Winter Equine To Do List

By this time of year, you’ve likely prepared your home and garden for winter and put snow tires on your car. It’s also the time to take some steps to ensure your horse is properly ‘winterized’ before really cold weather arrives. Here are some things to consider.

  1. Stick to a wellness schedule

Preventative medicine is the best way to keep your horse healthy, so stick to a regular vaccination, deworming and dental work schedule. Most horse owners in Ontario do vaccines in spring, so that’s not likely on your late fall to-do list, but deworming and a dental check should be.

Worm loads tend to increase in fall (did you note the proliferation of bot eggs on your horses’ legs early this fall?) You can but take a manure sample to your vet’s office to get a fecal egg count that will help you design a deworming program that is effective, without creating drug-resistant parasites.

Getting sufficient food and nutrients over winter is crucial to maintaining your horse’s health and weight, so book a dental exam to ensure his teeth are healthy if you haven’t done so previously this year. Some horses need their teeth floated more than once a year.

Keep an eye on mud and ice and how slippery your horse’s paddock is. A slip or fall in the mud can cause a pelvis to twist or jam, misalignments of his spine or pulled muscles or strained tendons. You may want book him a chiropractic adjustment or massage if he seems a little off.

  1. Prevent against colic

Your horse is likely going to have less turnout time, spend more hours in his stall and may get less exercise. His diet will typically be dry hay so it’s vital he drink enough water to avoid colic risk. If you feel he’s not drinking enough, salt can keep his sodium level up, keep him drinking and his gut moving. You may want to add a salt block to his stall or paddock.

  1. Check his condition

It’s a good time to evaluate your horse’s body condition to make any changes in his diet. This is important if your horse won’t get worked as much over the cold weather months or if he’s older.  

The Henneke Body Condition Scoring System ( can show you how to rate your horse’s condition by checking six areas: neck, withers, shoulder, ribs, loin, and tailhead. An ideal score is 5, though 6 isn’t bad going into winter given our harsh winters.

  1. Adjust his diet

If you board your horse, consult with your stable owner or manager about making a feeding plan for winter. Horses burn calories to keep warm and older horses and hard-keepers may need extra calories. You may want to substitute some of your horse’s grass hay for alfalfa that has a higher calorie and protein content. Beet pulp is another option, as it adds calories without adding a lot of starch or sugar.

If your horse is overweight, you could not blanket or use lighter blankets so he’ll lose a few pounds. Or check out ration balancers that will give him the minerals and nutrients he needs without extra calories.