"Top Tips for Looking after your Horse Through Winter

"Top Tips for Looking after your Horse Through Winter

Grooming & Hygiene

As the summer fades away and the days shorten, thoughts start to turn to probably the least favourite of the all the seasons with horses and that is winter. The two key words for winter are....’be prepared’. Everything is more difficult in the winter – adverse weather can make bolts stick, surfaces slippery and treacherous and put horses on their toes. There is nothing anyone can do about the type of winter or the severity of the weather but being prepared, with the right equipment, at least makes it possible and survivable, it means you can be as practical, safe and efficient on the yard as possible. Follow our guide for some handy tips on useful equipment and ideas.

For your horse

  • Wash, repair and reproof all your horse’s rugs during the summer months, this is a chance to make sure you have one of everything you need so stable rugs, different weights of turnout rugs, and a cooler for drying a wet horse
  • Invest in a set of stable bandages and two sets of pads – one on the horse, one in the wash. Stable bandages are a great way to dry off wet and muddy legs and are also useful for old horses stabled at night as they aid mobility and provide extra warmth and support if it is particularly cold
  • Your first aid kit should always be kept topped up but of particular help in the winter months is a breathable and water repellent barrier cream to protect heels from mud and constant wet, and a clear iodine spray for saturated feet to keep the bugs at bay
  • Keep a miner’s lamp in your grooming kit – this is ideal for checking horses at night who are wintering out or looking in more detail at a cut or injury under stable lighting at night
  • If you can store it, it is always better to buy your hay in advance because then you know you have it when you need it. Choose a reputable supplier and if possible inspect the bales before you buy and also ask to see the pasture it was cut from

For the yard

  • Make sure your winter grazing is securely and robustly fenced and that the gates are free moving and easy to operate
  • If you have any choice in the matter, select grazing that has the greatest degree of natural protection – folds in the land or hedges – and the driest soil
  • Invest in some rock salt for when it is icy. If ice is extensive and this can be the case where there is surface water, then an old trick is to muck out pathways across the yard. The bedding which you would usually discard onto the muck heap will retain a level of heat and not freeze and this can provide safe and secure walkways for you and your horse
  • Depending on how your water is supplied to the yard, establish a plan B for when that supply is frozen. If you have an alternative tap in a warmer environment, a building or a tack room, keep a long hose on a reel in an even warmer location – any residue of water in a hose will freeze and block the hose if left outside – and then you will always have a working tap and a method of piping the water irrespective of the temperature
  • If you use field troughs, these can freeze up in cold weather making the ball cock apparatus useless. To avoid burst pipes and to be able to monitor your horse’s water consumption, it is better to disconnect the supply and bring fresh water to the pasture, either using a long hose if it is near to the yard or a water bowser. If all else fails, use a metal trough and cart the water in sealed containers in a wheel barrow
  • If you have problems with water freezing up, either on the field or in the stable, put a tennis ball in it. This slows down the rate of freeze meaning even if ice does form, the layer is usually thin enough for the horse to push its nose through
  • If you don’t have anywhere to dry wet rugs then spend some time in the summer devising a system; rugs need to be hung up on beams or rug racks and will require some form of heating otherwise they will simply not dry out. Not only will they become useless because they are never dry before the next day, but you will shorten their working life as the stitching will rot

For you

  • Absolutely essential is the right clothing, there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. Layering is the way to go and the trick to staying warm and dry is to use plastic waterproofs to fit over the top of existing garments. So many items that are waterproof are also not warm enough and so using a thermal layering method with handy waterproof leggings and a blouson style jacket that you can pull on over the top, means you don’t have to sacrifice comfort at all. Just take them off when it stops raining
  • If your feet are cold, it doesn’t matter what else you are wearing, you will be cold all over. There are now fabulous insulated wellington boots to keep your feet toasty and snug or just use standard wellingtons with long thermal socks
  • Hats are a must as most of the body’s heat is lost from the top of the head, make sure you find something that covers your ears and you will need both warm and waterproof versions
  • Warm gloves of different thicknesses depending on the jobs you are doing and they should be waterproof too as most of what you touch will be either damp or wet
  • And finally, for ultimate comfort, little reusable hand warmers and a decent sized thermal cup with a lid so that your coffee doesn’t go cold!
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