Winterizing your horse

Winter Rests

Winter can be a great time to give a barrel horse a vacation from the stress and pressures of competition. Many riders believe that a month of rest restores a lot of the desire and edge that a horse can lose during a busy season of barrel racing.  Like people, horses can get tired and burned-out and sometimes just need some time off to rejuvenate themselves. But while a horse is technically “resting” he still needs exercise.  The goal is to let them “let down a little, but not get completely out of shape.  Light exercise and letting them play outside daily is the rule. This is also a great time if he is sore. Let him rest and get over it. Remember, even though they are resting, they need physical activity to stay healthy.  Never, ever, just leave a horse in a stall to rest.  Make sure he gets out every day, and keep in mind that daily grooming is still necessary.

Priefert walkers are wonderful for the winter
 months to help keep your horse in shape and
the horses seem to enjoy it!

Martha uses her Oster Grooming products
to help keep Harvey looking his best.
Oster has just released a hot new Pink Grooming set!

 Eating Warm 

According to an article in the QUARTER HORSE JOURNAL, contrary to popular belief, feeding grain will not appreciably increase a horse’s body warmth, but feeding increased roughage will.  The heat of digestion (in terms of calories) is greater and lasts longer from hay than from concentrates.  The article also states that it is most beneficial to feed a horse several hours in advance of a winter storm rather than during it.  It seems that immediately after a large meal, blood is concentrated around and in the digestive tract, rather than in the muscles where it is needed for warmth. The same article suggests increasing the horse’s ration 10 percent for every ten degrees below freezing.  According to this article, horse that are fed less than is necessary to combat cold and wind will burn fat and muscle by shivering to keep warm, and will lose weight. 

Blanket Savvy 

Good blankets and hoods are expensive, so take care of them! Blankets must be cleaned at least twice during the winter by washing in cold water with a mild soap. Repair little rips and tears immediately, before they become big ones. Make sure the blanket fits the horse. Too small blankets can cause rub marks and sore spots on the withers, shoulder, chest and hips. Too large blankets can slip and twist possible causing injury if a horse becomes entangled in them. Watch for overheating. A sudden warm afternoon can result in a sick horse if he is allowed to keep on the same blanket he wore during the night. What is appropriate for a low, nighttime barn temperature might be too much for a sunny paddock or run. Visit Rambo Quarter Horse for all your blanket needs.


Winter Horse Care

Winter can mean hardship for the horse and an inconvenience for the owner, but proper year-round care will help a horse be in the best condition to face winter’s stresses.  It will also minimize winter health scares. Horses should be dewormed every sixty days no matter what the season.  Vaccinations for influenza and rhinopneumonitis should be given as well before the cold, wet weather of the fall and repeated every 90 days for horses constantly exposed to situations associated with these respiratory infections. Winter-specific stresses include cold, wet, wind, lack of exercise, and owner disinterest. As long as the weather is sunny and calm, horses can withstand temperatures well below freezing.  Their winter coats are designed to trap body heat next to the horse’s skin.  When it really gets cold, pilo-erector muscles make the hair stand up, which increases its insulating capabilities. But wind separates the hairs, breaks the heat seal, and robs the body of warmth. Snow, sleet, and rain are hard on horses.  A wet horse loses body heat faster than a dry one.  In addition, wet hair tends to get plastered closer to the horse’s body, so the air insulation does not work. Stalled horses are often turned out less often in winter, which results in over-exuberant running and kicking when they do get out.  This, coupled with the slippery winter footing, means an increase in pulled muscle/tendons-slipping type injuries. And on those cold winter mornings, it is tempting to roll back over in bed and get another hour of sleep, rather than braving the elements to feed the animals.  Getting the warmth-giving feed is essential to the horse. It's also a great time to work on the horses legs. I love to wrap, poultice or ice my horses legs in the winter months when I'm not so busy.


 Begin with Begin with Completed wrap

1) First apply a good brace to the
area you will be wrapping. The
brace is used to cool and tighten
tendons. Here Pam Randall is
using Cool Pack Green Gel as a brace.

2)      Next, apply thick leg quilts.
I use a type called “no bow” as
it is less likely to cause problems
in case of an improper wrap. Start
on the inside of the leg and wrap
to the outside; “Tendons in.”
Notice that the wraps have
easy-to-use Velcro strips.

