By: Desiree Altmaier

Living in Montana while taking care of horses isn’t easy. Lucky for you, here is the ultimate horse care guide for living under the Big Sky. There are many different elements to horse care in Montana that you will always have to consider, such as the ever-changing weather, feed and water, shelter, hoof care and last but not least grooming. These elements will help you succeed in caring for your horses in Montana. We will go through each element in a detailed manner that will be explained throughout the different seasons that Montana brings us. So please, join me on this journey of caring for the amazing animals, we call horses, under the Big Sky.

Mission Mountains behind an old barn

Feed & Water

          In Montana, the amount of hay you feed your horse depends on your type of pasture situation. Whether you have pastures for your horses to graze or they have to strictly be on a hay diet due to the lack of pasture grass your horse facility has. Horses need access to water all year around.

Spring: This time of year, the green grass starts to grow and the sunshine arrives, Along with the newly grown grass, brings on the need for grazing muzzles for your four legged friends who loves the grass a little too much.

  • Dangers of Spring Grass- Horses love the fresh green grass but that means that the grass is high in sugar and starch. There are many different health concerns but the biggest is Laminitis (founder) it is the disease that causes the laminae in the horse’s hoof to be inflamed and damaged which then leads to instability of the coffin bone, it is extremely painful for the horse to walk. It’s always a safe option to slowly ease your horses on to the green grass and make sure they are used to the grass so they have a better chance of not foundering. For more information, check out Spring Grass Safety.

    Rio enjoying the fresh spring grass
  • Grazing Muzzles- For those horses who are food motivated, it’s always a good idea to think about investing in a grazing muzzle. Grazing muzzles keep your horse from overgrazing which means that it slows them down on their grass intake. I use grazing muzzles on my horses that are on the heavier side during spring and summer months, they do great in their grazing muzzles. It is important for the horse owner to relieve them of their muzzle everyday so that they can get a break form them. I typically put the muzzle on during the night when they are on pasture and then let them have a break during the day time when its hot out. For more information about grazing muzzles, check out Horse Grazing Muzzle FAQs.

Summer: During the hot weather of the summer months in Montana, the green sugary grass starts to go into dormancy after the weather starts to get hotter and the days are longer. Summer grass isn’t as potent to a horse’s health, but horse owners will still need to watch their horse’s health throughout the summer days.

  • Water- Just like any other animal in the summer, water is a huge need to keep them hydrated during the hot days. Horses need access to water throughout the day.

Fall: While the leaves change, the weather starts to get colder and therefore (depending on your pasture situation) you will need to think about increasing the feed that you give your four- legged friends and increasing your hay supply for the winter.

  • Increase Hay Amount- As the days grow colder in Montana, it’s always a good idea to make sure your horse is getting all of the nutrients and feed they need to get ready for winter.
  • Hay Supply- The late summer and early fall is the time horse owners need to stockpile their hay for winter feeding. Again, it always depends on what your horse facility provides (as far as pasture grass), typically, horse owners get enough hay of what they fed the last winter and a couple extra bales just in case it’s a harsh winter to come. My family and I get our hay in late August or early September, we get the second cut of hay in square bales from a local rancher.

Winter: The Montana winters will get pretty nasty so always monitor the hay and water consumption of your horse (especially when the temperature drastically drops). Hay will help your horse’s body temperature to stay up and water intake for the horse will help the body stay healthy.

  • Feeding- It is very important to watch your horse closely due to the many health conditions that can surface if your horse isn’t getting enough food. Another great idea is to make sure your hay is well covered and snow/rain can’t, quite literally “weather it away”.

    Weston enjoying the winter snow
  • Water Intake- Water tanks, trough etc. are bound to be frozen in Montana’s early mornings, if you don’t have a heated waterer then I would highly recommend investing in a water trough heater to make sure your horse’s water isn’t frozen in the morning or day time. For more tips, visit Keeping Water Troughs Thawed With or Without a Heater. Feeding hay on the beautiful white snow is always a great way for a horses to get extra water in their bodies. There is also a trick to feed them salt in their grain or hay, so then they will drink more water and will stay healthy through the winter.

 

Shelter

Harley James enjoying his dinner in his barn

        Providing shelter for your horse is a great way to keep them comfortable during the harshest weather conditions that Montana will throw at you. If you don’t have the means to provide your horse with a nice shelter to get out of the wind/snow, think about investing in a nice blanket if your horse needs that extra comfort to stay warm. If you feel under the blanket and you can feel a damp/wetness then the horse is too hot and the blanket needs to be removed.

