Whatever the time of year, in the UK any day could be a complete washout weather-wise. But while we may mutter about another day cooped up indoors, at least we’re dry. Some horses can be out in all weathers.
Of course, caring horse owners will always ensure their equine friends are protected from the elements as much as possible. However, when the heavens open, it’s an important time to remind ourselves of some of the steps we can take to look after our horses during wet weather.
Responsible horse ownership means protecting your horse through all weathers, whatever the time of year. Having the right horse insurance in place is a must-have to deal quickly with any issues that arise.
How to care for your horse in wet weather
Horses are naturally adapted to withstand a certain amount of bad weather. But there are still steps you should take to ensure they’re as happy as possible even during rainy periods.
Keep on top of leg and hoof care
Problems with a horse’s hooves and legs can be very detrimental to their long-term health and can even prove fatal if left untreated. As part of your daily horse care routine, you should inspect each foot. Look out for any signs of odour, pain, swelling or discharge.
Speak to your vet immediately if you’re concerned, as getting an early diagnosis and treatment is more likely to result in a successful outcome. That’s one of the many reasons why having the right horse insurance is so important.
Making sure hooves are trimmed frequently (around every four to six weeks) will minimize overgrowth or imbalance. Discuss with your farrier about an ideal trimming/shoeing interval depending on the season.
Also check their shoes daily for any looseness or any protruding or missing nails. In the case of hoof slough or a lost shoe many owners use turnout boots as temporary protection. But make sure they fit comfortably and securely to avoid stress and potential injury.
Turnout boots can also be a defence against mud fever (also called pastern dermatitis). As the British Horse Society notes, it’s a non-contagious skin condition that usually arises in persistent wet, muddy conditions. It causes irritation, soreness and matted areas of hair and scabs on the lower legs.
As well as mud fever, horses are at greater risk of developing thrush in rainy weather. This common, nasty-smelling disease often affects horses that are left standing continuously on wet ground. Over time their hooves become filled with bacteria-harbouring mud, leading to hoof deterioration and eventually lameness.
As with many horse-related conditions, prevention is always better than cure. Try to pick your horse's hooves daily and perhaps apply a thrush medication once or twice a day. A night in a dry stable or a few hours out of the mud does much to prevent thrush and a whole host of other problems.
Turning out a horse into any area with thick, deep mud is to be avoided if possible. But mud really is a fact of life in this country. So, when bringing in a horse from turnout many owners wonder whether it’s best to hose down their muddy legs or not. Indeed, some prefer to bandage loosely or put on wraps and let the mud dry.
If you do decide to use a hose, then legs must be dried off thoroughly. Alternatively, you could sponge off the horse's legs and feet to remove mud, dirt and debris. Another great suggestion from pet charity Blue Cross is to spray pig oil lightly on their legs before turnout. This will help stop mud from sticking in the first place.
Grooming and rugging during wet weather
Grooming well and often provides you with the chance to inspect both their hooves as well as their skin. A horse whose coat is wet for long periods can develop diseases like mud fever and rain scald. These diseases can be prevented by regularly brushing your horse’s coat to separate out the individual hairs and allow air to flow through.
Try using a curry comb to dislodge dirt and debris while also removing tangles. Follow this up with a good body brush to remove the dirt. Rubber grooming mitts are also great and are easily cleaned by a trip through the washing machine. If your animal is soaked, use a sweat or water scraper to remove excess water before brushing.
Because there aren’t any flies around in the cold winter months, a handy grooming tip is to keep the tail well-trimmed to stop it getting too muddy.
During milder rainy periods take care to not over rug your horse. A less-is-more approach is often best. Use multiple thin layers rather than a single thick layer to give better control over temperature. Perhaps begin with a breathable cotton sheet first, then add thinner rugs as needed. It’s important the rugs properly fit your horse to prevent rubbing – a particular issue when rugs become wet during rainy periods.
Keeping rugs and other equipment clean and dry is also important – so it's a good idea to have multiple rugs so you can rotate them. Create a drying area for wet rugs and make the most of dry days to air them. Or invest in a dedicated dryer to speed up the process.
If your horse is not rugged, then it’s particularly important to keep an eye on the skin to check for rain scald. This disease is similar to mud fever, but affects the whole body – particularly the horse’s neck, shoulders, back and hindquarters If your horse is susceptible to the condition, prevent it by making sure they have a suitable weight rug and shelter to escape the rain.
Be aware it can also develop when horses are sweating excessively under rugs. The only real answer is to keep them dry until it clears up. If rain scald has affected the saddle, then you won’t be able to ride them until it’s treated. If you think your horse is suffering from rain scald, speak to your vet for confirmation as it could be a similar but highly contagious condition like ringworm.
