Wintertime is a struggle for horse owners in many different ways. Shorter days make it harder to ride, while muddy pastures make horse health and grooming an even bigger chore than usual. The owners of horses who are “hard keepers” have a harder winter than most. While most horses in cold weather are perfectly healthy and happy, a hard keeper horse may lose weight, show severe behavior changes, and sometimes even colic. Many of these changes are due to the dietary change that occurs in the winter (no grass means fewer vitamins and minerals), the stress of the cold weather, and possible change in routine (many horses spend more time in their stalls over the colder months).
If you’re the owner of a hard keeper, you may be tempted to throw in the towel and just pray for spring. We get it, owning a hard keeper horse in the cold is not for the faint-hearted. Luckily, we’re here to make your life easier. We put together all of the essentials your horse will need to come out of winter healthy, happy, and ready for show season.
Many horses in cold weather could be mistaken for yaks. Their coats will become thick and luxurious. These horses could make it through the harshest blizzard without a blanket. On the other hand, many hard keeper horses will only grow a sparse winter coat with not nearly enough protection for a few flurries, forget a blizzard. Hard keepers need a little extra help from blankets to make it through the winter. Remember, when your horse shivers, they’re burning away the precious calories they need to stay warm.
It’s a good idea for owners of hard keeper horses in cold weather to purchase a heavy weight blanket, as well as a light weight and medium weight. Our favorite heavy weight blanket for horses that struggle to hold weight during the winter is the TuffRider Comfy Heavy Weight Blanket with 350 grams of insulation. This heavy duty 1200 denier blanket has gusseted shoulders, twin chest buckles, t-hook surcingles, and a detachable neck. The ripstop outer shell can hold up to even the most aggressive blanket rippers, while the removable neck offers added customizability for various weather conditions.
Keeping weight on a horse who struggles in the cold is not as simple as just buying a heavier blanket. Many times horses in the cold need increased feed as well. What you feed your horse matters more than just how much you feed. If you don’t want to increase your horse’s daily grain ration, consider adding a weight gain supplement to their diet.
For hard keeper horses in cold weather, we like the Uckele Cocosoya Fatty Acid Granules. This fatty acid supplement is available in both a palatable powder and anoil. Both versions combine Cocosoya Oil, stabilized Flax Seed, and stabilized Rice Bran for a rich formula that supports healthy skin, glossy coat, and strong hooves, as well as weight gain. It’s also a natural source of Vitamin E, which many horses lack over the winter.
As many equestrians know, getting on your horse in the winter can feel like riding a fire-breathing dragon. Horses who are sensitive to the cold have even more energy and attitude in the winter months than your average easy keeper. Sometimes, a little extra calming help is needed in order to safely exercise and ride your horse in the cold.
Quietex II is a great option to help your horse stay focused and calm. Unlike other calming supplements or medications, it won’t cause drowsiness or affect performance. Instead, this USA-made supplement takes the edge off of your horse’s excitement for a safe riding experience.
Not all calming supplements work for every horse. AniMed Via Calm takes a slightly different approach from Quietex II, which may work better for some horses. This supplement uses a combination of l-tryptophan, thiamine, calcium and magnesium. This combination promotes a sense of relaxation, without drowsiness. Plus, it can also help support healthy digestion and gut stability by providing her with naturally occurring microorganisms.
Horses in cold weather don’t have the same access to vitamins and minerals that they do over the spring or summer months. Horses aren’t able to take advantage of the naturally occurring vitamins and minerals in grass. Over the winter, it’s a good idea to supplement your horse’s diet with a comprehensive mineral and vitamin mix. This is especially important for hard keeper horses who may be particularly sensitive to decreased levels of vitamins and minerals.
Redmond Daily Red Horse Mineral is a natural equine sea salt supplement that can help compensate for the lack of vitamins and minerals in your horse’s winter diet. The salt in Daily Red contains a complete balance of essential minerals, including the 63 minerals that are naturally available in Redmond Salt. Vitamins A, D, and E are added to the mineral formulation to promote peak health and performance.
Did you know that horses in the cold are more prone to muscular injury? Imagine how much harder it is for your lungs and muscles to run in the cold weather than it is to run in the summer months. Horses feel the same way! Hard keeper horses are known to be especially “cold-backed,” which means they may start rides stiff and irritable. While proper warm-up and cool-down time is essential for preventing injuries, you can help your horse to ride better in the winter with a few pieces of therapeutic equipment.
Back on Track Royal Quick Horse Wraps can be easily applied to your horse’s legs while you groom and tack up. These standing bandages have our Welltex technology embedded in the fabric, which uses the horse’s own body energy to create a soothing infrared effect, allowing for increased blood circulation and relaxed muscles, tendons, joints, and ligaments. This increased circulation may help to reduce injuries while being ridden.
When you’re riding horses in the cold, consider using the EquiFit ImpactEQ Half Pad under your saddle. This half pad has a foam core that molds to the horse’s body to provide support. The open-cell non-newtonian foam transforms from soft to rigid upon impact, absorbing extreme concussion and providing greater comfort for horse and rider. This will help protect your horse’s back while you warm-up and throughout your ride. If your hard keeper is particularly cold-backed, they may appreciate the pad’s shock absorption capabilities.
Owning a hard keeper doesn’t mean that you need to turn your horse away for the winter. It also doesn’t mean that you and your horse have to spend every winter cold and miserable! Instead, focus on providing your horse with a little extra support throughout the colder months. The right supplements and equipment will help to keep them happy, comfortable, and relaxed all winter long.
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