If this is your first winter with horses on a home farm, a key question in winter horse management is "should I turn my horses out in this weather?" When the temps fall and your turnout is deep in snow or slick with ice - what do you do with your horses? The answer, as usual, is "it depends".
Are your horses shod? If so, do they have snowpads to prevent snowballing and/or traction devices like borium or caulks? Snowpads prevent snow from freezing to the metal horse shoe and stressing your horse's tendons as they walk (think about wearing high heels!).
Talk to your horse's farrier about borium or caulks as well - borium is a "permanent" traction control option (as least as long as those shoes last), while caulks can be screwed into drilled out holes in the shoes as need demands.
How old are your horses? Youngsters may not tolerate confinement in a stall while you wait for the weather to improve, but turned out on a slick surface, may hurt themselves falling. Speaking of falls, your senior horse may not be able to get up if he falls. And, just like us, oldsters are more injury prone when they do fall. But again, your senior horse may need to be out and about to manage stiffness that comes from standing in a stall in bad weather.
So what are your choices? If possible, have smaller turnout areas for bad weather that can be readily cleared of snow with your tractor or plow. Add sand, stone dust, or even used pelleted bedding for more traction if need be. Avoid salt since it can splash up onto your horse's legs when the ice melts and irritate the skin. If a smaller turnout area isn't an option, but your driveway or path is clear and dry, take your horse out for a walk (remember to lead safely to manage exhuberant spirits) just for a stretch.
If you do opt to keep your horses in while it's slick out, pay close attention to water consumption and know the signs of an impaction colic. You can add well-hydrated hay cubes to their ration to make "hay soup" to boost hydration and help manage colic risks.
You know your horses - have a plan in place for winter horse management so you're not caught unprepared. Here are a few more tips from the American Association of Equine Practitioners on Managing Horses in Icy Conditions.
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