When temperatures dip, you’ll want to ensure that all your horses are comfortable. But pay particular attention to older herd members. Muscle mass and body fat act as insulation, so elderly horses who are on the lean side may have difficulty staying warm. Assess your horse’s body condition now and let that information guide your blanketing, feeding and management decisions.
The right blanket
Older horses don’t need different types of blankets, but proper fit is essential. A blanket that pinches or rubs skin can lead to discomfort and even skin wounds, which are especially difficult to treat during winter. Older horses can’t handle temperature swings as well as younger horses, so over blanketing can be as undesirable as under blanketing. If an older horse sweats under a too-heavy blanket, he could develop a chill later. It’s better to blanket for the highest temperature of the day in mind, not the lowest.
The right feed
Forage is key to staying warm, so ensure that old horses have as much as they can manage and in a form they can chew thoroughly. This may mean free-choice, high-quality hay for a thinner horse, or a chopped forage product for one with dental issues. If your horse can’t maintain his weight with unlimited forage, slowly increase the concentrate portion of his ration or add calories with a high-fat feed supplement or corn oil.
The right shelter
Protection from wind and wet weather is critical to keeping an older horse warm but being shut in a stall for hours at a time can exacerbate health problems like arthritis. A better solution is a deep run-in shed with well-draining footing in a field with friendly companions. In this environment an older horse can stay mobile but take shelter and huddle with friends if he feels chilly.
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