Seven tips to help your horse weather a brutal winter

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horse barn with melting snow

Enough of winter already! The snow even wants to hang on to the barn roof.

It’s snowing again – pelting and stinging missiles brought forth from another day (actually night at this point) of 30 mph winds. The horses here are suffering from this extended brutal winter, as am I. Last year, I was busy harvesting some of the vegetable produce from the garden by now, with (very unusual) temperatures in the 80s beginning March 15th. The horses were grazing on lush grass, dappled, completely shed out, robust and happy. This year, those remaining at Halcyon Acres® (the ones who have trucked out to anywhere else in the country had hair coming out in clouds almost immediately) are hanging onto their winter coats with zeal. It’s probably a good thing.

In the twenty years I’ve been at this Upstate New York farm, I can’t recall a more punishing winter. I can take the snow – and often relish it. We didn’t have much of that this year, but the frigid temperatures, non-stop whipping wind and high humidity (something new, yet seemingly all-season lately in this corner of the word) has made this the most challenging winter I’ve ever had in my more than 40 years of owning horses. Add last year’s horrid hay season (major drought conditions) and the transport of most quality forage out-of-state to the mix and it’s no wonder the horses here are struggling to maintain their weight. I’ve never seen anything like it (other horse owners in the area are expressing similar challenges).

horse barn at halcyon arcres with ice sliding off roof

It’s hard to capture the intensity and wonder of this sight in a photo, but this is the back side of that snow hanging on to the roof of the tack room at Halcyon Acres pictured from another angle above.

Perhaps locking a horse in stall for the season could mitigate some of these effects, but there’s a price to be paid for such an approach (well beyond monetary). Even with 24/7 hay, the horses are already shunning shelter to try to graze the 30 acres they’re confined to. Those coming in at night for manufactured feed and special hay (most of the time they might saunter over, but aren’t particularly interested) are galloping to the gate when called. I’m so ready for spring. These poor horses need it more than I do.

It’s probably going to be another year without a spring (my favorite season). Even so, I’ll welcome summer if it means and end to this punishing winter.

Seven tips for helping your horses weather a brutal winter

  1. Even if you’re against blanketing, when weather is severe, some need help. Older horses, those with sensitive or compromised systems and others who are struggling getting through a harsher or longer season than normal might need some help with warmth. While constant access to hay can help here, some need more. Just make sure you check every day by removing blankets to ensure no sores, rubbing or issues with bad fit. Take them off when the weather warms or you may risk pneumonia cases due to sweating.
  2. Rain sheets are a relatively inexpensive way (about $60) to give extra protection or help when precipitation is heavy, winds are brutal or for horses with heat loss signs. The issue is usually deeper when you see snow melting on a horse’s coat (it’s normal to see this in close to freezing temperatures or after a good frolic in the field), but at least you can offer some short-term relief by offering to help keep coats dry.
  3. Ensure water is always and easily available. Dehydration in winter is a common cause for colic.
  4. Provide shelter always. Your horse may not use it but at least offer the option.
  5. Give constant access to hay to help your horse generate body heat.
  6. Check your horse daily for injuries, issues and comfort. If she’s shivering, she’s burning off a lot more calories to stay warm and might require more help from you than usual. Run your hand across his back, shoulder, hips and barrel to ensure you don’t feel bone. Winter coats (and blankets) can hide weight loss before you see it.
  7. Pray, hope, dance or do whatever it is you do to call for spring.

P.S. I wrote this post yesterday. Today was a beautiful day (forgot what it felt like to be out in the sun) and it looks like we’re on easy street for the next week or so with lows forecast in the 20s and 30s. We’ll see if it lasts.

 

 

Nanette Levin


Nanette Levin is a writer, author and equestrian specializing in young horse training and horses with issues. Look for Horse Sense & Cents titles on Amazon, Audible and other major online retailers.

5 thoughts on “Seven tips to help your horse weather a brutal winter

  1. Can identify with everything you mentioned! Here in the midwest we are famous for never having spring–usually go directly from winter to summer sometime around the end of June! With, of course, a couple of hot windy days thrown in just to tease us and destroy all the flowering bulbs before going back to cold, windy, and freezing rain. Last summer was no help either–same drought, heat, and hay shortages for us. This year looks more like our normal pattern except it’s colder than usual and occasionally we’ve gotten a dusting of snow that melted the next day. Still have piles of the frozen stuff in parking lots where it was plowed though. The Mill Pond behind my house was ice-free for the first time in months as of last week. Horses are shedding off and on–a new experience for me since in the past once they started shedding they just kept on going–and are super rambunctious. Patience is on the short end.

  2. Alli, I so miss spring in NYS. Winter to summer never used to be the case here. Sorry to hear you’re facing similar challenges where you are. Still no shedding here (was 15 degrees again this morning) but imagine with the forecast for the next week I’ll be dealing with monster hair storms soon.

  3. These are great tips to keep in mind. I have a feeling that we will be experiencing a harsh winter this year in my part of the world and you’ve mentioned some things that I hadn’t thought of in years past. Thanks for the insight!

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