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Horse Health Care by Cherry Hill


March 2000

©  2000 Cherry Hill   © Copyright Information

This newsletter is a personal letter from me to you, a fellow horse owner and enthusiast. My goal is to send you interesting stories and helpful seasonal tips for your horse care, training, and riding.

     March is a very special month for the "Klim-Team".  Richard and I met 28 years ago and were married 25 years ago.  Since we still are a couple of kids we can't believe we are celebrating our Silver Wedding Anniversary this month!  Time flies when you are taking care of horses and having fun. It's a great life, don't you agree?  

     I really missed the boat this year with my winter information since I kept waiting for winter before I posted it but we never got now, because I promised and because I have been getting many, many questions on blanketing and winter care, I am including the winter information in this newsletter. If you live in the south or are already into spring, you can file this away for next fall. Better late than never.  AND, much of the information will be useful to you year round, so be sure to read before you "file".



Winter Care
Winter Blankets
Maximum Hoof Power Special

New Postings on the Roundup Page
Our Recent Magazine Articles
Can You Help Me?
Cherry Hill doesn't do endorsements!

Coming Attractions

Winter Care
  ©  2006 Cherry Hill

    Winter can present threats to your horse and inconveniences for you. Proper year-round care will help your horse be in the best condition to face the stresses of winter and will minimize the number of health scares for you during the winter months.

    Horses should be dewormed every 60 days no matter what the season. Vaccinations for influenza and rhinopneumonitis should be given 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 but are not limited to wind, wet, cold, lack of exercise, and owner disinterest.

    Horses can withstand temperatures well below freezing as long as it is sunny and the air is still. The winter coat traps body heat next to the horse's skin. During cold temperatures, pilo erector muscles make the hair stand up which increases the coat's insulating potential. Wind separates the hairs, thereby breaking the heat seal which results in a great loss of body warmth.

    Snow showers, sleet, and the freeze-and-thaw typical of some geographical areas are particularly hard on horses. A wet horse loses body heat many times faster than a dry horse. In addition, wet hair tends to become plastered close to the horse's body, allowing no air insulation to exist.

    Confined horses are often turned out less frequently in the winter which results in over-exuberant bursts of energy when they are let out. This, coupled with the slippery footing characteristic of winter, results in an increase in the number of slipping-type injuries, such as pulled muscles and tendons.

    And in many situations, winter management can stand some improvement. Understandably, cold and stormy weather can make a horse owner want to roll over in the morning looking for that extra hour of sleep rather than to brave the storm to feed the animals. However, when it is the least inviting to venture out is when the horses need the most care.

    In actuality, a horse's tolerance to the stresses of winter begin to build up well before the first snow. In August and September, horses living in temperate climates should be allowed an increase in body weight of about 5%, but not more than 10%. A 1200 pound adult should gain 60-120 pounds in the late summer or early fall. This extra flesh and fat will provide added insulation and an energy and heat reserve when weather is particularly bad.

    The pastured horse must be offered adequate shelter in the winter. This can be provided by a cluster of trees, a ravine, hill, canyon, or creek bottom as well as man-made structures. A simple three-sided shed can be situated with the back wall facing the prevailing winds and the opening facing the sun.

Provide Fresh Water

    Conscientious attention to winter nutrition can prevent colic, laminitis, and a loss of condition. Feed high quality feeds on a regular schedule and ensure adequate water intake by checking a horse's water source twice daily. Horses can only last for three days without water. Horses drink between eight and twelve gallons of water a day. Although during the winter months, intake will be at the low end of the range, the effects of dehydration can easily go unnoticed during winter months. Forcing horses to produce moisture by eating snow is counter-productive. In addition to the fact that six times as much snow must be eaten to provide an equivalent amount of water, horses must use precious body heat to melt the snow. This requires them to use up calories that could be used for warmth just to satisfy their thirst.

    Offering horses warm water late in the morning (during the "heat of the day") after they have eaten roughage, usually assures they will drink. Breaking the ice on a trough or creek at 6 AM or 8 PM often only benefits the wielder of the ax by providing a bit of exercise. Not too many horses will drink during the coldest times of the day. Automatic waterers are convenient but the owner must check them daily to be sure they are functioning. There should be a back-up watering system in the event of a power failure. When using automatic waterers, it is nearly impossible for an owner to tell if and how much a horse is drinking.

    If a horse's flank appears "drawn up" it may not be getting adequate water. Being familiar with a horse's normal fecal consistency and checking it routinely during the winter will give additional indication of the state of the horse's dehydration. Performing the pinch test on the neck gives an even better assessment of body fluid level. Grasp a fold of skin between the thumb and forefinger. Raise it above the muscle for one second and then let go. It should return to its flattened position on the neck within a second or two. A "standing tent" of a longer duration indicates dehydration.

Feed A Balanced Ration

   During winter, as well as other times of the year, a horse's ration should be formulated to satisfy the requirements for age (stage of growth), phase of pregnancy (or lactation), and level of work. In addition, the ration will need to be adjusted to compensate for weather stresses. For every ten degrees Fahrenheit below freezing, the ration should be increased 10%. When it is twelve degrees above zero Fahrenheit (twenty degrees below freezing), the grass-alfalfa hay ration of a 1200 pound horse may be increased from 24 pounds per day (the usual recommendation of about 2% of the body weight) to 28.8 pounds per day (a 20% increase). Horses fed less than is necessary to combat cold and wind will burn fat and muscle tissue by shivering to keep warm and will lose weight.

