Wil’s Winter Horse Care Tips
Happy Holidays from the Blue Grass State! Winter time can be a busy season on our equine rescue ranch. Since 1982, our family has owned and managed this 1200 acre facility, and have seen it bless the animals and the community.
Part of our service to our friends and neighbors is equine education. Horses need extra care during the cold winter months. Our ranch offers free pamphlets and online information about keeping horses warm, happy, and healthy. It is especially important for horses that are older or have health problems.
Although our ranch rescues horses throughout the year, we get most of our intakes in the winter. Some of the worst cases of abuse and neglect come through our welcoming gates. My dad, the founder of the ranch, is a veterinarian, and I followed in his footsteps. Together, we tend to the needs of these pitiful animals, and get them healthy again. We also have an excellent horse adoption program.
If you own a horse, please consider these vital winter care tips. Your horse is part of your family, and he needs particular attention these next few weeks for optimal health:
• Shelter: No matter how big or furry your horse is, his coat alone is not enough to keep him completely warm in winter weather. While horses love the freedom to run in the pastures, they still need shelter. Older equines are especially vulnerable to cold winds and freezing precipitation.
Ensure that your four-hoofed friend has access to an enclosed stable. If the temperatures drop below freezing, you should consider putting a heater in the stable. Provide plenty of fresh straw and warm blankets for comfort during the frigid nights.
• Nutrition: A horse’s nutritional needs are individual, so discuss the best winter diet plan for your horse with her vet. When horses eat hay, the digestive process produces heat to keep their body warm. If they do not eat enough in the winter, they can lose weight and have health problems. Your county extension agent can test the nutritional content of your hay, to see if you need to supplement extra grain for your horse’s diet.
• Water: While many people give their animals extra water in the heat of the summer, you may be surprised that they need more in the winter, too. If your horse does not drink enough water, she may not eat as much and will lose weight. It would be more difficult to stay warm, and she might get sick. Keep your horse’s water from freezing by using a submersible heating element.
• Socialization: In the wild, horses roamed together in herds. Our domesticated horses still crave socialization. The equine residents at our ranch have an advantage, because there are so many other horses to keep them company. Also, our staff tries to spend a little quality time with each animal—especially during the lonely winter months.
If you have a single horse and cannot afford a second one, consider taking him to visit a friend’s horse. Take time to talk to your horse as you groom him, and bring him special treats. Like humans, horses may suffer from loneliness, boredom, and depression in the winter time.
The last couple of weeks before Christmas, our beautiful horses kept a busy social calendar. Our ranch works with our local children’s services department to provide equine therapy. It amazes the social workers how well children with reactive detachment disorder relate to our animals. Both child and horse find a common bond from a history of neglect and abuse. December is usually one of our busiest months.
As usual, we decorate the ranch to look like the North Pole. Even though we did not get snow this Christmas, the kids got the idea. My brother built a beautiful sleigh and had it decked out like Santa’s finest. Instead of reindeer, our sleigh was pulled by some of our best horses. My wife made lovely blankets for each of them with the name of one of Santa’s reindeer. All our local foster children got a chance to take a little ride in Santa’s sleigh, and pet the gentle horses.
My family and I were deeply moved by how much fun the kids had with our horses. It just reaffirmed our vision for the rescue ranch. As we continue to rescue horses from cruelty and neglect, we help rebuild their trust in humans. When foster children visit our farm, we hope that loving on the horses will renew their faith in life.
This winter, be extra considerate of your horses. In return for food, shelter, and care, they offer you unconditional love and constant companionship. The love between horses and their humans goes beyond the holidays. It continues throughout the whole year. This may be the year that you decide to adopt a rescue horse. Take it from me—your life will be forever changed.