Have to feed the horses but it is snowing …
It's been snowing and it isn't letting up. If you are like me, your sentiments are that snow is prettier on a calendar picture or on a Christmas card. Brrr, it so cold! If you have horses to feed and water, then snow and ice and frigid weather are the horsemen's scourge.
If you board your horse, then you get off easy this time of year. Believe me, it's well worth horse boarding charges - when you board, you don't have all the trudging through the snow with the inevitable horse manure wheelbarrows.
For those of us who have shed row barns or backyard barns in which we keep our now-wooly horse friends, the reality of frozen water buckets and slipping and sliding out to the barn to feed arrives like clockwork. Old Man Winter bestows his annual hardships with "gusto." Life certainly becomes tougher when dealing with all that natural stuff, be it freezing temperatures, icy walkways and pastures, or slipping and sliding.
Maintain a set feeding and watering schedule –
It's challenging to head out twice or preferably three times a day to tend to Mr. Horse. Teach yourself to keep a strict feeding schedule, come snow or blustery winds. Soon punctuality (coupled with a certain amount of willpower to brave whatever the weather throws at you) becomes your valuable force of habit - one Mr. Horse will appreciate with bloomin' good health and love for his master. Remember that winter is stressful to a horse's bodily systems, and regular schedules will avoid colic or worse.
Stress regular watering –
Provide fresh water regularly. Perhaps we can agree that this is the most difficult task of horse care in winter but it's also the one Mr. Horse requires the most. Don't figure he'll eat snow because there was a blizzard yesterday. He's no longer wild and that basic instinct won't kick in until he has been water deprived for a while. Mr. Horse doesn't like ice chips in his water, nor does he want to fight thick ice to get a drink.
The most critical part of cold weather horse care is providing a regular water supply. If you have automatic water troughs and the temperatures plummet, be sure the heat tape or system is working properly. If you water in a bucket, then always dump out the old water, clean out any ice and refill with fresh water. You might also remember that if a horse has been deprived of water for a period of time, he may bolt down ice-cold water - and we all know that horses have a rather delicate system.
Keep stalls clean and bedded –
This time of year, Mr. Horse likes a clean stall more than ever. Some horses enjoy a hearty roll in soft bedding to help with circulation and fur grooming as nature intended. Your horse might enjoy resting in soft bedding when it's really cold to preserve body heat. Not providing ample bedding, whether it is straw, shavings or pellets, is unkind to a stabled, cooped-up horse. So, have a heart and provide plenty of comfortable bedding.
Continue brisk and daily grooming –
Your horse especially loves brisk currying now - a fluffy debris-clean coat gives him maximum insulation. And, importantly, he'll feel good about himself and you. Vigorously brush his hair to get after any dust that accumulates, rub him briskly - you'll both like the bonding.
Pay careful attention to hoof cleaning –
Horses spend more time in stalls and generally receive less exercise than during kinder weather. Maintain healthy hooves by regularly cleaning out dirty bedding and manure.
Hand walk and exercise Mr. Horse –
If he wears winter shoes (caulked shoes), you can generally allow him to face the elements regularly. However, if he wears flat shoes or even if he is barefoot, be extremely cautious with Mr. Horse. Ice and horse legs are not always a good combination and you don't want him hurt. The natural outcome of an ice and horse meeting favors ice, and your horse may fare badly.
Trailering is best left to warmer temperatures –
My motto is 'Don't trailer unless you must." Most trailers now are enclosed and safe in any weather. So, if you really need to move Mr. Horse, dress him in a horse blanket, give him plenty of hay to preoccupy him, and check on him several times. Immediately correct even slight overheating and don't permit chills. If Mr. Horse is an anxious shipper, my advice is to avoid trailering in cold temperatures or your alternative will be long, arduous cooling down.
Just a few more hints because I've been there myself –
The lovely white stuff has left its "magic" behind and makes it difficult to walk, carry water buckets, hay, saddle and tack. A simple kid's sleigh, plastic flying saucer or even a manure bucket works quite well as a skid. Load up, put your back to the wind and haul away. Beats heavy carrying, and a bit of water sloshing around is no big deal.
Bring a bucket of hot water to pour on the frozen water buckets. If pouring hot water along the edge of the bucket does not work, concentrate on one spot and, hopefully it will form a hole. I find that hard, brittle buckets in the winter will break from freezing stresses (or stomping). It's best to use black pliable buckets - you can even throw them around or beat them against a tree when all else fails.
If your horse has been at liberty, frolicking in snow, clean out any ice/snow from his hooves. And, if he's been running, rolling and acting like a colt, be sure to blow him out thoroughly - and in winter, that means very thoroughly.
There is no easy way around it, but we can survive the worst of winter with our horses, and hardly miss a beat. Think positive and take the best care of him, and you'll soon be cantering happily into the sunset come spring.