Field management for wet weather
There’s obviously no way to eliminate the presence of mud when it comes to your horse grazing out in the fields. But there are some tips worth considering as a way to manage it.
When putting out hay, try to put it in lots of piles (or preferably hay feeders) away from the gate and other high traffic areas. This stops these areas from getting even boggier – it also reduces arguments between horses over food. While putting hay in weatherproof feeders will also help stop it from getting trampled and wasted in muddy fields.
The areas around gateways and water troughs have a tendency to become excessively poached and boggy. To help prevent this, lay down hard-standing or grass mats designed to guard against such damage. A cheaper option could be to use electric fencing near the gateway so horses don’t wait in the same area. Or use fencing to create a second gateway that you can use if the first gets too water-logged. While it doesn’t look that neat, laying straw on muddy areas can also help.
Always make sure your horse has somewhere to take shelter and get out of the rain and wind when things get bad. While natural shelter such as trees is useful it’s better to provide shelter in the form of a barn or run shed. Ideally the floor of the shelter should be raised so they have a dry spot where they can stand.
Heavy wind and rain can often lead to flooding, which not only brings in water but also debris from the surrounding area. As well as poo picking and checking for poisonous weeds, check your grazing for rubbish on a regular basis. After all, you don’t want your precious horse to accidentally eat plastic or hurt itself on other garbage. It’s also worth being aware of any nearby farms, garages or other properties that could cause a danger on your land. Water flooding from adjoining land can bring in fertilisers, motor oil, insecticides and other harmful toxins.
As well as keeping flood water out, you also want to take steps to improve drainage on your property so that areas don’t become flooded and have sufficient time to dry out.
Rainy days at the yard
When your horse comes into the stables there are still several steps to take to ensure they are kept happy and healthy during wet weather. In your horse’s stall their bedding needs to be clean and dry to prevent any diseases. Wood shavings absorb water the best, wicking it away from the horse's delicate feet.
And if they’re going to be stabled for more time than usual then it’s worth investing in some boredom busters to keep them happy. From horse balls to flavoured licks, there’s an ever-expanding range of ready-made toys available. But if funds are tight you can easily make your own. For example, hang a swede in your horse’s stable, or fill a plastic jug with carrots and hang it in his stall. Horses can be easy to please, so even a knotted rope in the corner might be enough to provide a bit of rainy day interest.
Rainy days are also a good opportunity to wash and mend all your rugs and gear while deep cleaning and tidying the yard. When cleaning make sure to look for any evidence of rats or mice. Whatever your feelings about rodents, unfortunately they can transmit nasty diseases like leptospirosis to your horse. Is it time to introduce a barn cat to keep the mice and rats at bay? A cat could even make a great horse companion, too.
When the rain finally stops, take the time to rainproof the stables and other shelters. This could include:
- Examining gutters for any damage to keep rain water from getting into the walls and foundations.
- Checking your stable doors and windows for any leaks.
- Installing rubber mats to stop the entrance from becoming slippery.
How to prepare yourself for wet weather
When your horse, grazing and yard are all set for rain it’s important to not forget your own preparations. Here are some quick tips to keep you safe and dry:
- Repair or replace any damaged gear – A threadbare jacket or pair of gloves is unlikely to keep you dry.
- Wear a riding hat – Not only will it keep the rain off but it will also protect you in case of any slips or falls.
- Wear fleece-lined waterproof trousers – Walking around in cold, wet trousers is a recipe for misery and painful chafing.
- Get rubber mats for your car and a plastic boot-liner – Mud needs to stay on the outside if at all possible!
- Keep moving in deep mud – Getting your car or horse trailer stuck is a recipe for a long and painful day.
- Wear the correct clothing when riding on roads in wet weather – Remind yourself of the Highway Code for horse riders. It could save you life.
- You never know when wet weather can turn into a storm. Familiarise yourself with how to ride safely if you do get caught in a storm.
- Download the Met Office weather app to give you a heads up on any rain heading your way. And the Horse Rider SOS safety app in case of an emergency.
Horse insurance from Equesure
Protecting your horse in wet weather is only one piece of the jigsaw, always speak to the team at Equesure about finding adequate horse insurance. With over 60 years’ experience in the insurance market, our team of specialists offer a bespoke insurance policy with options tailored for the particular needs of your horse.
From happy hackers, to competition horses in the prime of life and trusty veterans, we can help you protect your forever friend against any potential risks.
Give our horse insurance team a call today – they’ll be happy to talk you through the many choices of cover on offer to suit whatever your budget.
Get a quick quote today.
Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.