Owning a horse or pony is a joy and a privilege, but of course that comes with the responsibility for their welfare. While the vast majority of owners are vigilant about their horse’s health and comfort all year round, it is always useful to make sure you are well prepared in advance for the colder and wetter months ahead.
Assess the individual needs of your equine
Any advice on equine care will always be general, because they are all individuals with their own specific needs. For example, native ponies such as the Highland and Dartmoor are well adapted to the British climate, with thick waterproof coats, and a natural foraging instinct.
Warm bloods and cross breeds tend to have thinner skin and coats, and are generally less hardy. If your horse or pony is elderly or in poor health, they will also need some extra attention in winter.
Feeding horses in winter
Equines who are kept out in winter should have access to adequate levels of grazing. If the pasture is muddy or sparse, the grass should be topped up with good quality hay or haylage. Build up the amount you give them gradually, as a sudden change can upset their digestive systems.
Horses who are stabled, and/or in regular work during the winter, may need their diet supplementing with extra fibre and protein. This may also apply to any equine in poor condition, to help with the balance of vitamins and minerals in their diet.
Elderly animals may have poor teeth which makes foraging difficult, and they need pellets or cubes soaked into a mash. Guard against dehydration by keeping water troughs ice-free, and topping them up with warm water if your horse is reluctant to drink.
There are plenty of bagged pony pellets horse feed to choose from, so it is worth having a chat with your vet about which type will suit your horse or pony best. Those which contain cereal, such as oats and barley, are higher in energy than those which are fibre-based, such as alfalfa or sugar beet.
Rugging horses in winter
It is important to remember that horses and ponies do not feel the cold in the same way as humans do, and most do not need a rug in temperatures above 5°c. However, equines who live out over the winter should have access to a secure field shelter to give protection from the wind and rain.
Horses who have clipped coats, or who are very lean and without much body fat to keep them warm, will need rugging up sooner than healthy animals with a thick coat. If you do rug your horse, take care to make sure that it fits well, and doesn’t rub them anywhere.
Check their feet often in wet weather
If your horse is kept out all winter and the conditions are wet, chances are the ground will become waterlogged and muddy. Keep an eye on their legs and hooves for any sign of infection, and rotate your grazing land if possible. If you do not have room for this, cover up the worst boggy ground with sand or straw.