October 7, 2016

Prepared for winter?

There are lots of factors to consider when assessing to what extent your horse can withstand the change in season and how the winter might be made more comfortable for them.

Andie Vilela from Redwings Horse Sanctuary has some practical advice on winter feeding to help prepare you for the winter months:

Winter feeding

A horse’s weight fluctuates with the changing seasons. This helps them adapt to the natural environment.
Horses enter the winter season with more fat reserves, which act as energy stores to help them cope with the harsher weather and poorer quality grazing.

It’s important to monitor weight regularly, but in winter it’s important to check your horse doesn’t drop below an ideal body condition. Redwings have a great video on body condition scoring, which you can watch here – https://www.redwings.org.uk/news-and-view/body-condition-scoring. A thin horse will feel the cold more and use up stored fat to maintain its bodily warmth, thereby losing more weight.

Muddy ground will inevitably affect grazing and grass won’t grow when the temperature drops below 5°C. Most owners will compensate for the lack of grass by providing hay or barley straw, and supplementary horse feed, if required.

At Redwings, 80% of horses are on grazing and forage (hay or haylege) only diets and don’t receive any additional hard feeds. However, if your horse does require additional feed this needs to be calculated properly.

You can find detailed advice on how to calculate the daily ration for your horse in Redwings’ ‘Lightening the Load’ guidance herehttps://www.redwings.org.uk/news-and-views/lightening-load.

Pasture management

It’s important to ensure that you have sufficient grazing all year round, but unfortunately horses are heavy animals with feet that quickly churn up soft ground!

Here are Redwings’ top tips on how you can try to manage your land to minimise the damage:

  • Resting an area of pasture over winter to ensure good grazing for spring/summer: you can do this by reserving a separate field or using an electric tape to cordon off an area that your horse can enjoy once the grass is growing again in the spring.
  • Putting drainage in the most used areas of the field: these tend to be near the gate, in front of field shelters, and around hayrings and water tanks. Straw can provide a temporary reprieve from deep mud, but hardcore, if laid well, will provide a more long term solution.
  • Putting down a straw pad can provide a comfy, dry area for eating hay or even snoozing: although not suitable if your horse has a dust allergy. This will need completely removing in the spring and will kill the grass underneath so may not always be a viable option.
  • Creating an all-weather turnout area: this is the most expensive option, but can be well worth the initial cost. Woodchip, shredded rubber or even concrete, if properly laid and fenced, can provide a safe, dry area that can be useful on many occasions, not just in winter.


More about Redwings: Redwings Horse Sanctuary was established in 1984 and has grown to be the largest horse sanctuary in the UK. Redwings are dedicated to saving horses, ponies, donkeys and mules whose future would otherwise be bleak. The charity now cares for over 1,500 rescued horses and donkeys at ten centres around the UK every day and has a further 500 living out in Guardian homes.

This article was written by Andie Vilela, Redwings’ Education and Campaigns manager. For more information about Redwings’ education work, email: education@redwings.co.uk.

For more information about Redwings visit www.redwings.org.uk

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