Spring: Montana tends to favor winter over any of the other seasons, but spring is always right around the corner. The weather still has its winter vibes that will shoot down some snow here and there but mostly rain. Providing shelter for your horse is necessary and removing the horse’s blanket during the day is a must.

  • Shelter- Shelter for horses are always a plus so that they have a place that they can get away from the wet and muddiness of spring. If horses are in deep mud most of their day and nowhere to get dry, it can cause a couple of health problems like thrush, tender feet, lose shoes, soften the hooves, unnormal hoof growth etc. Horses need a good solid, ground to get away from the spring weather, shavings are always a plus during the muddy times so that the horses can roll, take naps etc comfortably. For more information about the importance of horses having access to dry areas, check out HERE’S THE DIRT ON MUDDY PADDOCKS AND HORSE HEALTH.
  • Blanketing- If your horse needs to be blanketed but the days are getting warmer, it would be a good day to start taking the blanket off during the day but then putting the blanket back on the horse during the night.

Summer: It’s always a good idea to give your horse shelter that will let them have a break from the sun’s rays. This will protect them from the sun and the summer insects.

  • Montana Sun- Horses having access to shelter during the summer will protect them from the harsh summer sun and be able to take a break from it as well.
  • Insects- Flies especially will bug your horses throughout the heat of summer.
    Harley James wearing his purple fly blanket

    Shelter/shade tend to protect the horses from the flies because the flies think it’s too cold in the shade. If you aren’t able to provide shelter for your horses to get away from the insects, investing in a fly blanket is always a good option whenever you notice the insects are biting/ bugging your horses.

Fall: In Montana the rainy season can cause a common skin condition called Rain Rot, it can occur where the rain hits the horse’s body, mainly on the head, neck and back. Rain Rot looks/ feels like crusty scabs, the horse’s immune system will get rid of them on its own. But, can re-appear if the problem of no shelter stays the same. For more information about Rain Rot, check out How to Get Rid of Rain Rot.

Winter:  When the harsh Montana wind and snow begin, it’s best for your horse to have a place where they can comfortably get out of the wind or snow. Your horse may need the extra warmth from a blanket due to the lack of body weight or an illness occurs during a cold Montana winter.

  • Shelter- All your horse needs is a place to get out of the wind, a stall in a barn or a simple run in shelter will do the trick. This will help your horse stay warm and healthy. I always like to give my horses a nice clean bed, whether it’s shavings or straw, just somewhere they can either lay down in or roll in comfortably.
  • Blanketing your Horse- A lot of horse owners have varying ideas about whether or not to blanket their horse during the cold winter of Montana. If you do plan to blanket your horse during cold temps, be sure that they are comfortable in them and that they aren’t too hot. If you feel under the blanket, if they are just warm under there then you are good to go. But if they’re sweating, then it is too hot and you need to take the blanket off. Blankets are essential for horses that are thin, sick, recently clipped or been moved to a colder climate would have trouble staying warm. Remember that when blanketing a horse for long periods of time, the horse’s body will get used to it and not produce enough hair it needs to stay warm without a blanket. A lot of other horse owners prefer not to blanket their horses so that they will produce their own warmth and will then be prepared for other weather to come along.

If you would like more tips and tricks to grooming your horse check out this video done by Jeffers, How to Groom a Horse

Hoof Care

Caring for your horse’s hooves are very important all year around. Hoof care is very important to your horse’s health, especially living In Montana with the ever-changing weather conditions.

Spring: Caring for your horse’s hooves due to growth is constant during the springtime because of the extended daylight hours and the wet ground that can cause a couple different problems.

  • Increased hoof growth– Due to the length of each day, there is an increasingly more light that can help your horse’s hooves grow faster than usual. You may need to have your farrier visit a couple weeks earlier than your normal 6 to 8 week appointments.
  • Rainy spring + horse hooves = Hoof rot– it’s a perfect combination. Hoof rot is also called thrush, this causes black discharge that is very smelly due to the frog and surrounding areas that are infected. If thrush occurs, it is wise to clean, and pick the hoof often and can be medicated if need be. For more information on thrush, check out Thrush.

Summer: The ground can become very hard and tough during the hot summer months under the Big Sky. Horse owners need to be conscientious about dry hooves and those pesky rocks that can poke your horse’s hooves and cause multiple problems.