3)      Wrap the leg with standing bandages. Start the first part of the wrap by tucking the edge just inside the under wrapping. This will hold it securely in place. Begin the outer wrap in the middle of the leg. Wrap in a downward direction overlapping each layer ¼ to ½ the width of the wrap. Then begin wrapping back up the leg. Keep your wrap snug, but don’t get it too tight or it will interfere with the circulation and cause pressure points.


Wrap from the knee to just below the ankle. In our Winning Ways we will be talking a lot more about wrapping legs, because this is such an important subject. Properly done, leg wrapping can do a great deal of good, but incorrect wrapping can hinder a horse more than it helps. In a conditioning exercise program, I feel that there is a time to train your horse and a time for just riding. I know a trail ride is good, but you don’t see someone getting ready to compete in the Olympics by walking through the woods. Trail riding is for the mind. It’s good and has it's place, but it doesn’t replace the training and conditioning aspect of a program. Any time I take a horse out of a stall I walk him to:
      1)      take out any soreness in his body
      2)      take out any swelling in his legs

Remember it's a wonderful time to work on our body. Let's get in shape so we can ride to WIN! Also, the winter months are a great time to start planning for the next season. Try getting a day timer or planner to help you remember important dates and to help keep you organized.

Winter Watering


Make sure your horse drinks enough water in winter.  Horses normally drink from eight to twelve gallons of water a day.  Even though they are usually at the low end of that figure in winter months, they still have to have at least eight gallons a day.Sometimes horses will not drink extremely cold water.  If so, try offering lukewarm water in mid-morning (warmest part of the day).  Most horses show little interest in water early in the morning or late in the evening. Remember a horse loves clean water. Sometimes try a little kool aid in their water to see if they like the change.

Hairy or Not?

When the first chilly nights begin each fall, horse owners will notice a thickening or a bushy look to the hair coat.  This is the beginning of the winter hair coat that the horse grows to protect him from the cold weather. Although they want their horse to be warm and comfortable, many barrel racers prefer to keep their horses as slick as possible throughout the winter, for a variety of reasons:

1) It is easier to cool out a horse with shorter hair. Longer haired horses often sweat more under their hair when they are worked and can take about three times as long to get cooled (since the hair holds the body heat in) and dry (because the wet, sweaty hair is down close to the skin, away from the outside of the hair coat.) 

2) Sometimes long hair mats under a saddle or cinch, causing a horse to become sore.  

3) If you’re planning to go to any winter events, a slick-haired horse just looks nicer. 

Obviously, the key to keeping a horse slick and shiny during the winter is to keep him warm. Ideally, the temperature inside his stall should be kept at around 50 to 60 degrees. You can use a good set of blankets and hoods to keep your horse as warm as possible. In addition, most show horse people (whose horses have to stay slick) suggest keeping a horse under lights. These horse show people figured out years ago that horses are photosensitive-responsive to light and that the length of day light governs not only their hair coats, but also will cause mares to start ovulating. To make the light work for you, it is recommended that you have a timer to insure that stall lights are turned on for a set amount of time everyday (recommended is from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.) Remember, though, if you take away the horses natural protection by not letting him grow hair, you will have to help him keep warm. Heat lamps are good for heating stalls, and putting up plastic on the outside of the stalls to help keep the warmth in and cold drafts out is also a good idea. Exercise is also important and an essential part of keeping your horse looking good in the winter, but it is very important that you keep the horse from getting cold. Make sure your horse doesn’t get chilled during or after a workout. When you’re through exercising him, put a light blanket on him until he’s cooled down. When he is cool, get his regular blanket back on him as soon as possible. This is especially important if you work him hard enough to get him sweaty. Don’t wait until he’s completely dry and cooled off to start covering him up. You have to keep him comfortable while he’s drying to avoid letting him get chilled. Remember, if he gets cold, he can get sick.

Oster Professional Grooming Products
NOW Available in Pink!

During the winter, grooming is especially important. He has to be brushed to keep a good hair-coat and you brush him in the winter like you do the summer except you have to work harder. Keep a thermometer outside your stall and also in your horse trailer. Remember a horse that is too warm will get a cold quicker than if he is comfortable.

Be extremely careful in the winter, anything that can start fires are dangerous. We use a lot of common sense and never take any chances.