Although our activities and routines vary based on the time of year, we don’t necessarily notice any major changes in the way our bodies function. Horses, however, clearly adjust their bodies, behaviour, and needs based on environmental conditions like the amount of daylight. In this post, we explore seasonal changes in horses.
Fall and Winter
The fall is a good time to prepare horses for the coming winter, including adding more hay to their diet. In the fall, pasture plants start to store more sugars, which can cause digestive problems in horses. Fall pasture grass also has fewer nutrients.
Forage, such as hay, takes a long time for horses to digest. That provides heat over a longer period - ideal for the winter. Hay also gives the horse extra calories. Note that it’s essential to make changes to horses’ diet slowly, not all at once.
Depending on the horse, it can be a good idea to increase its body weight over the fall. Some horses lose weight over the winter since they’re burning calories to stay warm. Others gain weight due to reduced exercise.
Wild horses reduce their metabolism over the winter given the harsher environmental conditions. Although domestic horses have a more consistent food supply, there is some evidence that Shetland ponies, at least, also have a lower metabolic rate in the winter.
Although horses generally prefer drinking cold water, they also tend to drink less in the fall and winter. One issue can be freezing water, so insulated bucket covers and de-icers for water troughs are available.
A more obvious change when looking at a horse in the fall is that it starts growing its fuzzy winter coat in September. Throughout the cooler fall and winter, horse owners must ensure that their horses stay warm and dry.
Spring and Summer
Horses start shedding their winter coats in response to increasing daylight. The process starts in late December but only becomes noticeable in May. A horse tends to shed at the same time every year and often in the same pattern.
In the spring, horses may eat too much new grass too quickly, leading to health issues like colic and laminitis. Horse owners should limit their horses’ access to the pasture in the springtime, only gradually increasing it.
Mares are typically in heat on and off between April and October. With an 11-month gestation period, they give birth the following spring or summer.
Like humans, horses suffer in summer heat and humidity. It’s important to provide them with sufficient fresh, cool, clean water. Loose or block salt can also be beneficial, as can electrolytes if the horse is sweating a lot.
Horse owners and riders should limit horses’ activity to the cooler parts of the day if possible and ensure that the animals cool down properly, perhaps by misting or sponging them. Horses living outside should have access to shade or a shelter to escape the heat, while horses indoors enjoy having a fan running. Another part of horse summer care is applying sunscreen to vulnerable patches of skin.
Did you increase your understanding of how horses and horse care change over the course of the year? Let us know in the comments!
Hello, My name is Shelby Gatti, and I am the owner of Shelby Ranch. I love being able to share my passion for animals with you and your family. At Shelby Ranch you can expect a ton of family adventure from horseback riding to mechanical bull riding & axe throwing.