of clippers is great for both body clipping and tidying up fetlocks and pasterns.
Having the right tools for the job can make even the most brutal winters seem a lot easier to bear.
Your horses deserve the best of care… but sometimes we forget we need to take care of ourselves, too!
Here’s hoping this list provides you with a few sanity-saving ideas to get through winter.