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Preparing For Winter

Preparing For Winter

It's a depressing thought but it is never to early to think about preparations for the winter!

With a little preparation there is quite a lot that can be put in hand to make life run a little smoother whilst the days are shorter and the weather even more unreliable.

Here's a checklist of things that you can do NOW to save a panic or just general annoyance at a later date:

1.     When did you last take a look at your clippers and check them over?  Probably not since the last clipping session you had!  Right, so now is the time to unearth them, give them a thorough clean and make sure all your sets of blades are sharp (and of course that the clippers actually work!).  Horses do not look right after the first clip of the season because the winter coats are often not fully put up even though they are thicker than the summer coat; with some thoroughbreds they gain a fluffy appearance (consequently the coat does not lay properly and we like to second clip within a couple of weeks); this means that the clipper blades are even more likely to catch and pull as the smaller, softer hairs can more readily become trapped between the two blades.  So it absolutely essential that your blades are sharp as sharp.   

2.     Make sure you have the appropriate oil available for your clippers so you do not have to disappear and start rummaging half way through Dobbin's clip.  The best thing to do is have all the necessary equipment in a box together with the clippers all nicely to hand.  Don't forget too about an extension lead – have you got one, is it long enough, does it work?!

3.     Have you Dobbin's winter wardrobe ready?  Sheets, underblankets, top rugs, outdoor rugs and of course some sort of shoulder protection against rubs; is everything clean and in a good state of repair – no buckles and fastenings hanging off?

4.     Think about where you will clip Dobbin.  Have you sufficient light in your stable (or wherever) if the natural light is not good?  If in doubt make arrangements to have another light fitted or obtain a portable light on a high stand so as not to cast shadows.

5.     Having gone to all the trouble of clipping Dobbin and making him look smart and feel comfortable, you presumably will ride him!  Have you an exercise sheet for him to keep his loins warm?  Don't wait until you are in the midst of tacking up before you realise that you have not got one!

Right that's clipping and associated matters taken care of.  What else?

6.     The chances are you'll be feeding in the dark, both at night and in the mornings. Have you plenty of lights about – in the stable, in the feed house, in the yard - so that you can see what you are doing and in safety?   

7.     Make sure all water pipes are adequately lagged to guard against freezing should we be subjected to a cold snap.

8.     If water troughs in the field leak then now is time to get them attended to so that you don't find your horses standing in a permanent mud bath.

If your horse lives out or is in company there is probably a tendency for areas of ground to get poached up e.g. by the gate, so it might be worth thinking about having a ground stabilisation system put in place or some extra drainage.
Check that natural drainage ditches are clear of all obstructions and herbage so that water can flow adequately.

9.     Check any trees in the field and near to your stable for branches that look rotten or weak and arrange for them to be sawn off; you don't want them crashing through fencing or the stable roof in the gales. 

10.   Buy a plastic ball to put in outdoor watertroughs to prevent freezing (in all but the coldest weather) so that you don't have to worry about breaking ice especially if Dobbin is not able to do it for himself (most horses will do so unless the water has remained frozen for a few days and the ice is consequently quite thick).

11.   Get a supply of grit salt to put down on concreted areas when the weather becomes frosty; once the weather changes everyone will want some and it is highly likely that local merchants will sell out.

12.   If you have to go to a field make sure you have a good torch which is free-standing so that you don't have to work one-handed.

13.   Fix gates etc. so that they open easily and also have a means of staying during a gale force wind when you are trying to lead Dobbin through.      
14.   If you have electric fencing, have a back-up battery ready as in colder weather batteries run down more quickly.

15.   Any fencing that looks a bit iffy requires attention now.  You don’t want to find Dobbin has escaped through a gap in the hedge and you've to find him in the dark!  With the lack of grazing horses become bored a lot quicker and can get up to all sorts of mischief.

16.   To this end, so that eating hay takes longer, and to guard against wastage. Why not invest in a hay rack (preferably one with a roof on)?

Now what about Dobbin himself and preparing him for the onset of winter? 

17.   Horses and ponies will happily be found out in the middle of the field in the frost and snow; such weather conditions, although cold are not unpleasant as we know ourselves, but a cold wind coupled with rain together will drive a horse to seek shelter.  A wind blowing over a horse with a wet coat creates a "chill factor" and causes the body temperature to fall rapidly; the coat which is already flattened by the rain loses its insulating layer and the warmth within the body is quickly lost.  It has to be pretty cold and wet for this to happen but in severe cases horses and ponies can develop hypothermiarack
So if Dobbin lives out or is turned out during the day then he must have some sort of shelter.  A proper field shelter is obviously best but a least there needs to be a good thick, high hedge or wall of a building for him to get tucked up against.  If you have a shelter, then check its condition – no leaks, no loose boards or protrusions etc. that Dobbin might get caught on.  

18.   A horse out 24/7 or for a substantial part of the day will need a pal, not only for companionship but horses take it in turns to protect each other against the prevailing wind and driving rain (it's herd instinct).

