While Utah’s temperatures remained moderate throughout the fall and into the start of winter, we’ve seen a sudden drop that’s brought freezing days, frigid nights and nasty winds.
Here are some easy tips for keeping horses comfortable during these cold spells across the Wasatch front:
Provide plenty of fresh, clean water:
Some horses do not like to drink water that is too cold; in that case you may want to invest in a heated water container or add a heater to the water trough, providing you have access to electricity. These items are available locally at IFA on 2100 South, between 900 W and Redwood Road in Salt Lake City, at the Cal Ranch stores in West Jordan, Riverton or Tooele, or at AA Callisters on Redwood Road.
If you do not have a source of electricity near your water containers, you may wish to consider a solar heater. These can be rather expensive to purchase but if you’re handy you can find online plans to create your own. Some horse owners have used solar pumps to keep water moving. You can also purchase bucket wraps (insulated cozies) to try and fend off the cold and prevent freezing.
Making your own insulating wrap is simple if you have an old horse blanket and a layer of foam (purchase it at Home Depot, Lowes or any other local hardware store). Filling plastic trash bags with manure can provide a base for the water container too, and the decomposing horse manure will add warmth which can help keep your water from freezing.
An enclosed stall with a run is ideal, as it allows the horse access to the outdoors along with safety and coverage in inclement conditions. A sturdy run-in shed is a good option if you cannot offer a stall with a run but instead keep your horses out in pasture. You can purchase kits online or find plans and build your own. If you don’t have adequate construction skills, you can hire someone locally to do the work for you.
Mare motel type stalls are terrific, though the open design can let in a lot of moisture and wind when it gets really stormy. Buy some sheets of heavy plywood at the local hardware store and drill holes so you can securely fasten them to the panels of your animals’ stalls. Use zip ties or baling twine, making sure that you attach the plywood top, bottom and center. Sand bags around the base can help prevent standing water from leaking in.
Offer extra feed:
You may spend a few more dollars on hay during the winter, but the added health benefits could save you the cost of vet visits. Providing extra feed (round the clock grazing is idea) allows horses to better regulate their body temperatures. Not only does this enhance their physical health, but it’s good for their mental and emotional well-being, too.
Whole oats are a terrific supplement to your hay; they encourage the horses to chew and offer a natural, healthy source of added nutrition. Older horses may find it hard to chew whole oats. For them you can offer crimped oats, or soak hay pellets or hay cubes in warm water and feed them once they’re completely dissolved.
Some horse owners are opposed to blanketing, but they do provide a comfortable, insulating layer that can protect your horse from chilling cold and biting winds. Blanketing your horse can allow him to metabolize his feed and nutrients for better health, rather than utilizing those much-needed calories simply to stay warm.
If your horses produce a thick and fuzzy mammoth-like coat, they may not need extra coverage, but most horses in a modern stable environment need a little extra help in the winter time. Keep in mind that older horses are especially at risk during the colder months, as they often stop producing a thicker coat and their systems aren’t as quick to recover if they catch a cold. Blankets and neck covers are reasonably affordable and easy to obtain either at local tack shops or online. Schneiders (SSTack.com) has a great selection and good prices, as does Jeffers Equine. Check out the selection at AA Callisters or look at quality used blankets at Horse Crazy in Draper.
Make sure that your horse receives a waterproof, breathable, insulated blanket if outdoors. In an enclosed barn, you may do well with a midweight stable blanket. Some horse owners like to use a waterproof sheet over a stable blanket and/or a fleece liner; layering gives you added options for dealing with fluctuating temperatures.
Check on your horses regularly to make sure that their water has not frozen over and that they have adequate nutrition. Make sure blankets are in good repair and that they’re fitting well and staying in place to provide the comfort and protection for which they’re designed. Look at the shelter too to make sure nails are in place and that it’s in good repair to withstand high winds or heavy snow.
With a few simple tips and a little added effort, our horses can make it happily through the winter months!