Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Winterization 101: Surviving Winter As A Horse Owner

So Wintertime is upon us. This time of year always presents new challenges to horse owners, especially in areas of higher altitude where freezing temperatures and snowfall can be common. To blanket or not to blanket, preventing your horse from slipping on frozen ground, making sure your horse has a non-frozen water source to drink from, dealing with your horse's Winter coat while riding -- these and more are all issues we face. Even though I've written on these topics previously, they are worth addressing once more.

I rarely blanket, even during the Winter season, with a few notable exceptions: Obviously with a horse I'm going to show throughout the cold season or a bodyclipped horse, blanketing is a given. With elderly horses, or when there is an impending storm, I'll also blanket them, but blankets come off when the air temperature rises above 45 degrees (55 degrees for the bodyclipped horses or those with show coats).

Something plenty of horse owners don't think about is just how slippery the ground can be for their animals during the Winter months. Whether in their paddocks, in the arena or out on the trail, frozen ground is every bit as hazardous for your horse as it can be for you. Even if you can't see ice, the danger (or potential for injury) is real. Ask any cowhorse trainer, reining exhibitor or barrel racer what it feels like to ride in such conditions, then think how it feels to walk on a sheet of ice (or drive in a blizzard). Imagine what it must be like for your horse.

Another major concern, easily the most critical one, is ensuring all water buckets, barrels and automatic waterers are ice free. I have seen 3 or 4 inch thick ice on water barrels before in the High Desert with an altitude of only 3500', and dealt with frozen water lines for years. This can be fatal for your horse, so be sure to keep a close eye on your water sources. If you utilize auto waterers, hang buckets as an alternative. Keep a hammer or something to break ice handy. Pour warm water into your buckets or barrels, as many horses won't drink water that's too cold, and that can lead to colic. Disconnect your hoses at the bib and drain them each evening before temperatures drop, so you can use them in the morning.

Earlier, I discussed blanketing, and with that subject brought up bodyclipping. But what if you don't want to have to be a slave to your horse's need to be blanketed for warmth? Because their coats are their insulation, most horses do just fine without blankets. But, those Winter coats can be a pain in the rear for riders, especially when we like to ride!  There aren't many solutions to the Winter coat dilemma, however, with those horses who have thicker coats, an obvious recommendation is to avoid allowing the horse to get sweaty, or work them early enough in the day so you can easily cool them out before temperatures drop.

Utilizing a trace clip can be a logical way to remove unwanted hair in places your horse is most likely to sweat and may help with the cooling out and coat drying problem. Personally I prefer a full bodyclip (sometimes leaving a “saddle patch” on the horse’s back) for a number of reasons, not merely aesthetics. Naturally though, that means blanketing. One pet peeve of mine, and I did bring this up above as well, is leaving blankets on when it gets to warm. Be considerate of your horse. They’ll thank you for it.

Enjoy your horses in the Winter -- just remember these tips and you'll be fine.


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