5 tips to ensure your horse stays in excellent condition this winter

As the nights get colder and the frost greets us in the morning, we need to seriously consider the health care of our horses over this festive season. It’s all too easy for horses to lose weight, or develop skin conditions that could be relatively easily avoided if we pay attention. In this post our equine veterinary expert – Nikki Walshe – gives us her top 5 tips for keeping our horses in tip top shape this winter.

  1. Body Condition Score

    • Body condition scoring your horse before the winter season in conjunction with use of a weigh tape is essential to maintain adequate condition in the winter
      • Take the rug off at least twice a week
      • Examine the horse both visual and with manual palpation (woolly coats can be deceiving)
      • Record BCS and weigh tape measurements at least twice a month
    • If you are unsure you can always consult your vet


  1. Water consumption

    • In cold weather horses often tend to drink less and often consume more fibrous forage therefore they are at more of a risk of impaction colic
      • Ensure water troughs are checked for ice morning an evening
      • Offer warm water when possible
      • Offer a salt lick or add a salt supplement to the diet to encourage increased water intake


  1. Worming

    • This time of year it is important to treat horses with Moxidectin (or 5 days febendazole). This will kill the small red worm that can live in gut lining (encysted cyathostomes).
      • NOTE: this is only done if your horse has a comprehensive worming history as it can cause gut lining damage if the burden is particularly high. Please contact your vet for consultation if you are worried.
    • Take a faecal egg count prior to worming, if it is above 200eggs ensure to take one 10-14days post worming to make sure your worming has worked.
  1. Skin disease

    • Mud rash/ mud fever/rain scald – are all caused by Dermatophyilus congolenis a bacteria that thrives on skin in wet muddy environments. It germinates when the skin barrier is broken either being continuously wet or through skin irritations.
    • Fencing off particularly muddy areas, changing fields when they become cut up or cementing congregating areas around water or feeding troughs can help.
    • Regularly check horses for mud rash and rain scald. Particularly under rugs. If horses sweat up, rugs aren’t fully water proof or rugs are applied when horses are wet this can also induce “rain scald” along their back.
  1. Feeding Horses in Winter

    • Nutritional quality of grass reduces in winter and wet cold weather can reduce the horse’s natural defences against the cold. Therefore monitoring BCS and providing good quality forage is key to providing for nutritional requirement in horses.
    • Depending on whether your horse is a good doer or a hard keeper, forage intake can range from 1-2.5%. Change intake amount slowly so as to not cause gastric upset and resultant colic.
    • As mentioned before regular BCS monitoring is essential to modification of diets not only for weight loss but weight gain also. Increased weight gain can be a potential risk to health when horses are put onto lush spring grass.

The key message is to not forget about your horse in the field. Regular monitoring allows for changes in diet and treatment problems promptly and effectively.


[cs_promobox column_size=”1/1″ cs_promobox_section_title=”Top Tip” cs_promo_image_url=”Browse” bg_repeat=”yes” text_align=”left”]If you don’t have a weigh tape get a piece of string/rope/tape, measure around the girth area behind the front legs to the level of the withers, mark where the tip meets the main piece and this is your baseline to use for measuring again. [/cs_promobox]

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If you have a question to Ask The Vet, simply email it to and Nikki will give you her insights.

Please note that our veterinary articles are written to give you insights and understanding of common equine veterinary problems and are not intended to take the place of a veterinary examination by your own vet. If in doubt, always call your own vet should your horse require attention. 

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Main image with thanks to Faith Bailey Equestrian Artwork.


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