Healthy horses can enjoy their holiday season just as much as you do! If your pony’s barn is kept in good repair, and a little time is spent taking care of them, your horse can be back on the trails once the snow melts. Get in your spring rides sooner with these tips and tricks to keep your horse happy all winter.
1. Repair the barn
Uneven floors, poor circulation, and a drippy roof all mean a rough winter for your horse. Beginning with a basic inspection will help you know where to start. Looking at load bearing structures, making sure they can hold the snow might be a headache, but it’s better than a heart-attack mid-January. This also includes draining external pipes, putting in drainage ditches so you can spray down your barn later in the season, checking wiring, and anything else you can think of. Repairing your barn before terrible weather hits is way better waiting until mid-blizzard.
2. Get rid of pests
Vermin need a place to stay during the winter too, but not your barn. And not around your horses. But you also can’t poison every rodent who crosses your path, because your horses or a neighbor’s house cat might eat it accidentally. There are a variety of traps you can use, from live traps that can save your barn from vermin to basic mouse traps, or even just getting a cat to do your dirty work. Either way, pests are important to get rid of, especially if your horses eat inside during the winter. Since rat feces can give horses salmonellosis, leptospirosis, and more!
3. Take care of Their Toes
If your horse has shoes on for therapeutic reasons, or if you’re going to continue riding throughout the winter months, you should keep their shoes on and avoid icy or snowy ground. If you’re not going to use your horse during the winter months, consider giving their hoof some time to breath. A natural hoof will save you cost during the winter months, can help a proper shoeing in the spring, and make it safer for your horse on icy ground. It’s helpful if you do this before the winter hits so your horse can have time to get used to the barefoot life.
4. Clean and tidy
Cleaning out the barn is one of the most important steps of the gigantic process that is winterizing your horse. Before winter comes, it helps to get out bacteria that multiplies in a stuffy barn during the winter. That also means cleaning and storing any tack away from rodents and bugs that might gnaw on them during the winter months. Blasting the stalls, water buckets, mats, and feeders to ensure that there isn’t a bacterial explosion during the mid-winter thaw, while you don’t have to worry about ice is highly recommended.
5. Get ready to Feed Them More
Horses need more food during the winter to deal with the elements. Even a minor change, like going from 18F to 0F outside, means your horse needs 2 additional pounds of forage every day. A fluffy winter coat can hide weight change, so body scoring often is encouraged, especially for weanlings, old, or injured horses who might need more food.
6. Keep Water Accessible
An optimal water temperature for your horse is between 45 to 65 degrees F. They will drink even more water in the winter season, as hay and grain typically contain less than 15 percent water and pasture can contain anywhere from 60 to 80 percent. You can encourage your horse to drink water by keeping salt readily available, and either keeping water in a warm place or using a tank heater.
If you are using a tank heater and your horses aren’t drinking, make sure the water isn’t too hot, that the water isn’t shocking them, and that there aren’t any loose wires. Ice and snow are not an adequate sources of water for domesticated horses. Not only does it takes time for a horse to acclimate to consuming snow, but there are also digestive issues associated with inadequate hydration from snow consumption.
7. Keep them fit (and don’t over-ride an unfit horse when it thaws)
Getting your horse out and about during the winter months is a little bit of a chore. Start them out slow, with small walks to get their cold muscles warmed up. A horse needs about 15-25 minutes, 5 days a week just to maintain baseline health, says Kaneps, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, co-editor of Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery. This could also be a great time to work on control work, like jumps, and directions. If your horse does get a little out of shape during the winter months, it’s also important to give them time before accidentally over riding them in the spring. Your horse might have lost some of their cardiovascular health over the frigid months, so give them a little time to get back up to fighting-shape.
Depending on the horse, where they are from and their size, your horse may or may not need to be blanketed for the winter. Before you chuck a blanket on your horse, you should remember that their winter coat doesn’t fully come in until right before Christmas. Blanketing your horse too soon can make their coat not as full. If your horse is old, sick, or just clipped, consider blanketing them this year. Blankets can be uncomfortable, so check the straps regularly, and look for any places the blanket might be rubbing them. It’s also important that your horse be dry before the blanket is put on to avoid a chill.
If your horse is damp and cold, you can put a wool or straw layer on before the blanket to ‘thatch’ underneath the blanket. Just check up on them later to make sure the moisture has wicked away.
The easiest ventilation solution is to add an open front shed facing south. If your barn isn’t naturally ventilated with eave openings and chimneys, then you should have several mechanical systems to deal with the excessive moisture. Just all the horses breathing can make the barn moist, let alone the water and horse leavings that add to the problem. Making sure you can keep the barn warm is basic, but keeping it ventilated is even more important.
10. Check Their Medication
If you’ve got an old horse who takes medication, it might need to be brought inside, or the tack room may need to be temperature controlled. Fall is also a great time to throw out expired products and check with the vet about stocking up on de-wormers and other necessities before your horses they start staying in close quarters.
About The Author: Mary Grace is a horse lover based out of the beautiful Boise, Idaho. She loves all things in nature, hiking, and long rides. Comment down below or tweet her @marmygrace if you have any questions.