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Keeping Your Horse Warm During Winter, by Dr. Getty

Getty in barn small high res-1Horses love  it when there’s  a chill in the air.   But as the winter  temperatures set  in, your horse  will rely on you  to protect him  against extreme cold.   Some areas of the country  have milder winters than others, but no matter  where your horse lives, there are adjustments to  be made.

First, pasture becomes limited or nonexistent  and horses must be fed hay.   Hay loses  many of the nutrients originally found in fresh  grass, such as vitamins E and C, beta carotene  (for vitamin A production), and omega-3 fatty  acids.   In addition, exposure to direct sunlight  declines during winter, limiting your horse’s  ability to produce his own vitamin D.   It is more  important than ever to fill in these nutritional  gaps by providing a vitamin/mineral supplement  that also includes flaxseed meal for necessary  omega-3 fatty acids.

Alfalfa is beneficial for most horses  because when combined with grass hay, it  boosts the overall protein quality.   This helps  protect immune function and keep body proteins  such as muscles, hair, skin, and hooves, in good  condition.   Consider offering your horse a 30/70  mixture of alfalfa/grass hay.

 Hay helps your horse produce body heat  A good rule of thumb “” for every 10 ° F  below freezing (wind chill temperature), feed 10%  more hay than usual.   But better yet, offer grass  hay free-choice.   His digestive system requires a  steady supply of forage and the best way to do  this (and the most convenient for you) is to keep  hay available at all times, day and night.

When more calories are needed  Wet and windy conditions increase energy  needs, making it difficult for your horse to eat  enough if hay is his only feed source.   Depending  on the condition of your horse, and his level of  activity, you may need to add concentrates to the  diet.   A high fat commercial feed is fine for healthy  horses.   For the easy keeper, it is best to avoid  cereal grains such as oats, corn, barley or sweet  feeds.   Beet pulp or alfalfa pellets provide calories  without much starch and sugar.   And don’t forget  fat sources such as rice bran (stabilized and  fortified with calcium), flaxseed meal, and oils “”  they are concentrated sources of calories.

Your older horse may need joint protection  Though a joint supplement may be helpful,  start by adding vitamin C.   As horses age, they  no longer produce as much as when they were  young.   Vitamin C is necessary for collagen  production ““ the protein found in joints.   Omega  3s from flax or chia seeds are also a means of  reducing joint inflammation that is aggravated by  cold weather.

Do you need to blanket your horse?  Don’t rush to blanket your horse.   If he is  healthy, of normal weight, and has a good winter  coat, he can do very well in cold weather.   Your  horse’s winter coat is an excellent insulator,  provided his skin doesn’t get wet.   Therefore,  most horses do not need to be blanketed as long  as they have access to shelter from the wind,  rain, and snow.   If you must blanket your horse, use  waterproof, breathable materials only, and  monitor your horse’s coat under the blanket for  sweating.   When temperatures drop, a wet horse  underneath a blanket can be colder than he  would be with no blanket at all.

Shelter  Turnout is the ideal situation, along with  a three-sided shelter or free access to a barn  to provide protection against severe weather.  If your horse is stalled, make sure the barn is  well ventilated to avoid respiratory problems.   But remember, if a horse is unaccustomed to  stall living, this can be very stressful, resulting  in ulcers and reduced immune function.   So the  more turnout you can provide the better.

About Juliet M.   Getty, Ph.D.   has taught  and consulted on equine nutrition for more  than 20 years.   Please visit https://www. where you will also find  a library of helpful articles, a forum on nutrition,  and a calendar of appearances, interviews and  teleconferences.   Dr.   Getty publishes a free  (and popular) monthly e-newsletter, “Forage  for Thought”; subscribe through the website.   Dr.   Getty serves as a distinguished advisor to  the Equine Sciences Academy, and is available  for individual consultations.

Contact Dr.   Getty  directly at or at  970-884-7187

Helpful supplements  December 2010 Forage for Thought  When hay “¢ is consumed as the main  source of forage, it is a good idea to offer  a good probiotic/prebiotic that protects  the hind gut bacterial population and  keeps the immune system healthy.   “¢ A comprehensive vitamin/mineral  supplement that is flaxseed meal based  will fill in all the nutritional gaps that are  found in hay-only diets.   “¢ Aging horses require vitamin C as well  as omega 3 fatty acids, to reduce joint  inflammation and degeneration.

[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 4, Issue 11.]


Do you blanket your horses occasionally, all the time, or not at all? What brand of blanket(s) do you prefer?

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