Even though our winter out here in the mountains has been disturbingly warm and dry this year, I know that eventually the cold and snow will descend upon us. Neither horses nor the humans caring for them look forward to winter, but after several decades managing horses in a harsh climate, I’ve learned there are things we can do to make the horses more comfortable and the chores less forbidding.
You don’t have to experience blizzards, bomb cyclones, and subzero temps to appreciate tips to make your horse life easier and your horses happier during winter months. But many horse owners live in four-season climates—some harsher than mine. If you do, you already know that horses and ice are not a good mix, and it leads to a lot of slips and falls—for both two-legged and four-legged types.
Whether your winters are mild or wild, there are some basics that are important to know:
- What does your horse need to stay comfortable?
- How do you need to change how you manage your facility?
- What do you need to do differently to manage your horse’s nutritional and hydration needs?
- How can you make winter chores easier?
- What do you need to do to ensure your own protection from the elements?
I have a few thoughts to offer. Since the internet began, literally, I have accumulated a vast library of information for horse owners and equestrians—articles, videos, and podcasts to give you the answers you need, when you need them. So I thought I would point you to a variety of articles I’ve written over the years about winter horse management.
What should you do to get ready for winter? This article includes some of the hard lessons I’ve learned over the years about buying hay, and what you need to know about buying hay and budgeting your horse’s hay consumption. It has good information about what is important to know about winter blankets—and whether your horse really needs a blanket. This article also addresses nutritional concerns, caring for your tack, and prepping your barn and arena for winter.
What worries you when it comes to making sure your horse is ready for winter? Living in a subzero climate, my #1 concern is keeping the water flowing, preventing ice build-ups, and keeping the water warm enough that the horses will drink it. Another critical factor about winter management regards the care of my horses’ feet—to make sure their hooves are healthy and ready for the harsher environmental pressures of winter. From blanketing needs to shelter and routine veterinary maintenance (parasite control, teeth, and vaccines), this article covers an array of issues we deal with most in the winter months.
What do you do with your horses in the winter? Once people know where I live and how harsh the winters can be, I often get this question. Some of the answers may surprise you, but the bottom line is, we more or less do the same thing with our horses in the winter as in the summer—it’s just a lot harder!
In this article I share my own rules about when it is too cold to work the horses, some important things I’ve learned about their feed plan, and preventing dehydration. Horses are adaptable to any climate, including extreme heat and cold. However, it’s important for you to know what your horse’s natural coping mechanisms are, and how you can help—or at the least, not interfere with—his natural defenses to the cold.
Have you remembered an important task that needed to be done—in the middle of a snow storm? I’ve developed a checklist of important things to accomplish before winter sets in (because here in the high mountains of Colorado, winter comes early and stays late). In September, we start prepping for winter around the barn. This is the time of year we buy the hay we need for all the horses for an entire year, and get it properly stored.
From blanket repair and maintenance, to storing my valuable tack and making sure I have all the stall-cleaning and ice-breaking tools I need on hand, I’ve got a lot to do! Just like many people must winterize their RV or boat, I’ve got to put my trailers to bed and address my horses’ health and well-being. Finally, in this article I share my favorite hacks for human barn apparel, and how I’ve learned to dress for subzero barn chores and cold-weather riding.
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