Tips For Surviving Winter As A Horses Owner

by Michelle Drum January 01, 2020 5 min read

beautiful winter landscape

Southern winters tend to be unpredictable, to borrow a phrase from Forrest Gump - Southern winters are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get. For instance, here in South Carolina, at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, our local area received about 7 inches of snow recently and 3 days later it was 70 degrees. 

This kind of weather is hard to cope with since we get it so infrequently, in addition to wreaking havoc on our equine friends. We've put together some tips, ideas and things to consider doing to make your life a little easier for you and your horses. 

Winter Water Woes

When weather related power outages are possible, bring a water trough into the barn and fill it up.If you lose power you will be able to bail out water and fill up buckets. The warmth of the horses in the barn should keep the trough from freezing over. 

Dump and refill water buckets in the morning before turning out. The hose and spigots are less likely to be frozen when the barn has been closed up with horses over night. 

Draining the hose is a dirty, wet job. I have a 30' hose and have found it easier to just disconnect the hose and blow the water out the other end. It's a lot less messy. Though if you have a long hose this may not be feasible and draining may be your only option. Unless of course you have the luxury of a heated tack room.

If buying trough de-icers simply isn't cost efficient where you live, consider keeping a plastic storage container near your pastures. Inside keep a hammer to break the ice & a pool skimmer to scoop out the ice chunks to slow down the re-freeze. 

Speaking of trough de-icers, be sure to use the caged kind in poly or plastic type water troughs. It keeps the element from resting on the plastic all season and destroying your tank, and the deicer. I have a curious little youngster who chews on everything. I keep plenty of conduit around the cords to keep them from being destroyed by a mischievous warmblood. Check your de-icers every year to look for shorts or ill working parts. There's nothing worse than finding out your horse is dehydrated because it gets shocked every time it goes to the tank for a drink. 

Winter Feeding Ideas 

I try to lug hay up from the shed before big storms and get enough to see me through inclement weather while the horses are up. I know many store it right in the barn, we just opt to keep it in a storage shed. So in times of need my wash rack turns into hay storage. It certainly quells the aggravation of having to drag or pull a wheel barrow through the snow. 

I also keep slow feed hay nets around. I'm not a big hay net user, but when you've got a senior who likes to make a nest, a few hoovers and a baby who plays with everything, sometimes it's just less wasteful. It also helps with the entertainment factor when they are on lock down. The hoover's take longer to eat, the senior doesn't make a mess and the baby can keep coming back to his hay in between playing with his traffic cone or jolly ball. 

I'm all about trying to keep them chewing on hay and not my barn when they have to stay in. They all get a flake or so of good quality Alfalfa mix and several flakes of good local 'busy' hay stuffed into their nets. It keeps their gut moving and keeps them mentally occupied. I work, like most of you I imagine, I try to get their stalls picked while they are eating their grain before and after work. It keeps them out of my way if they are eating as I run through the stalls with the pitchfork.  Then I get the hay done and top off water. Hopefully shedding bits of hay as I go. 

I tend to feed wet meals in the winter, just as another way to get water into them. Before we had a hot water heater installed in the barn it wasn't easy. But I found an inexpensive electric kettle at Walmart with an auto shut off. It takes a while to fix everyones meal but they love the mushy warm soupy mash. I mix cold water with the kettle water and let it steep for a few minutes to let the pellets pop. if I've got one who is being fickle about drinking in general I will plop alfalfa cubes in the water buckets. A rousing game of bobbing for apples, horse style, usually ensues. It can be messy, but It usually does the trick. 

Ice Ice Baby

My barn is a hike from my pasture gates, with lots of trees along the way,  making the thaw and refreeze treacherous when they finally get to go back outside. I keep salt around and will spread some on the path that we walk to at least make the job less difficult. It's hard enough trying to hang on to them without having to worry about sliding on black ice. I will also use shavings to add some traction, the salt can be bad on paws and pads of small animals, so I use it sparingly. 

if it's a lot of snow, and not melting quickly, they can't stay in forever. I will glob giant gobs of vaseline in their soles and on the frogs of their feet, or spray the undersides of their hooves with PAM or nonstick spray to keep the snow clods from building up under their feet. 

My worst fear  is when they go tearing around like idiots. My critters are ridiculous. They live out a lot. So when they are in OVERNIGHT, sometimes they act like they've been locked up for a week. Lets throw some mud with patch snow and ice into the mix and it's a recipe for a tendon injury.  I keep a few bales of really good green leafy midwestern Alfalfa on hand for these occasions. It's pricey but well worth it for my peace of mind and to avoid having them tear up my pastures.  Pony Crack aka straight alfalfa is fed very rarely at our farm, unless you are the senior, you've never even smelled it and believe it is a mean spirited rumor. 

So when I go out in the fields before turnout after a few days of lock down. I tear up some flakes and place them a little ways into the pastures. So it's THE FIRST thing they see when they set foot inside the gate. I will often lead them over to it. The smell and sight of Pony Crack causes even the most wild, silly, cabin fever ridden youngster of mine to stop what they are doing and try to inhale every crumb of that stuff.  It's been my experience that once they are out eating the alfalfa, by the time they eat it all and are convinced there is not a scrap left un eaten, the urge to run like an idiot has evaporated like a genie in a bottle.  I'm not saying they don't run and goof off, they just lose that exploding can of shaken soda style adrenaline rush that comes after a few days in the penalty box. 

These are some of my handy life hacks when bad weather causes the use of pony jail. 

We would love to hear yours, post a comment below and share your horse tips with our Farm House Fam! 

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