  • Dry hooves- Chips and cracks can be the cause of your horse’s hooves to be dry or the cornet band could be injured. The cracks tend to run along the tubules of the hoof. Trimming the hoof to rebalance the hoof is always a great remedy for hoof cracks and chips.
  • Stone bruises & abscesses- These nasty bruises occur when a horse steps on a sharp rock and can bruise the sole of the hoof. A bruised hoof can sometimes lead to an abscess, which is a pocket of puss in the horse’s hoof tissue. For more information, check out Why Hoof Bruises Happen.

Fall: As the cold mornings grow fonder in Montana, horse owners need to start thinking of the removal of the horse’s shoes since winter is just around the corner.

  • Removal of shoes- When October or November roll around, it’s time to take off your horse’s shoes before the winter snow flies. If you are a performance horse owner, you will need to get a specific type of shoe that has a pad on the bottom of the shoe. For horses that aren’t going to be ridden too much during the winter, going barefoot for your horse will make it easier for the horse to maneuver around in the snow and ice.

Winter: Horses hooves grow at a slower speed as during the warmer months, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a visit from your favorite Montana farrier every 6-8 weeks. It’s ideal to have your horse go barefoot throughout the winter so that they can maneuver the snow and ice naturally. But again, if you are a performance horse owner who rides your horse daily in the arena during the winter, you may have to have a specific shoe for your horse. Cleaning out the hoof is very important to your horse, this will get the dirt, feces, ice/snow that compacted etc., will relieve your horse from being too uncomfortable. For more information, check out Winter Hoof Care.

Grooming

       Montana’s weather is always changing and so does the type of grooming styles. Grooming your horse is very important to their skin and overall health. Grooming also gives you and your horse that extra bonding time that is much deserved. Always remember to brush your horse before and after you ride under the big Montana sky.

Harley James, all groomed & ready for a ride

Spring: Grooming a horse during the spring time can be a huge chore, the horse is beginning to get a new coat, so their winter hair starts to shed off. Horses also tend to roll, and a lot of times they roll in very muddy spots, this turns into brushing dried mud off of the horse’s body.

Shedding coat- You will need to have the right grooming tools, such as a shedding blade, body brush, mane and tail brush, and a soft brush. The shedding brush is to get the excess hair that is currently shedding off and then you will want to go back and use your soft brush to clean up what the shedding brushes left behind. If you are dealing with dried mud on your horse, I typically use the shedding blade to basically scrape the mud off and then use the soft brush to get excess dandruff or dirt off as well.

Rufus laying in his clean shavings so he doesn’t get muddy

Summer: Grooming is pretty straight forward during the summer for horses, they are always slick and when it’s not wet out they stay very nice. You’ll want to consider using a type of insect repellent to keep the flies, ticks and other nasties away from your horse. I typically use UltraShield EX Fly Spray, it’s a great product that protects your horse from over 70 different insects, the repellent lasts for about 17 days. You will need to reapply the repellent whenever it rains or when you notice that the insects are bugging your four- legged friends. If you are interested in this type of fly spray, check it out at UltraShield EX Fly Spray.

Fall: As the weather starts to get cold, it is time to stop shaving/clipping your horse so that the horse’s body can naturally grow their hair out to protect them from the cold weather. There are many different ways to clip your horse during the fall/winter months that will protect your horse from the hash elements and is able to dry off after they are ridden. For more information about body clipping, visit About Horse Body Clipping.

Winter: Horses will grow a coat that protects them from the Montana cold. The types of grooming methods depend on what kind of horse person you are. A lot of performance horse owners who have to train throughout the winter to get ready for the sporting season will clip their horse.

Fritzie & Domino showing off their fluffy winter coat
  • Body Clipping- Clipping a horse during the winter will help the horse’s sweat dry faster after the horse is ridden. Especially since their furry coat is to keep heat in. A lot of people only clip the sides or backs of the horses to keep them warm when not training but can be cooled off easily when done. If you do clip your horse during the cold months, you will most likely need to blanket the horse so that they can combat the cold.
  • Grooming- Always a plus to your horse, no matter what, grooming shouldn’t stop just because you aren’t riding as often. Picking your horses hooves are a need be during the winter due to all the feces and dirt that is packed in the hoof because it is packed with snow. Brushing, combing, you name it will give you a reason to get out of the horse and hangout with your furry friends.

I hope that this Horse Care guide for Montana will help you and your four-hooved friend maneuver through the different Montana seasons and the crazy weather it presents.

Happy Trails!

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