19.   If Dobbin does live out or is out all day whilst you are at work then a change of wardrobe will be a must so that no rug becomes excessively muddy or wet (and as back-up if one gets torn).  Have a change of rugs at the ready in case of the unexpected.Make sure too that you have a under rug or thicker turnout rug for when the weather gets colder – especially if you intend clipping.

If your horse lives out, keep the spare in your car so that you don't have to go tearing home and start rummaging about.

At this point I mention native ponies and hardy types.  In is natural habitat of course the horse relies on the coat nature gave it plus food to keep warm.  If you have such a pony and it is not clipped, then it is far better to leave it without a turnout rug, just make sure that he has shelter and plenty of food and let him keep warm the way nature intended; he will remain healthier for it. 

I appreciate that quite a few people will probably disagree with me on this one, but provided the pony is healthy, goes into the winter with a nice bit of weight and holds that weight, has adequate shelter and does not succumb to any ailment why put a rug on?  Obviously if you intend to ride the pony, it is likely that it will have a trace clip or similar so of course a rug is required to take ensure he remains warm enough.
When waterproof rugs originally hit the scene (remember the rigid, green canvas that weighed a ton when wet - as a child I could hardly lift mine from my pony!) they were for horses that were clipped and normally stabled as a means of providing adequate protection to enable them to have a couple of hours turnout; with today's technology and all the high-tech materials giving lighter weight but very warm rugs, they tend to used by some as 24 hour turnout rugs.  However they are not intended to be a substitute for a proper winter feeding regime and provision of adequate shelter.

20.     It is of great importance to feed correctly for the winter, ensuring that you feed plenty of bulk (fibre) which creates natural warmth; oil is also good for holding weight and condition.  Horses and ponies that are to winter out need building up now so that, if anything, they are a little overweight; this will guard against sudden weight loss unless of course a horse becomes unwell.  Remember, it's easier to keep weight on that it is to put it back on if lost.  Sort out your feeding plan now and organise your supplies of hard feed and hay/haylage.

Now here's a few little extra points to note:

21.   Murphy's law (as we call it) – what can go wrong, will go wrong especially if a horse is involved(!) will definitely come into play on a cold, wet night.  So, whilst you should always have a contingency plan, it is even more essential during the winter.  Make sure there is someone who knows where everything is and what to do should you be delayed or prevented from getting to your horse (if you do not live on site) for whatever reason.

22.   In the same vane, a veterinary kit should always be on hand (keep it in your vehicle if you have to travel to your horse).

23.   Keep a list of emergency telephone numbers in your vehicle and at your stable.    

24.   Have a contingency plan to ensure your horse is catered for if bad weather should seriously delay or prevent you reaching your horse.

25.   Don't overlook your trailer or horsebox – you never know when you might need it.  Check it now, even though you have used it during the summer, to ensure that brakes and lights all work, that nothing is loose and nothing is showing signs of wear.       
26.   Try to have some sort of heating wherever you keep your tack room to prevent leather from drying out and cracking when its cold or from getting mound on it when its damp.  If this is not possible then at least cover saddles and bridles with a blanket.

27.   And finally, check your security – door locks, windows bars to storage areas, security lights, etc.  Your local Crime Prevention Officer will be pleased to advise you on what best to do.

This rticle is intended to provide you with a few ideas of the sort of things can do to help winter run smoothly.  Specific winter healthcare and feeding are separate issues, but I've added another quick checklist to assist in this department:


1.     Because of the lack of light it is very easy to overlook mud fever etc, so at every opportunity thoroughly examine the legs and feet for adverse indications that all is not as it should be.

In the same vane it is all too easy for weight loss to go unnoticed.       

2.     Horses and ponies that are not clipped or are only partially clipped should have their coats thoroughly checked regularly in case of unwelcome visitors such as lice.
Small wounds, especially puncture wounds can easily go undetected.

3.     Keep a watch for signs of chafe from rugs.

4.     Older horses and ponies should be watched for signs of arthritis – wet weather will highlight this or aggravate an existing condition.   

Remember also that older animals can be more prone to ailments and cuts etc. which with some individuals do not heal so readily.  


5.     It is difficult to monitor just how much a horse outside eats especially when in company, and how he eats it.  If your horse is out permanently over the winter try to allocate extra time every 3/4 days to at least stay with him whilst he eats his hard feed.  You can then be assured he is getting most of what you are giving him and you can check that he is not having any eating difficulties. 

Remember that the veteran needs a higher intake of vitamins and minerals to maintain health – they do not so readily absorb these nutrients as their younger counterparts.   They also can be more prone to feeling the cold during wet conditions so will need extra bulk rations (a rug may also be required). 

6.     The digestion of fibre creates heat which the horse utilises to keep warm – that's why more fibre should be fed in the winter, especially to those outside.

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The articles contained HORSETALK cover all aspects of equine management and training but are only intended to provide a guideline and are not to be construed as a substitute to seeking professional advice for individual situations.


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