Tips to help horse owners survive the winter
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The easy living of summer is almost gone. It’s time for horse owners to batten down the hatches and prepare for winter. Sheena Grant has some time and labour-saving tips to see you through the coming months.
Winter can be a challenging time for horse owners - and horses - as cold, mud and lack of daylight hours take their toll.
But there are ways to make your routine a little easier and ensure horses stay contented and healthy until spring rolls round again.
Norfolk-based welfare charity Redwings says a horse or pony’s breeding will make a big difference to how they cope with winter - native, hardier breeds will find it easier than thoroughbreds and Arabs, for instance.
“It is important to monitor weight regularly all year round, however in winter you will need to check your horse or pony does not drop below an ideal body condition,” says the charity’s Andie Vilela. “A thin horse will feel the cold and use up stored fat to maintain its bodily warmth, thereby losing more weight. Horses in work will need even more food as they will also be using up energy to carry out their tasks.
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“Breeds such as thoroughbreds and Arabs are able to cope with hot summers, but are not as well equipped for cold winters. They don’t use their nutritional energy as efficiently and don’t tend to store so much fat or grow such a thick winter coat as British breeds. Even in a stable, they will need a rug and additional energy in the form of extra feeds. There is no reason, however, why even a pure-bred Arab or thoroughbred cannot live out all year round with appropriate care. By providing a field shelter, a good quality winter rug and a well thought out diet, the balance between energy intake and energy output should be manageable throughout the colder months.”
Redwings also advises good pasture management to minimise damage during winter, which can include resting an area to ensure good grazing for spring and summer, improving drainage around gateways and in front of field shelters, feeding and drinking areas, putting down a ‘straw pad’ to provide a comfortable, dry area or, if space and money allow, creating an all-weather turn-out area.
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Here, three East Anglian riders also share their winter wisdom.
If possible, share chores with someone else
“My horse lives out in summer but I start bringing her in at night time from early October,” says Suffolk-based Kate Moore. “I work full time so getting to the stables every morning and evening is sometimes difficult.
“Lots of other owners find the same thing and if you talk to them you may find they’re only too happy to get your horse in or turn out some days if you do the same for them on others. I’ve been doing this for a few years now and it works really well. I don’t know how I’d get through a winter without it.”
Kate’s other tips include:
Fill up several haynets all at once and store them, ready for use, when time is short.
To save time on grooming, invest in a neck cover as well as a winter rug for your horse.
Be savvy when it comes to mucking out
Alison Ross, who lives in north Suffolk, advises ‘deep littering’ bedding during the week, taking out droppings daily and building up a clean layer of bedding on top with a more compacted layer underneath.
“This really helps me fit everything in during the limited daylight hours of winter,” says Alison. “At weekends, when I have a little more time, I take out all the wet bedding and give the stable a thorough clean.”
Alison’s other tips include: Keep a hoof pick by your stable door and pick out feet over a container.
Put chippings, compacted hardcore or used bedding down round the field gates to combat mud and prevent poaching.
Nature knows best
Louise Taylor, who lives in west Norfolk, has developed the ultimate low maintenance system for her horses, which are not conventionally stabled, even in winter.
“I have two horses, who get on pretty well, and their stable doors are left permanently open so they can go in and out as they please,” she says. “I’ve got an area of hard standing in front of the stables and a gate to a small field, which I can open up if I want them to have a little more freedom to wander but they don’t have constant access to the grass as it would just get too poached in winter.
“This system works well for me and the horses, who seem so much happier when they’re not too closely confined.”
Louise’s other tips include: When there’s not much time to ride or the weather is too bad, lunge for 20 minutes instead.
Prioritise and plan ahead, making sure you keep an eye on the weather forecast at all times.