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Caring for horses in cold weather

Radio interview source: Peggy Miller, Equine Extension Specialist, Iowa State University

Listen: Caring for horses in cold weather

Whether or not you ride your horses in the winter, the cold wind and snow are a huge demand on their bodies.

When horses have a chance to grow out their coats, they are well-adapted to the blustery winters. But equine Specialist Peggy Miller at Iowa State University says for horses to keep up their energy level and body weight, they need more food. And for every degree the temperature drops below 30, they require about one-percent more energy.

The best way to provide this is with forage or hay.

"If you can provide more of a grass hay, that will provide even more heat because it is digested in the hind gut where the microbes can be exposed to it for a longer period of time and they produce more heat for the horse," Miller says. "Let's say it drops from 30 to 20 degrees, most horses will need two to four pounds of extra hay to keep their body weight. If it gets colder then you increase it a little bit more."

Make sure there's plenty of fresh water, too. Eating snow doesn't count. Horses drink on average ten gallons per day, so heat the water in the tank to at least 45 to 65 degrees.

Miller advises letting horses outside often to ward off boredom and reduce the chance of respiratory diseases. If horses stay outside all winter, have a good tree line or three-sided shelter for protection from the wind.

After working your horse during cold weather, never put him up when he's still hot to the touch or breathing hard.

"You have to make sure that especially their chest area is cool and to do that you walk them, and it may be hand walking, sometimes you ride them and walk them just to make sure they're cooled down," Miller says. "You want that chest cool because if you put them away hot, it may lead to some type of respiratory problem. To maintain the health of the horse, you want to make sure that that horse is cooled down."

Clean off caked-on mud and snow from a horse's legs to avoid soreness and ulceration. And icy hooves can be slippery, so get off as much snow as possible with a hoof pick.

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