Winter has arrived. Snow covers much of North America and has been hit by a deep freeze of exceptionally cold temperatures. Along with this shock of cold comes every horse owner’s largest fear, colic. Colic kills many horses every year, and when temperatures become extreme, either cold or hot, owners need to take extra precautions to ensure that their horses do not fall ill.
A primary key to horse health no matter the temperature is hay, hay, hay. A solid cushion of hay in a horse’s stomach can prevent many problems. If the horse is outside full time in the winter they should always have hay to eat, especially if the temperature is freezing. By eating, horses create more body heat that helps them stay warm. A portion of hay before a feeding of grain or a drink of cold water can also help prevent colic.
When a horse drinks icy cold water it can also increase the risk of colic. Owners who have horses who live both inside and outside should try to give their horses warm water instead of icy water. Horses are also more likely to be interested in drinking warm water, especially if they are outside. A little drink of warm water can help them warm up.
Horses who are cold may forget to drink. Drinking can be encouraged by adding salt to the horse’s grain. A horse needs 5 to 10 gallons of water a day and a horse that does not drink enough is more prone to colic. Adding a scoop of loose salt to grain and providing free access to a salt block can remind horses that they are thirsty and need to drink, even if it is cold outside.
It is always important to keep an eye on horses who live outside full time, checking them every day. Depending on their breed, age, body mass, and winter coat they might need extra care such as blankets or being brought into a stable. Therefore, it is important to evaluate each horse separately to determine its needs in freezing cold temperatures.