Does the winter time give you the blues? With all the cold we have had lately, it sure can dampen a rider’s spirits. And speaking of dampening, all this rain makes me wonder if I need floaties for my horses? Even in the South, the cold and wet weather can bring on concerns for our horses.

Colic: One of the most serious concerns is that of gut impaction. Many times when the temperatures drop, horses tend to drink less water because the water is so cold. At the same time, they are consuming lots of dry matter (hay) to provide the extra warmth they need from the digestion process. This “perfect storm” of events can quickly lead to colic due to gut impaction from a dehydrated system. Dealing with impaction type colic can be very difficult to say the least. As fall approaches and green grass wanes, transition your horses to dry hay before your grass is gone. The sudden change from the high-water-content green forage to a dry hay, can put the brakes on your horse’s digestive system. Make sure your horses have a free choice mineral available at all times. This is especially important for horses out on pasture where daily water intake may be challenging to monitor. Not only do the minerals balance what may be lacking in the diet, but it encourages your horse to drink. When water troughs freeze over, be sure to break and remove the ice several times per day to allow horses the ample opportunity to drink freely. Provide slightly warm water in those icy conditions if you are able. All of these steps can help reduce the risk of impaction.

Healthy Hooves: Keeping a healthy hoof can be a challenge in our typical rainy Georgia winters. Continual soggy conditions are a big invitation to fungal and bacterial pathogens that cause common diseases like thrush and white line disease especially when there is high concentration of fecal matter. Having pastures subdivided to allow for rotating your horses around is healthier for your pasture and your horses. Create a good routine of picking and cleaning hooves to remove debris also offers you the opportunity to find any problems early. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Blanketing: So, what about blanketing? Can that really pose problems? The answer is: it depends. Georgia winters rarely get into low enough temperatures to merit blanketing pastured horses. I know, I got some raised eyebrows there. We all get that warm, fuzzy feeling to look out and see our horses all snug in their blankets on a cold winter’s day. The fact is that horses on a good nutritional plane begin laying down a layer of insulative fat in the fall to prepare their bodies for winter. If hay is offered free choice, all that hind gut fermentation is like a built-in heater for your horse as they digest the nutrients. That long hair that they grow creates an insulative air space to keep them warm in addition to the added warmth of the extra hair. When we blanket horses, it actually compresses that air space and the hair loses some of it’s insulative properties. A very light blanket on a really cold night will actually cause your horse to be colder because you lose that insulative space of the hair coat. On the other hand, a heavy blanket that may make a horse sweat will also create problems. Turnout blankets also need to be waterproof and changed out after a rain to allow proper drying. A wet blanket on a cold horse can certainly make for a sick horse! Remember to remove the blanket frequently to brush your horse and look for any problems such as rubbing, fungus, etc. Wash blankets frequently to keep a healthy coat and skin. Keeping a proper fit and checking straps to make sure they are not too loose nor too tight is an important safety precaution to check daily. Some situations that merit blanketing are older horses that are hard to keep weight on, pastured horses without any type of shelter or wind break, or an older horse or injured horse that has difficulty moving around. Mobility is so important in keeping a horse warm. All that running and bucking is your horse’s way of creating heat to keep warm.

Lastly, maintaining good nutrition is an important factor to keep all these issues at bay. Whether it is concerning gut health, healthy hooves or keeping your horse warm through the winter, nutrition plays a vital role. Should you have any questions concerning your horse’s proper nutrition, contact your local county Extension agent. They have resources to share with you and
access to UGA Extension nutrition specialist that can help you determine a healthy plan for your horse’s nutritional needs. And remember, don’t let the winter time blues spoil your horse-riding fun!

Pam Sapp, Jefferson County Agriculture & Natural Resources Agent; Guest Writer