The recent prolonged cold spell brought numerous challenges to those of us with horses and ponies. Suddenly, providing the basics of care was so much harder – the biggest of these probably being water supply. Horses need a lot of water per day and can get impaction colic if they don’t receive it. During cold weather, veterinary practices see an increase in these cases.

Water troughs, despite having the ice on them broken when the horses and ponies are turned out, can soon freeze over again when temperatures remain below freezing during the day. A good tip, albeit a cold one, is to remove some of the fragments of ice to help slow the refreezing.

Horses in snow

When I turn out Diva and Mabel, I always put some hay in the field for them when the grass is frozen, though it has to be said they often ignore it. There are many concerns regarding turning out on frosty grass, the most common one being that it presents an increased risk for laminitis as the frost increases the sugar content due to the grass being under stress. Like many people, I do my horses before and after going to work and so waiting for the frost to lift is not an option. Luckily, neither Diva nor Mabel have suffered with laminitis and so I have continued to turn them out. Mabel, now 25 years old, benefits from being out daily. It becomes a matter of choosing the right balance for your own horses and situation. There is no absolute right or wrong.

Cold weather

Another thing that often crops up is the subject of rugging. Often photos showing ponies with frost on their backs come up with the comments that the poor things are cold. In fact, this frost shows that the ponies’ thick winter coats are doing their job well by holding the body heat in. See the photos I have included of both Jackson and Diva with frosty backs. Again, rugging is an emotive subject. Diva is un-rugged whatever the weather once she is properly roughed off after the show season. Mabel is also roughed off, but in deference to her age, she has a rug on when the weather is extremely cold or wet. When she was in full work and clipped, then she was well rugged to keep her cosy.

Horse in field

Care also must be taken in leading the horses out on frosty surfaces. Poor Mabel had a lucky escape when she slipped on some ice that I hadn’t noticed, and for a horrible moment I thought she was going to fall. Luckily, she is very sensible and once she had regained her footing, she stood still whilst we threw more salt and grit along the pathway to make it safe again.

One positive thing I have noticed is that the days are slowly getting longer and the promise of spring being just around the corner is a boon to all of us with horses. Hopefully, soon the challenges of winter will be forgotten again, until next time!

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