This is a question we are asked often, that has many factors to consider.
1) Ice or slippery conditions:
1. Is your horse shod? All four feet or just fronts? - horses shod on all 4 are at increased risk of slipping. Does your horse have borium or something similar on his shoes to prevent slipping? Borium is helpful but also acts like a permanent "Cleat" on the horses foot, potentially increasing the strain on his legs.
2. Have you taken steps to improve the icy/slippery spots? Wet manure can work particularly well to adhere to ice and form traction. Other options are wet shavings, wood chips, salt and sand. However be aware that if you mix salt and sand in a paddock or pasture your horse may lick the salt, ingest the sand and develop sand colic.
2) Extreme Cold:
1. Is your horse a senior citizen? Older horses are more prone to hypothermia as are donkeys.
2. Is your horse in good body weight? Thin horses have a harder time keeping warm.
3. Does your horse have shelter from the wind?
4. Would your horse benefit from a blanket?
5. Does your horse have hay available 24/7? The act of eating hay warms a horse considerably.
6. Does your horse have an adequate (not frozen) water supply outside?
3) Risks of leaving your horse inside:
1. Lack of adequate exercise can increase lameness issues, colic, tying up and behavior issues.
2. If you cannot turn your horse out, he should be hand walked or exercised daily.
4) Older Horses found "Down" in pasture or Paddock:
This is a phenomena we see quite often in the winter in Minnesota. Of coarse there are many tragic events such as colic and fractures that can cause this. However, quite often an older horse will lie down, become stiff and cold on the down side and find itself unable to rise. The longer the horse is down, the more hypothermic it becomes and the more difficult to rise. Often, if there is no underlying cause such as fracture, the horse will be able to rise if you simply flip the horse over. This is done by first placing a halter and lead rope on the horse and evaluating for obvious wounds or fractures. Next we carefully loop (Do not tie) a rope on the front and back legs that are on the "Down side". The ropes are applied below the fetlock. This procedure is best done with 3 people, one holding each rope and one holding the lead rope to the halter. You must at this point make sure the surface which you roll the horse toward is not slippery. Simultaneously, the ropes are pulled and the horse is flipped over, Be very careful all people involved are safely out of the way as the horse may the leap up and kick at the ropes. Once the horse is up and standing, getting it to a warm dry area is essential, as is offering water and hay.
Please feel free to call us with any questions regarding your horse and cold weather care.