A few days before Christmas, I jumped Dorado wearing just some breeches and a shirt with 3/4-length sleeves. On Sunday night, I bundled Dorado up for a few days in his stall and out of the incredibly cold temperature we're going to be facing this week.
At the moment, Monday's highs are forecast to be a whopping 6°F with wind chills approaching -20°. Tuesday will be about the same. And further to the north, wind chills will be much worse: -30° to -50°.
Dorado is bundled and ready for the freezing cold!
Photo: Erica Larson
We all know that that, on a whole, senior horses don't handle these extreme cold temperatures as well as younger horses. So whether our seniors are fuzzy or clipped, turned out or stalled, blanketed or naked, we've got our work cut out for us throughout the winter.
Before I left for the barn today, I took a quick spin through TheHorse.com's winter horse care resources to ensure I wasn't forgetting to take anything into account as I prepared Dorado for the deep freeze. Here are some of the most important points I found that we need to remember for our seniors (and, really, any horses) during extreme cold, with links to where you can find more information:
- Water: Ensure your senior horse has free-choice access to clean, unfrozen water. In a recent article Bob Coleman, PhD, said, "Keep the water source warm to prevent freezing. Researchers have noted that water warmed to 39°F (4°C) resulted in greater water intake. If the horse drinks less, he might eat less, or, more importantly, he's at an increased risk of impaction colic." (Read More)
TheHorse.com blogger Alayne Blickle also has some great tips on setting up a winter water supply, which you can find in her Smart Horse Keeping blog.
- Hay: Older horses often require additional calories during the winter to maintain their body condition. Coleman said that increasing aged horses hay rations during the winter can kill two birds with one stone: "In developing your feeding strategy, consider increasing your horse's hay intake to meet his energy needs. Hay is digested in the gastrointestinal tract by fermentation, which produces heat that the horse can use to maintain core body temperature." In most cases, he said, horses will consume 2.0-2.5% of his body weight per day. (Read More)
- Supplemental Feed: If a horse can't get enough calories from hay alone, it's advisable to add grain, a fat supplement, or an alternative forage source, such as beet pulp, to his diet. Coleman said, "This is an easily digested fiber source that can help meet the horse's energy needs. For other hard keepers, you might need to supplement the diet with vegetable oil to increase calorie intake." (Read More)
- Shelter: Horses are generally well-equipped to handle winter, but some type of shelter is a must in freezing temperatures. In a recent article, Pamela Wilkins, DVM, MS, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, ACVECC, said, "Horses are generally well protected from the cold through the insulating hair coat and other aspects of their physiology. However, they need protection in extreme winter conditions of cold, blizzard, or wind. The insulating hair coat becomes significantly less effective when wet through, and horses should be sheltered from the cold when freezing rain is combined with cold weather." (Read More)
- Blankets: Yes, this is a controversial topic. But there are some cases in which older horses can benefit from blankets. In a recent article, Nathan Slovis, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, CHT, explained, "Older horses are more prone to skin diseases and bacterial skin infections from excess moisture. Infections can be devastating in winter because you can't give baths, and (the horse) might have to be on antibiotics. The rug doesn't necessarily have to be thick or heavy, but it should be waterproof and breathable." (Read More)
For the extremely cold days coming up, Dorado will be staying inside--not only due to the temperatures and his lack of winter coat, but also because the footing in and around his paddock will likely be solid ice and/or hard as a rock. Fortunately, we have some areas at the farm where I can hand walk him to stretch his legs throughout the day. He'll also be getting free-choice hay and water in addition to his regular beet pulp and grain mixture.
While he's in, Dorado's legs will be wrapped to keep them from stocking up, and he's got blankets to help keep him warm.
By Wednesday, I'm hoping the temperatures will allow Dorado to spend some time outside. I'd rather not keep him cooped up, but I think it'll be the best option for his safety in the next few days.
How do you handle your senior horses when the temperatures hit extreme lows? Share your experiences below! And please, everyone, stay safe and watch out for your animals in the next few days!