Rob Keene and Mike Wilson give tips for winterizing horses |

Rob Keene and Mike Wilson give tips for winterizing horses

by Evelyn Boswell, formerly of MSU News Service

Horse owners should start preparing for the winter during the summer, but what if they didn’t have a chance or didn’t realize the importance?

They can still do several things to get their horses through a Montana winter according to Rob Keene and Mike Wilson. Keene is a veterinarian with IDEXX Pharmaceuticals. Wilson is a territory manager for Cargill Animal Nutrition.

Horse owners, for example, should assess the condition of their horses and consider how they’re used. Are the horses athletes or pets? Are any of them pregnant? Is this their first winter? Horse owners can still decide what to do about lighting barns and using blankets.

Whatever horse owners decide about winter care, they should be consistent, Wilson said. They should use common sense and adapt care to individual needs. For advice on specific horses, they should talk to their veterinarian.

Keene and Wilson also suggest that horse owners:

• Start thinking about their winter hay supply in July. “It will make your life so much easier and you will get good hay,” Keene said.

• Consider several factors when trying to buy hay. Are the bales covered, for example? Did the bales get wet? If horse owners don’t want hay from lowland areas, they should say so. Those bales might be good for cows, but not necessarily horses. Can they look at the hay before it’s harvested?

They should look for things like toxic plants and stage of bloom. Do they have to take bales at the bottom of the hay stack? Hay that contains as much as 10 percent dirt can be unsuitable for horses. Is this last year’s hay? Is it bleached by the sun?

• Monitor hay consumption and water supplies when temperatures fall below zero. Check water heaters and cords for electrical shorts. Horses won’t drink enough water if they’re afraid of getting shocked when they dip their nose into a water tank. They can develop colic if they don’t drink enough water.

• Decide what to do about blankets. Some horse owners like to cover their horses. Others stay away from blankets, because they want their horses to adapt to the cold.

• Don’t over-feed pregnant horses. Even though they need 50 to 100 percent more calories than the normal maintenance horse, they don’t need to become obese. “Too much fat on a mare isn’t helping,” Keene said. Horse owners, in general, should be able to feel a horse’s ribs and not see them. It might be OK to see one rib, but three or more means the horse is probably too thin, unless it’s an athlete.

• Weigh and measure hay and feed. Use scales, not coffee cans. Coffee cans come in different sizes, so feed recommendations that refer to coffee cans aren’t necessarily accurate.

• Think about barn lighting. Sixteen hours of incandescent lighting can fool mares and stallions into thinking spring is coming.

• Continue providing dental care during the winter. All teeth must be level, but realize that incisors don’t wear down as fast as cheek teeth.

Long incisors prevent upper and lower cheek teeth from contacting each other, which causes inefficient eating. Grain dribbles, and hay is poorly chewed.

• Vaccinate for strangles, equine influenza and equine herpes. Strangles is a contagious, deadly disease that’s difficult to eradicate. Equine influenza is an upper respiratory problem that’s highly contagious. Equine herpes causes abortions and neurologic disease. Keene recommended vaccinating mares during the fifth, seventh and ninth months of their pregnancies.

• Deworm horses at least three times a year. The best times are 30 days after the grass greens up in the spring, mid-summer and after a killing frost.