Taking great care of your horse is important all year long. However, when the seasons start to change, their needs often do as well. Taking some time to learn how to care for a horse in the fall will ensure your equine friend gets the TLC it needs before the harsh winter weather arrives.
The following horse care tips will help keep your horse happy and healthy all season long.
Learning how to care for a horse isn’t just about its physical needs. Horse lovers know these animals are far more psychologically sound when they can freely roam around and interact with other horses. If your horse spends the bulk of his time in his stall, you’ll need to stay mindful of his mental health, making sure to keep him active and engaged. Plan to spend plenty of time providing your horse with enrichment opportunities and socialization. If possible, also try to allow your horse to turn out every day, except when weather conditions are extreme.
Since the weather is cooler and there are fewer bugs, the fall is a great time to get out and ride. Just remember to always change a horse’s activity level gradually. This is important whether you’re increasing or decreasing it. If you’re going to start riding more, add intensity and/or duration slowly and then wind it back down before the weather starts to turn too cold. If your horse is coming off a busy show season, you’ll need to get him comfortable with a more relaxed lifestyle. It's also important to plan to keep his joints, muscles, heart, and lungs in shape during the off months.
Horses that are stabled most of the time generally need at least 30 to 60 minutes of exercise each day. It’s also important to allow your horse to warm up, as this will help minimize the risk of injury. This may include simply allowing the horse to turn out, then walking or trotting at an easy pace for 10-15 minutes before his daily workout. A cool-down after exercise is necessary as well.
Deworming and Vaccinations
Vaccinations and deworming are another critical part of proper horse care. It’s wise to consult with your veterinarian regarding your horse’s recommended vaccination schedule and make sure you keep up with it.
Internal parasites also become active this time of year, making deworming an important part of fall horse care. Horses with worms can experience weight loss, colic, and have issues with their coats. Before deworming, however, it’s best to have your veterinarian perform a fecal egg test and let you know which dewormers to use and when. This will help you avoid over-treating.
Changing Hoof Conditions
Horses generally need their hooves trimmed every six to eight weeks. Depending on your horse’s body type, environment, and activity level, he may also need shoes. However, if your horse will get less exercise during the fall and winter, then taking shoes off may give his feet a chance to toughen up before the ground gets too hard. It’s a good idea to consult with your farrier and follow their recommendations for keeping your horse’s hooves strong, comfortable, and well-balanced.
Since a horse’s teeth never stop growing, regular dental care is also important. Uneven wear can cause sharp edges and points that make it difficult for the horse to chew and can cause pain. Twice a year, your vet should check your horse's teeth and file them down.
Failing to take care of a horse’s teeth can lead to serious problems. This may include difficulty chewing, colic, esophageal blockage, and/or weight loss. Avoid this by making a dental appointment every spring and fall.
Many horse owners spend less time with their horses during the colder months. When you’re riding every day, it’s easy to notice changes in your horse’s condition. Fall horse care requires a bit more effort. Make sure to note your horse’s body condition score and weight as the fall season begins, and watch for any major fluctuations.
Since a horse’s coat will often thicken in the colder months, it can be more difficult to monitor its condition. This means you’ll have to pay closer attention and keep a sharp eye out for signs of illness or other issues. If you notice any problems, reach out to your vet as soon as possible. Nobody wants to deal with an equine emergency at 2 AM on a freezing cold winter's night.
Feeding & Nutrition
Horses are healthiest when they eat small, frequent meals consisting of roughage throughout the day. Most will do well with grass and good-quality hay that’s free of mold and dust. The heat created when a horse digests hay gives him the energy to stay warm in the colder temperatures. The fiber in the hay will also help prevent colic and other digestive issues.
If you find that hay is in short supply in the colder months or that it’s not good enough quality, consider supplementing with other options like haylage, silage, or hay cubes made of pressed and dried alfalfa or alfalfa/grass mix. You may also want to provide an alternative fiber source, like soybean hulls or beet pulp.
In some cases, you may find that you need to adjust the forage ratio to grain and/or feed different types of forage. Adding additional calories from fat sources and/or concentrates may also help your horse maintain its desired weight.
A vet can help you assess whether you need to feed your horse more during the colder months or reduce his calories. If your horse gets significantly less exercise in the fall, it might be necessary to cut calories back; otherwise, he could become overweight before the spring thaw. Since proper feeding requires a delicate balance, it’s always a good idea to talk to your vet or an equine nutritionist before making major changes to your horse’s diet.
Meeting Water Requirements
Horses always need access to freshwater that’s not frozen. If you live in an area where the temperatures fall below freezing, you’ll need to purchase and install a water bucket heater. Don’t forget to check every day to make sure it’s working correctly and add more water. Horses need about five gallons of water every day and making sure they get it is critical to their health.
It’s also important to note that some horses won’t drink super cold water. This means you may need to add warm water at least once a day. Adding electrolytes to the water or giving horses an electrolyte feed-topping supplement is also a good idea. Electrolytes encourage water intake, which will decrease your horse’s risk of colic.
As the fall weather changes growing conditions, your horse may start snacking on greenery he would otherwise leave alone. Unfortunately, this increases the chance he could come across toxic plants and end up being poisoned. To help prevent this from happening, make sure you’re offering supplemental hay well before the pastures start to go bare.
Many horses love acorns. Although they can typically eat them without any problems, sometimes this can cause a health issue. A horse suffering from acorn toxicity may have abdominal pain or colic, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and/or laminitis. If possible, try to limit your horse's access to acorns, so he doesn't over-indulge.
Protection from the Elements
When considering how to care for a horse, it’s critical to make sure they have access to a safe form of shelter at all times. During the fall months, run-in sheds are a great way to provide protection from the elements. Adding these structures to your property will allow your horse to enjoy his freedom while also offering protection from sun, wind, snow, and rain.
Horses that are left out in the rain can develop skin issues and may suffer from softened hooves. In the cooler months, whipping wind can also cut through a horse’s coat, making it difficult for them to stay warm. A corral shelter with a canopy can provide additional wind protection and give your horse a comfortable place to take a hay and water break. Since they’re portable and easy to assemble, they’re also great for taking along with you when you travel to show your animals.
ShelterLogic has provided strong, reliable, and functional shelters – including corral shelters and run-in sheds – for over 25 years. You can count on us to provide long-lasting shelters that will keep your horses safe. Take a look through our inventory of equine and livestock products today, and you'll quickly see why so many horse lovers trust ShelterLogic.