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Caring for your horse at Christmas

Christmas is about spending time with those dear to you, including your beloved horse. But with parties, family gatherings and bad weather getting in the way, it can be a little tricky to find the time for your equine friend. Rhea Freeman gives her top tips on caring for your horse during the busy festive season.

1. Creatures of habit

Horses like routine and can become anxious if this is broken. If festive commitments mean that your normal routine might slip, speak to a friend to see if they can help you bring in/turn out, in exchange for you helping them.

2. Avoid Christmas treats

A horse’s gut bacteria need to adapt to any changes slowly, so giving him a feed he’s never had before as a Christmas ‘treat’ is a bad idea – it could even lead to colic. Instead, let him have a piece of fruit he likes, a more thorough groom, a lovely new rug or a smart new headcollar.

3. Warm and cosy

If it’s crisp and cold outside, make sure you spend extra time warming up before you head out, and look to invest in an exercise sheet. Polo player Bet Faulkner says it’s important to stay warm yourself, too: ‘Personally, I live in full chaps and keep them on for riding as well. It helps to reduce the risk of chilblains.’

4. Chill out

Even in the winter months, cooling a horse after exercise is really important, as dressage rider Sam Rahmatalla explains: ‘I’m always careful to cool down my horses for long enough so they do not get a chill. I also start them in an exercise sheet, remove it for intensive work and replace it at the end when they’re cooling down.’

5. Provide the entertainment

If the snow’s deep and keeping you inside, or the festive preparations mean you have less time for riding, your horse will need something to keep his mind busy. Look at toys that will keep him mentally stimulated, and small holed haynets to make hay last longer. Bet has another idea: ‘Apples in water buckets are a great way to keep horses mentally stimulated. It also encourages them to drink.’

6. Fed and watered

A high-fibre diet will keep a horse occupied for longer (as fibre takes more time to eat than concentrated feed) and helps to keep him warm, due to the fermentation process that happens in the horse’s hind gut. Keep an eye on water levels, too – it’s important that your horse drinks enough in cold weather.