Winter welfare tips
World Horse Welfare cares for around 300 horses at any one time across our four UK Rescue and Rehoming Centres. Even at our most northern centre, Belwade Farm in Aberdeenshire, horses are only rugged if they are clipped, particularly elderly, underweight or thin-skinned.
Deputy Chief Executive Tony Tyler says: "The majority of horses can cope very well in cold weather as long as natural or man-made shelter is provided from the rain and wind. The digestion of fibre such as hay or haylage generates heat which keeps them warm from the inside out and native ponies grow their very own rugs so shouldn't need to wear one at all!"
Here are some top tips on looking after horses and ponies in snowy conditions:
- A constructed shelter or hedge will ensure that your horse can find protection from the elements.
- If your horse has to be rugged, always have a spare one available so you can swap if it gets very wet. It's important to remove and re-adjust rugs every day so you can check your horse thoroughly.
- Be careful not to over rug your horse. It could overheat and too many rugs will prevent air circulation.
- If your horse lives out 24/7, keep a close eye on their legs. In deep and prolonged snow, their legs are not able to fully dry off, which can cause skin conditions.
- If your grazing is sparse and covered by snow put some hay or haylage out to compensate. However, if your horse is not used to hay or haylage as part of its diet, you may cause problems by suddenly introducing it so if snow is persistent, introduce the forage gradually over a number of days.
- Apply petroleum jelly to the underneath of the horse's hooves - particularly during exercise - to prevent snow balling up. Remember to remove it all afterwards as it can be a breeding ground for bacteria in warmer weather.
- Have some sand available to use on icy paths.
- Check the horse regularly for any changes in bodyweight by using a weighbridge or tape. You may be riding less, or increasing the amount of time that your horse is stabled, which means that it is burning fewer calories.
- Make sure fresh water is always available by breaking any ice.
- Check your fencing regularly and remove any snow and ice from electric tape as the extra weight can bend and break plastic poles.
- Remember that when the snow melts, the ground will be soft and easy to churn up. To avoid injury and mud fever, take steps to stop the ground being disturbed. Moving your horse to different fields to graze will help. Or you could change the point at which you enter the field so that you don't disturb the same area repeatedly. Move water troughs regularly if possible and cover particularly muddy areas with straw or sand.
These tips are general guidelines only - each horse has different requirements. If you have any questions, please contact the World Horse Welfare Advice Line on 01953 497238