10 Christmas gifts for horse riders

Caring for your horse at Christmas

Sudden changes in routine can be very stressful for horses, so ensuring their management is kept the same over the Christmas period is vital. We look at ways to keep our horses happy and well during the festive period while finding time to enjoy the festivities ourselves.

Approved by Gil Riley.

Many feed and tack shops close over the Christmas period, so ensure you stock up on feed, bedding and essential items such as medication a few weeks before. Sudden weather changes can also impact your ability to access supplies, so ensure you have enough of everything to see you through.

Christmas and New Year are popular times for setting off fireworks, so it’s worth putting a plan in place for your horse, especially if you know they react badly to them. Ask neighbours to let you know if and when they plan to have a display so that you can prepare. See our guide to keeping horses safe during fireworks.

It can be tempting to give your horse lots of time off over Christmas. Horses tend to spend more time stabled in the winter, however, so it’s really important to ensure they get enough exercise to keep their metabolism working. Give them plenty of fresh air and keep them occupied. If you don’t have time to ride, a simple lunge or long-reining session will suffice, or you could enjoy some peace and quiet from the hustle and bustle of Christmas by going on a lovely winter hack. If you can’t exercise your horse, ensure they have plenty of time in the paddock to stretch their legs.

Although Christmas is a busy time of year, it’s still important to spend time with your horse, ensuring they feel cared for. Horses are very sociable creatures, and for horses that spend a lot of time stabled, a brush and scratch from you will not only offer some company, but also improve your bond. What better way to work off a delicious Christmas dinner than using some elbow grease to give your horse a good groom?

Christmas brings fun and frolics, but it can also throw up a few issues when it comes to your horse’s health. It is, after all, the middle of winter. So, what conditions should you look out for and how can you prevent them?

Cold, icy weather and owners spending time enjoying the festivities can mean that horses get turned out less and aren’t ridden as much. This can increase the risk of impaction colic because when the movement of food in the gut slows, it increases the risk of it becoming stuck and the feed behind it backing up. ‘Stimulating normal gut motility is really important, even if that’s simply allowing your horse time in the paddock to walk while grazing, or taking them for an in-hand walk,’ says Petplan Equine veterinary expert Gil Riley. ‘Encouraging your horse to drink more water by ensuring it is fresh and not frozen, as well as keeping them moving with in-hand walking, ridden exercise or turnout will all help.’

We know that any sudden change in feed, such as the amount or type given, is a risk factor for colic. And it isn’t just hard feed either – a change in forage is also dangerous as is a sudden, big reduction in grass. ‘Wherever possible, make sure your horse’s feeding and turn-out routine stays the same over the Christmas period to prevent any digestive upsets,’ advises Gil. ‘Introduce any changes to feed, forage and routine slowly over a number of days.’

Although we might think it’s a lovely idea to give our horses homemade Christmas treats, it’s advisable to be careful what type of treat or feed you offer your horse, as some foods that aren’t chewed properly can result in choke. ‘Older horses and ponies, and those whose teeth are very worn, are at particular risk of choke,’ says Gil. ‘Make sure that any solid items, such as carrots, are well chopped, and check the sugar content, especially for horses with metabolic conditions.’

If you are concerned your horse is choking (for example, you see feed and saliva coming from the nose), call your vet immediately.

Stress caused by sudden changes to management and routine, and prolonged periods without food, can all contribute to horses developing ulcers. ‘Where possible, stick to your horse’s usual routine over Christmas and make sure they don’t go for long periods without fresh water and forage,’ says Gil. ‘Using trickle feeders and small-holed hay nets will prolong the time it takes for your horse to eat their ration, and eating forage produces acid-buffering saliva to help protect against ulcers.’

Do you have great tips for caring for your horse at Christmas? Why not share them on our Facebook page and see what other people advise?