Our top tips for caring for the stabled horse.
Hands up who owns horses and thinks winter is the very best time of year?
If you’ve raised your hand, we think you’re possibly a little bit potty, but well, good for you! We know that for most horsey people, it’s spring and autumn which rate as the best (on sunny days, mind you) followed by summer, especially when it’s not too hot, the ground is good, and the flies aren’t out yet… But winter is an annual inevitability, so we all must face up to the challenges it brings.
For lots of horses, that means more time standing in a stable. Some yards are forced to limit turnout so that their fields aren’t a barren waste of poached mud by the time spring comes around. If you’re lucky enough to have acres of well-drained turnout, or a communal barn or indoor school for indoor turnout, you might get closer to mirroring your rest-of-the-year routine. But, even if you can still turn horses out for some of the day, the earlier sunset and later sunrise means many horses simply spend more time stabled and less time being ridden or turned out in pens and fields. Time in the school is at a premium and no one wants to hack out when it’s wet and windy or the roads are slippery with ice.
So, how can you help support a stabled horse’s health and wellbeing in the winter months? We’ve put our heads together and come up with some top tips that we use for our horses to make sure they are happy and healthy by the time spring rolls around, the clocks change, and we can start daydreaming about pub rides. Let’s get started!
- Boredom busting
Horses are very sociable animals and don’t automatically thrive when they spend too much time in a stable on their own. That means it’s worth considering ways you can alleviate their boredom to reduce the risk of them developing vices or simply being unhappy during the winter! There are horse balls that you can place some hard treats in which trickle out when the horse rolls it around, or you can make your own boredom busting toy by stringing apples and carrots on horse-safe rope and hanging them in the stable. You can also use a trickle-feeding device or hay net with extra small holes to ensure their forage lasts as long as possible.
- Joint care
The colder weather, and standing still for long periods of time, can exacerbate any joint stiffness or arthritis your horse is suffering from. This is partly because colder weather can cause the synovial fluid in the joints, which helps lubricate them and makes movement easier, to become less effective. There are two products available from Equilibrium Products and sold on our website that can help. First up are the Equilibrium Stable Chaps, which help keep lower joints warm and dry when they are in their box. They are an easy to apply alternative to stable bandages which can help to reduce filling and boast a quick drying lining. Then there are the Equilibrium Magnetic Chaps, which contain four movable, clinical-grade VITA flex magnets. These chaps can be worn overnight or during the day to help boost circulation, support horses with filled legs and keep joints warm.
- Circulation-boosting massage
Another side effect of standing in a stable, especially in cold weather and for an animal that is designed to wander the land grazing for up to 17 hours a day, is that their circulation can struggle. That can lead to filled legs and impact their hoof health, so it’s not ideal! Luckily there are some helpful tools which make it easy to give your horse a daily massage – and one of them can even do it for you while you’re mucking out or mixing feeds. Equilibrium Products have developed both a massage pad that can be used ‘hands-free’ and a hand-held massage mitt for targeted treatments. The Equilibrium Massage Pad is a lightweight, battery powered, portable massage pad which stimulates the muscles on the horse’s back with pulsing, vibration and stroking actions. This massage pad is clinically proven to improve back flexibility and promote relaxation and has pre-programmed 30-minute sessions. The Equilibrium Massage Mitt is ideal for using on muscle groups in a horse’s neck, quarters and hamstrings, and comes programmed to do 10-minute sessions in three intensities. Many customers use it after they’ve ridden their horse or to boost circulation and relaxation as a treat! There’s also a heated version of this product, the HotSpot Massage Mitt.
- Tailor their stable for winter
We also recommend taking a little bit of time to adapt your horse’s stable for winter. It’s worth offering forage in several places around the stable if you can, at different heights. That way their head will not be held in one position for hours on end, and feeding from the floor helps drain their airways. While horses still need plenty of fresh air, try to prevent draughts in their stable. Your horse needs to lie down every night, even if just for short periods, to get REM sleep, so make sure they’re protected from drafts and the cold, hard floor with a deeper bed in winter. Finally, if the weather turns very cold then be aware that older horses may find water that is close to freezing hurts their teeth, and therefore don’t drink very much. That can lead to dehydration and a higher risk of impaction colic, so top up their bucket with warm water and add lots of tepid water to their feed.