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Senior Horses: Take Extra Care When It’s Extra Cold

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Dr. Deb Eldredge with her Cinnamon. | Photo courtesy of Horse Journal

Horse Journal’s Contributing Veterinary Editor Dr. Deb Eldredge has a wonderful way of turning the negative into the positive, with just a touch of a giggle!  Here she talks about horsekeeping in the horrible frigid temperatures currently gripping the nation:

As many of you know by now I have three senior horses – all 30 + years old. So when it is cold, I take extra care.

Our barn is built into a hillside. This is almost always a plus – the exception being spring thaw when we get some flooding in the aisle. In the summer, the barn stays cool and in the winter it stays relatively warm.

This morning when I first got up, the outside temperature was –17° F, with a wind chill of –33°. I waited a bit and it did indeed warm up. Outside now –6°F with a wind chill of –13°. I head down to the barn where the temperature is a balmy 20° F.

The horses basically get all the hay they can eat, plus grain. In the winter I add alfalfa pellets and on really cold days, some alfalfa cubes. They also get some oil added to their feed plus apples as treats. I put heated water in their water buckets (warming up water with a bucket heater).

The horses are not blanketed but have wonderfully thick coats. Snow does not melt on their backs in storms as they are so well insulated. They actually look a bit like Thelwell ponies at times.

We currently do not have much snow so the horses are still grazing and picking in the pastures. In fact, they often leave the hay I put out to go paw and graze in the fields.

Today my plan is to put them out after they eat their grain for a half hour or so while I clean stalls, freshen up waters, add hay, etc. Then they will come back in where it is warmer. I finish my chores and open the back door. I bang the gate (our signal to come), holler and wave my arms. They look up and basically wave back. They do not come.

I wait a few minutes and try again. Same result. I head out to bring them back in. Ha! Now three elderly equines take off cantering slowly AWAY from the warm barn and me. I give up! It is sunny and I will go back down in an hour to see if they have come to their senses.

Four hours later, the seniors decide that just maybe it would make sense to head back into the barn and eat some alfalfa cubes and hay with a chaser of warm water. Crispy, the Quarter Horse, started to have second thoughts but I got the back door shut before she could leave.

I might add, when it is hot in the summer, my horses are much more willing to stay in. That may be partly due to fly attacks as well as the heat, but I have a barn full of cold-weather equines. The one exception is Spice the donkey. She feels that she should be in unless it is 50 to 75° F with a nice breeze and no precipitation.

I hope your horses are all comfortable and well fed, whatever the weather where you are!

P.S. I tried to get a photo of the wild seniors out in the snow with the bright blue sky but my camera refused to work. Too cold for equipment, so it ought to be too cold for horses!

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