Winter can be a challenging time for horse owners and the season is far from behind us. With cold winds and snow being seen across much of the UK over the last few days, these difficult conditions can make our jobs take longer and remove some of the enjoyment from having horses.
Thankfully, there are ways to help us cope in extreme cold and emerge into spring less tired and weather-worn. Whether it involves what we wear, what our horses wear or how we conduct our daily routines, winter needn’t be an unpleasant experience or make caring for our animals feel like a chore.
When it is particularly bleak outside, forward-thinking can make all the difference, reducing the amount of time spent preparing feeds, filling haynets and mucking out, and leaving time for the more important things like spending quality time with our horses. We might not be able to get in the saddle as much as we'd like but that doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy our time outdoors.
As responsible horse owners, we often put our horses’ needs before our own and ensure they are the ones being taken care of in the cold. But it is important that we don’t forget ourselves! Our horses are relying on us every single day so staying healthy should be a top priority during winter. This means dressing warmly, getting enough sleep and not over-working ourselves.
Think layers, layers, layers. These can be removed or added to depending on conditions and can make keeping our clothes clean that much easier. The same applies for our horses; in particularly cold weather, consider layering a lighter rug underneath or over the turnout rug for added warmth and easy cleaning.
Make sure you check these every day as rugs can easily shift and drop, causing irritation and chaffing. Checking under the rugs also allows you to notice any weight or skin changes that might need veterinary attention.
Our head and extremities lose heat quickly so wear a hat and keep hands and feet as warm as possible. Heat activated patches are great over gloves and socks and most provide up to 6 hours of lasting warmth. Fingerless gloves are the ideal solution for those of us that want to stay warm and still be able to do the fiddly jobs such as picking hooves, spreading stable bedding and turning taps. For outdoor wear, including jackets, fleeces and gilets, click here.
In winter, it is important to adjust feeding quantities so that our horses maintain condition as much as possible. The quality and accessibility of grazing declines in winter so it is essential that hard feeds and hay are increased in line with weather.
Water freezes quickly and horses can colic if they drink from a frozen or dirty trough. Try filling buckets and leaving them inside overnight ready to be put out the next morning. Place a small, inflatable ball on the water to keep it circulating, which will prevent surface freezing. Plastic buckets can shatter when frozen, so think about using rubber ones instead. They may cost more initially but they will probably last longer and will pose less of a hazard.
If you can afford it, invest in a heated trough so you never have to worry about frozen drinking water again. When it comes to frozen taps and padlocks, wrap them in plastic bags to keep the worst of the cold out.
When your horses are turned out, think about putting petroleum jelly inside their hooves to stop mud and snow compacting in the feet. This can be uncomfortable and make hoof abscesses and mud fever more likely to occur. Observing the hooves daily is essential in winter when conditions are wet and marshy and horses are standing in mud for long periods of time. Clipping the hooves means they hold less snow and don't crack apart on hard ground.
Finally, prepare hard feeds in advance (perhaps on a Sunday before the working week begins) so that you can feed your horses quickly if you are short on time. It also makes it easier for your yard mates if they are covering for you at dinner times. Likewise, haynets can be filled in advance and left somewhere dry for quick and easy weekday feeding. Be careful not to prepare these too far in advance as they can quickly spoil.
If you have any other tips on coping in extreme weather, please share them with us! Feel free to contact me directly with any further questions and/or suggestions for future blog posts: firstname.lastname@example.org