Throughout the country, temperatures are dropping. For some folks, this means it has cooled down enough to begin prime riding season. For others, it means it is time to adjust riding schedules and prepare facilities for easy horse care in winter. Part of this process should be to complete annual safety checks and implement winter horse care set up plans.
Preparation for periods of extreme cold, freezing rain and snow is key to making chores safe, easy and problem free. Caring for horses in winter can be a breeze if you set up your facility correctly. Below are several ways to prepare your facility and animals for winter, so you can enjoy plenty of time sitting by a warm fire with a tasty beverage!
- Electricity Eases Your Workload: Caring for horses in winter is much easier if you have access to a safe electrical outlet. As winter sets in it is prime time to determine the output of your electrical outlet capacity and the electrical draw amount of your tank heaters, lights and heated water buckets. Once you know how many watts each item uses while turned on, you can load your outlet safely. If the fuse blows, be sure to lessen the use of your fixtures and make different combinations of juice drawing items.
Be sure to cover your cord heads with a plastic cover (sold at many hardware stores), or use a clear plastic bag. Find a clear bag at least twelve inches long, cut a hole in the solid end, and run the cord through this hole and use electrical tape to tighten around the cord. You can reach into the bag to plug/unplug. This setup will keep water from getting into the openings of your electrical cords.
- Timers Save Energy: Because of the large electricity draw from water tank heaters and equipment, caring for horses in winter during cold spells can increase expenses substantially. One way to save electricity is by using a timer so that devices turn on only during certain hours each day or night. Another option is to use Thermostatically Controlled Outlets such as a Thermo Cube. This is a device which, when plugged into a standard 120V AC GFCI electrical outlet, will automatically turn power on and off to any device plugged into it when air temperature reaches approximately 35°F (2°C) and will turn off the power when the temperature exceeds approximately 45°F (7°C). Thermo cubes are great for tank de-icers, heat tape, heat lamps, and engine block heaters.If you don’t have electricity close by consider using a solar panel that is less than 15 watts (no inverter needed). Small solar panels can be placed inside the windshield of your truck and plugged into a power port for use as a trickle charger. Most of these panels come with battery clips also and are great for keeping trailer batteries charged. Solar water tank heaters are available. They are pricey but worthwhile if you have horses out in pastures or areas far from electricity.
- Feed Freely: A key point of caring for your horses is providing plentiful feed. If your situation allows it, feeding big bales gives horses a constant amount of feed so that they can consistently produce heat. Most horses will slow down after the first few days of big bale bliss. This method of feeding also keeps horses from getting frantic at feeding time. If free feeding is not an option, placing a big bale in an enclosed space that can be easily opened and closed is a great time saver. If you have a horse that quits hay or is a hard keeper, consider feeding a high-calorie supplement such as Formula 707 Weight Gain.
- Wash Your Tanks: When caring for horses in winter be sure to have fresh, clean water at all times. If you use tanks for water, don’t forget to run bleach or vinegar along the sides and bottom to clean your tank regularly. When the tank is close to empty, simply pour the bleach or vinegar along the sides and let it sit for 15 minutes. Then, dump and rinse lightly.One of the biggest reasons for winter colic is lack of water intake. If the water smells bad or contains debris or feces, a horse will be discouraged from drinking. Horses sweat under heavy winter hair and blankets, so water and salt are still crucial during winter. I feed Formula 707 Restore electrolyte paste at least once a week in the winter. Clean water and electrolytes go a long way towards preventing colic.
- Create Safe Footing For You and Your Horse: While caring for horses in winter, slips and falls are serious hazards. Keep a pile of gravel or sand near low spots or water tanks. When puddles appear, shovel some of it on the puddle. Once frozen it becomes a puddle with traction.
- Line Your Paths: Anyone who has experienced heavy snow accumulation knows the challenge of finding the path to and from barns, over cords and other places. I use electric fence posts to mark my paths. To help with visibility, spray them with high neon paint or use flagging tape.
- Breaking Ice: If you do have tanks that need ice broken, avoid using an ax. An ax makes a narrow cut and can slice through metal and plastic tanks. Instead, use a 2×2 or 2×4 that is three to four feet long. It works very well for bashing a hole in the ice.
Most important of all, plan ahead. If you know severe weather is coming, get your water tanks filled and prep your horses with a belly full of hay. Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions you can contact us.
Happy Trails from Southwest Colorado!
About the Author
I currently reside in Durango Colorado. Durango is in the Four Corners area of southwest Colorado. Living in this corner of Colorado allows me access to riding in three states within an hour drive. Horses have been a passion in my life for 35 years. I currently have seven equines in my care, including a five-year-old mustang in for training, a feisty grade mare I bought eight months ago, a talented Arab/Mustang mare and a blue dun Icelandic pony.