What do we mean by “Winterizing” your horse (or where your horse lives)? Very simply put, making sure your horse will get through the cold and blustery Wintertime without incident.
One of the first things you want to be sure you do is to secure a water source that won’t freeze up when temperatures dip way down. We actually ran into this problem a few years ago and it was miserable having to haul buckets of warmer water from the house down to dozens of horses! That was not an enjoyable experience, especially considering the air temp outside was in the teens. Yes, it was bad.
Making sure all water pipes are at least a foot or two underground (minimum!) and all exposed PVC pipe is insulated can be a life saver. Some hardware stores also sell a “heat tape” sort of a product that you can wrap around the pipes which, after plugging it in, will help keep them from freezing. But one thing we ran into during our big freeze mentioned above was automatic waterers in the barns freezing in the basins and up into the pipes, so you want to make sure you have barrels or buckets available during those times if you live in an area where it gets cold enough to freeze water lines.
Also, with your water hoses, I recommend pulling them out straight before you retire for the night, because frozen hoses are near to impossible to uncoil until later in the day when the sun warms them, if it shows up at all. Another suggestion is to unhook each hose from it’s faucet connection and drain water that can freeze overnight out of the hose.
As long as you water all the horses in the later afternoon when all should be thawed, you won’t necessarily have to worry about them going without, but these tips will help you be on the safe side. Like our local water company says -- Water Is Life!
Next, you want to make sure your feed is stored where rainwater or snow won’t be an issue leading to mold. Depending on how many horses you’re feeding, you may not necessarily have large quantities of hay and other feeds to keep dry and edible for any length of time (unless you like to bring in a load of feed that will last you more than a few weeks at a time), but you still want to keep your supply from spoiling, which can cause sick horses, and we ALL want to avoid that.
If you feed hay, that hay can get a little damp and be safely fed to horses as long as it doesn’t sit long enough to grow nasty disgusting mold, but by that I mean within 12-24 hours of getting wet. A lot of feed stores or hay brokers will allow hay to get damp while sitting being stored while they wait for customers to purchase it, so one of my guidelines in the Winter or wet weather is to put my dealers on notice that if I find any mold in my feed supply, I WILL be returning it for replacement or a refund. The last thing I need is a horse to become ill because it consumed moldy, dusty hay!
The same goes for bagged feed, be sure to keep them out of the moisture. Many feed companies have gone to plastic bags from the old standby paper, which has helped, however they can tend to lead to more problems if they do happen to get wet, because that plastic can trap the moisture inside.
Now we come to the horses themselves, and I realize that many folks do not have access to a nice, warm and cozy barn for their horses to live in. Yes, I’ve been there, too and had to cope with it. You can start by making certain you have well fitting insulated blankets for the inclement weather.
I covered blanketing as it's own topic not long ago, but I'm repeating some of that here for those who missed it. My rule of thumb for blanketing horses in the Winter is actually quite simple. Horses grow that woolly coat for a reason. They can regulate their temperatures just fine without our intervention as long as they stay dry. It’s when we begin messing with Mother Nature (as in body clipping) or if they do not have access to decent shelter that we get into trouble, because too much rain or snow will soak through the coat to the skin. Also, some horses just prefer to stand outside, uncovered, in the rain, which frankly I have never understood!
If I body shave a horse for showing purposes, we blanket in layers with a lycra hood and day sheet under a heavier hood and blanket. That goes without saying. For the horses who will spend the Winter au naturel, unless they will for sure be exposed to the elements, I don’t bother blanketing either. But if they are outside where they can get soaked, they’re going to be wearing their jammies until the threat of storms passes.
Also, for my frail oldtimers, especially if they do not have somewhere they can go to get out of the frozen wind, sleet, driving rain or snow, I will blanket them if it gets under 40 degrees at night. They usually don’t wear those blankets during the day, however, unless temperatures just do not warm up (and this can be gauged on a day-to-day basis).
If you do choose to start regularly blanketing your horses when the temps dip, just keep in mind that it’s got to be a regular routine and you can’t just blow it off because you don’t feel like removing the blankets one day or don’t want to go out and blanket your horses after a particularly tiring day. They’re counting on you, so don’t let them down!