Horse Owners Should Prepare For a Cold and Wet Winter

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Tips on preparing horses and barns for winter weather from Horse Properties.

Even in the winter, horses drink as much as thirty gallons a day each. Frozen pipes can make filling water tubs a real challenge.

For the average person, winter means cozy nights by the fire, decorating the tree and holiday shopping sprees. For the average horse person however, winter has a whole other meaning. Winter brings freezing temperatures, mud, rain, and snow all of which creates extra worries for horse owners. This can come suddenly and unexpected early, like recently in South Dakota: A blizzard killed tens of thousands of cattle and horses.

Barbara Greenhill, the founder of, the world’s largest online equestrian property site, warns that waiting until winter strikes to prepare is a bad idea. "The sooner you get your barn and your horses set up for winter weather," Greenhill says. "The more prepared you’ll be."

What are the biggest winter concerns that horse owners face? According to Greenhill drainage, mud management, and damage caused by freezing temperatures can be a nightmare for horse owners. "One of the first things you need to do is make sure your barn and property has good drainage," says Greenhill. She recommends that gutters be cleaned before the first rains to keep rain from damaging barns and water from pooling. Greenhill says, "Fall is beautiful but leaves and other debris accumulates in your gutters and drainage ditches, making them almost worthless." All horse properties need working drainage ditches to keep water away from foundation and away from the areas where horses travel. "Pooling water will either create a mud pit or will freeze creating a dangerous hazard for you and your horses to navigate," Greenhill warns.

Another big concern is frozen water pipes. "Even in the winter, horses drink as much as thirty gallons a day each," Greenhill reminds us. "Frozen pipes can make filling water tubs a real challenge." Frozen water pipes may also burst, causing major water damage to barns and property.

Greenhill also recommends that barn roofs be inspected before the first big rain or snow. "From inside the barn, look up and see if you can see sunlight," Greenhill suggests. "If you can, your roof needs some attention." It’s also important that walls be examined both inside and out for any rain damage or rot.

Another winter problem is the increase in rodents activity. It is a good idea to implement a pest control plan before winter to prevent an all-out infestation. Greenhill suggests getting a barn cat to help keep rodent populations under control.

Greenhill says that preparing horses for winter is just as important as preparing barns and other buildings. "Decide early if you are going to pull your horses shoes through the winter and if you are going to body clip him or not." She stresses the importance of discussing with a farrier the right kind of winter hoofcare for different regions. "Metal shoes turn into ice skates on icy trails," she warns. In snowy areas it is also important that a horse’s hooves be checked regularly to remove snowballs that build up and make walking treacherous.

Veterinarians recommend that a horse’s feed rations be adjusted in the winter to account for the change in activity as well as the fact that horses left out in winter burn more calories to stay warm.

"When you have horses, everything seems harder in the winter," Greenhill says, "but with a little preparation and planning you can spend less time slogging around in the mud and more time staying cozy and dry this winter."

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