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Preparing your horse property for winter

  • Written by Alayne Blickle, Program Director, Horses for Clean Water

remove from pastureEvery winter there always seems to be at least a few storms that wreak havoc on our normal routine.

For horse owners this usually means slogging through mud to do chores with less time to ride.

As it is with most everything, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. 

Making your horse property as chore-efficient as possible now will help ease you through the upcoming winter months when you least want to deal with winter’s little (and big) surprises.

Here are just a few tips to prepare for winter. To learn more, plan to attend a Winter Horse Care workshop on November 10 at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds (see the details at the end of this article).

Buy your winter supply of hay.

Look for green, leafy, fresh-smelling hay without mold, weeds, dust or discoloration.

Recent nutritional recommendations are for a horse to receive two percent of its body weight in hay (or forage) per day.

For the "average" 1000 pound horse with moderate exercise, that will be about 20 pounds of hay per day or about 600 pounds of hay per month.

Since hay is usually sold by the ton (2,000 pounds), one ton of hay will last about three and 1/3 months per average-sized horse.

Do the math to determine how many tons of hay you’ll need for the winter.

Pick up manure.

If you don’t already pick up manure every one to three days, now is the time to start doing so. A horse creates 50 pounds of manure per day.

When mixed with rainwater over the winter months this quickly turns to 50 pounds of mud per day.

Picking up manure on a regular basis will greatly decrease that amount of mud on your farm — and it will reduce your horse’s parasite load.

Spread compost.

Early fall is a great time to put compost on pastures. It adds micro and macronutrients and replenishes beneficial bacteria which improve the health of soil and plants. Spread a thin sprinkling, no more than a ½ inch thick and no more than three to four inches per season in the same place.

Check gutters and downspouts.

Now is the time to clean and make needed repairs or additions to your roof runoff system.

Diverting rainwater away from your paddocks and other high-traffic areas will dramatically reduce the amount of mud you and your horse have to deal with.

Bring your horses in off your pastures. If you’re lucky enough to have pasture, now is the time to baby your grass.

Pastures that are grazed too closely in fall will be subject to winter damage and be slow to start growing in the spring. It’s best if you allow the grass to produce at least four inches of leaf growth before winter when plants go dormant and stop growing.  You’ll see the payoff next spring. 

Review your lighting needs.

Do you have adequate outdoor lighting? Are your stalls bright enough to care for horses during dark winter evenings?

When you’re feeding at night, will you have enough light to see if the hay you’re feeding is green or moldy?

Would you be better able to do manure pick-up chores in paddocks with flood lighting? Have you been meaning to put in lighting along walkways or drives?

Get that work done now instead of waiting until temperatures are freezing and you’re feeding by flashlight.

To learn more ways to get ready for the pending winter, join Horses for Clean Water and Snohomish Conservation District for a Winter Horse Care workshop.

Learn what you can do this winter to keep your horses healthy, reduce mud, manage manure and lay the groundwork for green pastures next spring!

You’ll also get tips on how to care for older horses that have a harder time during cold months.

The workshop will run from 1 to 4 p.m. on November 10 at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds Longhouse in Monroe. 

Register online at: winterhorse.eventbrite.com

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