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Friday, 11 September 2020

Autumn & Winter Horse Care Tips

Autumn & Winter Horse Care Tips - Team Tunnah Equestrian

As the summer draws to an end, outside turns into one of my favourites times of year - autumn. With beautiful shades of orange, browns and yellows in fields and trees, and the fresh & crisp feeling of the air on a sunny autumn morning. It's a sure sign that winter is just around the corner and for many of us with horses, that can mean many changes to our routines and how we live our busy equestrian lives.

Horses are very adaptive to any changes of season, and moving into autumn for them is no different, but as horse owners, we need to think ahead and plan how our horse care & routines will change to make sure it's a problem-free and easy transition for all of our horses.

So what tends to change in our horse care as we move through autumn and into winter?

Feeding is first up. Balancing your horse's diet is crucial in the winter to ensure that he stays healthy and is getting everything that he needs. This includes horses that continue to have turn out 24/7 as the vitamins & minerals from the lush summer grass are no-more, so we need to make sure his body still gets these vitals.

Daylight hours reduce. Let's be honest, no equestrians look forward to that part! But it has an impact on your horse. If he continues to have turn out, the chances are, it will be for a reduced period, perhaps going into the field later on a morning, and coming in earlier in the afternoon that he's been used to all summer. But even those who continue to live outside in the field all winter, your horse isn't exposed to the light as much, he has to remain on higher alert during darkness so this is prolonged in the winter, and the grass doesn't see the same light so doesn't grow or provide the same nutrients as it does in the summer months. 

Weather conditions can also play a big part in routine changes. It can mean that horses typically don't see as much turn out if weather conditions are particularly bad, or if field conditions mean that it isn't suitable to have a horse roaming in them. If your horse is stabled for longer during the winter, you need to make sure his needs are taken care of. Take a look at my other blog post that's full of top tips for winter stabling and reasons why horse owners typically choose to stable horses more in the winter.

Less so for your horse, but for yourself, you should consider what maintenance needs to be done around the yard, or jobs that need to be done ahead of winter. Typically, repairing anything that needs to be watertight or even making sure you have clean rugs that will keep your horse warm and dry this winter. Make sure when it comes to rugging your horse, you factor in all the elements to pick an appropriate clip (if needed). If you're not sure as to what clip to give your horse, have a read through all of the different types of clips to see which clip is best for your horse and why.

Team Tunnah Equestrian Autumn & Winter Horse Care Tips

Here's some of my tips and suggestions when it comes to introducing new routines for your horse's care this autumn and winter.

  • Change routines gradually. This is a given for all year and relating to anything, but we see some of the biggest changes to our horses' routines at this time of year, perhaps alongside spring, so it's top of the tips list to maintain a happy & healthy horse

  • Make sure your fields are in good condition for the winter ahead, paying particular attention to the fences, ensuring that there are no gaps, weakened sections or missing rails.Not only do they need to prevent your horse from escaping, but they also need to be strong for any harsh winter winds. Make sure your fields are clear of rubbish, even green waste - if your horse panics in the dark, it's important he isn't going to run over anything he shouldn't

  • Mud fever is common in the winter when wet and muddy conditions present. It can be very helpful to lay hardcore around areas that typically see horses standing - gateways are common. You can also invest in mud fever preventatives in your horse suffers with the condition - creams, washes, barriers and boots are all now available on the market. It's a condition best prevented than treated, so getting on top of muddy conditions can really reduce his chance of having a bad case of mud fever

  • Make sure there is adequate shelter for both wind and rain, especially if you plan to continue a 24/7 routine to your horse's turnout, but even some daylight turnout can present harsh conditions for your horse. Shelters can come in many formats - trees, natural hedge lines or even man-made field shelters. Rugs also provide extra shelter, even for those unclipped horses during particularly wet and windy conditions

  • If you have natural shelter in trees or hedge lines, watch out for berries & seeds that typically fall in September - October. Acorns and sycamore seeds may have fallen from trees during autumn, so if you can, fence these off so your horse can't eat them. Similarly, some hedge lines will present tasty leaves but poisonous berries, so make sure you're aware of what you have and if it could need fencing off for a period

  • Tapeworm needs typically management during the autumn, so part of your horse care routine at this time should be worming for your horse, specifically with a product aimed at tapeworm. Later into the winter, encysted small redworm will need to be focus, and it is essential that your horses are treated for this parasite - they say to wait for the first frost so between November and February is ideal to avoid any emergence ahead of the spring

  • Speaking of frost...You should consider your water pipes are protected from hard frost to prevent them freezing over and leaving you with no way to provide your horse with water. While your stabling is key to look at, you should also consider any pipes supplying your field's troughs too. Make sure on very cold days, you break the ice on troughs and water buckets so your horse always has access to water. You may need to do this several times a day if it's very cold, but especially on a night if your horse is in the field overnight

  • While we're on the topic of frost, it's a colic factor & you should never turn your horse out onto a field full of frosty grass. And one that not many people know, as it is typically associated with spring grass and lush summer grazing, but laminitis can also be a problem in autumn and winter with cool nights and warm temperatures during the day, sugar levels in the grass accumulate and can be high, leading to cases of laminitis if not managed correctly

  • The grass changes in the autumn and winter, and we should remember its nutritional make-up is dependant on the weather conditions, not the month or season of the year. That means we can't say that we need to be reactive and adaptive to the conditions - a warm winter won't see you needing to top up nutrients in supplements and hard feeds the same as a very harsh and cold winter. But make sure you are prepared and know what additional vitamin supplements you'll need to give to your horse to ensure he doesn't become deficient in any

  • And, finally, think about enrichment for your stabled horse. Pulling him out of the stable for 45 minutes in the arena a day isn't enough for his mental wellbeing and needs. He needs to be kept occupied while he is confined, and with mental stimulation. There are literally hundreds of products on the market that can help with this, some very simple and cheap, others are more complex and require investment. One of the simplest ways is using a small haynet, chopping carrots & apples into slices, and stuffing it deep into the net. It will provide your horse with a few hours of trying to find all the pieces. I say a small net, as even if you feed from the floor, a small net for a few hours will not create long-lasting damage to his muscles if you continue to have hay also on the floor

Whatever routine and lifestyles you provide for your horse this autumn and winter, make sure his needs are cared for, and that seasonal consideration is given to your everyday horse care. Maybe you've got some tips of your own? If so, just drop them in the comments below.


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