I’m one of the few people I know who flinches when I see the leaves change here in Kentucky, and I take no joy in the appearance of pumpkins outside the grocery store. To me, autumn means winter is just around the corner, and as a horse owner, I take no pleasure in snow and frozen ground.
In the central part of the state where my horse and I live, winters seem to swing between “just a down jacket” and “North Pole,” so I’ve developed little ways to cope with horsekeeping in cold weather.
Here are a few of my favorite suggestions for fellow small-scale horse owners to make it through these chilly months:
Once temperatures drop below 65°F, I usually avoid bathing my horse. A really thorough currying session will help your horse’s circulation and can help combat the dandruff that often comes with dry weather. But, if your horse is like mine, there will be a lot of dust hiding in that long winter coat. My brushes don’t do much to remove the dust from that hair, especially if there’s a lot of static electricity at play, so I like to spray down a disposable yellow cloth and wipe the coat surface clean. If, for some reason, you need your horse to look clean and shiny in a pinch (especially if the horse is dark, like mine), this is a good trick. For a slightly more thorough clean, soak the cloth in hot water, squeeze out the excess, and rub the cloth in a circular motion through the coat.
Clipping your horse can help him dissipate heat if you plan on riding during the cold months, but plan your trim well. On one hand, if you clip too early, the coat could continue growing and require you to do a second clip in the coldest part of the year. On the other, if you wait too long, it may be too cold for you to bathe the horse. Clean hair is not only easier on your clippers, it is also more conducive than dirty hair to a quick and smooth trim. (Check out “Is It Time For A Haircut?” in the October 2015 issue of AcreageLife for more.)
You may have noticed this when autumn began, and you’ll see it again in spring: The cycle of rain-cold-thaw can do a number on high-traffic areas in your field. Once the grass dies back, there’s nothing to keep your horse’s feet from churning up the mud, which will inevitably freeze in ridges and divots, making it uncomfortable for you both to walk on, and unlikely to nurture grass next spring. Consider creating a “sacrifice pad” around gates, waterers, and hay racks by leveling off the area and putting down crushed gravel or sand to deal with the moisture. Your local extension agent can help you decide what tools and materials work best in your climate.
I love my leather halter and cotton lead rope, but they freeze solid in the morning dew, and my friends’ nylon equipment can sometimes do the same. I use a Beta Bio Thane halter which has yet to freeze, making it more convenient for me and probably more comfy for my horse.
I’m lucky that my horse doesn’t live in an area that’s popular for hunting, but I still like her blankets to have some reflective material on them. If I’m doing a night check on her or (worst case scenario) if she got out of her field in low light, I want to be able to see her.
My mare somehow manages to Hoover up every strand of hay from the floor of the stall or the ground outside, but not all horses are so tidy. As you start feeding more hay outside, watch to see how your horses make a mess of their bales. Are they digging to the bottom of a round bale on their own, or is hay getting tossed around because horses are chasing each other off from the food? There are a variety of corrals, containers, and huts on the market solving each of those problems.