    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. It is most beneficial to feed a horse several hours in advance of a storm rather than during it. 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.

    Because of winter's snows and sunny thaws, feeds can spoil easily. Damp hay, pellets, or grain can become fermented or moldy in a matter of a few hours in the sun. Check feed over carefully during daylight hours, then offer an amount that will be cleaned up in one feeding, and remove what is left.


Winter Blanketing
  ©  2006 Cherry Hill

Most horses begin shedding their summer hair in August and start growing thicker winter coats. In order to produce a dense, healthy coat, a horse’s diet should provide an adequate quantity and quality of protein. A normal winter coat has as much insulating capacity as most top-of-the-line blankets. The downward growth of the hair coupled with the stepped-up production of body oils makes the winter coat shed water and keeps moisture away from the skin. A dry horse has a much better chance of remaining a healthy horse.

A fuzzy winter coat can be deceiving if a visual inspection alone is used to assess condition. The round teddy-bear look can fool one into thinking a horse is in proper flesh. Feel the rib area for its flesh covering at least once every 30 days throughout the winter to monitor a horse’s condition.

Some horses may require the use of a blanket throughout the winter: the show horse, the clipped horse, the southern horse that moves north during the winter, the old horse, and the horse in severe weather with no shelter. Blanketing is a more expensive and labor-intensive alternative to winter care than the au natural approach but affords some benefits as well.

Good quality blankets are costly and often several must be purchased for each horse. Generally a quilted nylon type is used in the barn. The waterproof canvas-type with wool lining is one of the traditional turnout rugs as it is weatherproof and durable, but is very heavy. There are many tough turnout blanket available today that are lighter weight and easy care.

Blankets must be cleaned at least twice during the winter by washing in cold water with a mild soap. Dry cleaning solvents will destroy waterproofing and can shrink the bindings. Blanketed horses must be meticulously groomed on a regular basis to minimize rubbing and rolling. Horses are notorious for inflicting damages to their blankets. Some exterior shells are not tough enough to withstand rubbing, rolling and roughhousing from herdmates. Blanket repair is just a fact of ownership.

Proper blanket fit is paramount. Blankets that are too small can cause rub marks and sore spots on the withers, shoulder, chest, and hips. Extra large blankets have the reputation of slipping and twisting, possibly upside down which can cause the horse to become dangerously tangled. Blanket linings must be of a smooth material to prevent damage to hair, especially the mane near the withers and the shoulder points.

Overheating can be a real problem with blanketed horses. Often horses are turned out to exercise in the same blanket which they wore all night. What is appropriate for low night-time temperatures in a barn is not necessarily desirable for a sunny paddock, even though there still may be snow on the ground. An unblanketed dark horse has the capacity to absorb much of the sun’s energy.

Water-proof blankets do not allow for heat escape from normal body respiration unless they are also breathable. Too many layers can cause the horse to sweat, then chill which lowers the horse’s resistance by sapping the horse’s energy. This is an open invitation for respiratory infections. Check for over-heating by slipping a hand under the blanket at the heart girth area. To allow perspiration to evaporate, choose a breathable blanket for your horse. If he lives outdoors, make sure it is waterproof and breathable.

Horses that have been body-clipped or trace-clipped must be blanketed. Clipping allows a horse to be more easily worked, cooled out, and groomed in the winter months. The first clip may occur in October and may need to be repeated five to six times throughout the winter and early spring. This will depend on the horse’s work, blanketing, and housing.

If a horse is not clipped and/or blanketed, but is allowed to grow a natural winter coat, a different set of rules comes into play. Grooming a long coat often consists of a minimal “dusting” of the hair ends, or no grooming at all. Vigorously currying a winter coat can disrupt the natural protective layer of oils which is essential for protection from moisture. After riding, rub the coat dry with a cloth or gunny sack or allow the horse to roll in sand or dry snow.

Winter presents unique problems for the horse. Paying attention to the horse’s needs will result in a healthier horse in the spring.


New Postings on the Roundup Page

Trailering: In Hand Work - with photos

Trailering: Personal Space II - with photos

Trailering: Turn on the Forehand - with photos


Keeping Your Heels Down

Should I Use Side Reins?

Stablekeeping - Winter Watering Tips - with photos and drawings!

1999 was a 5 book year for Cherry Hill


Our Recent Articles and Books

Here's a roundup of the most recent magazine articles and books by Cherry Hill and Richard Klimesh, the "Klim-Team":

Jan 2000 Horse & Rider 
"Save That Tail" p. 41
Feb 2000 Horse & Rider  
"How to Use a Chain Shank" p.32
Feb 2000 Horse & Rider 
"Winterize Your Barn" p. 42
March 2000 Horse & Rider 
"Filling a Hay Net"
Jan 2000 Storey Books  
Stablekeeping, a Visual Guide to Safe and Healthy Horsekeeping
 Jan 2000 Storey Books
Trailering Your Horse, A Visual Guide to Safe Training and Traveling



Cherry Hill doesn't do endorsements!

    I don't accept payment to recommend or endorse any horse products in my articles, books or this newsletter.  I do, however, mention names of products that I am currently using and find satisfactory.  I do this to give you a starting point or help narrow the field.  Sometimes finding the right product or piece of tack is the beginning of the answer to a training or horsekeeping problem.


Coming Attractions

The Senior Horse
More Training, Riding, and Horse Care Tips

That's it for this month.

Keep your mind in the middle and a leg on each side.

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