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Waco in a Winter Wonderland

Posted on: January 10, 2022 by Sara Martineau

Winter in New England as an equestrian can be a lot of fun, the bugs are gone back to the underworld, there is no more oppressive heat and being the first one to make hoofprints in the freshly fallen snow is a magical feeling.

The cold weather does come with its share of difficulties as well, and I along with my barn owner and fellow boarders take a few steps to be sure all our beloved steeds are happy and comfortable no matter how low those temperatures drop.

 One of the very first signs of season changing to cooler weather at my barn is the extra feedings of hay that each horse is given.   Typically, in the spring, summer, and most of the fall, they receive 3 or 4 feedings of hay per day, once the thermometer begins to drop, this increases to 5 or 6 feedings.  When it gets to freezing temps, or even lower, the feedings of hay become almost free-choice, with multiple flakes being fed as often as it takes the horses to finish them.  The rule is, if a horse is out of hay, it’s time to feed out more. This is also the time of year where the harder keepers, who may have been in good weight all summer with just ration balancers, get fed a fortified grain to help keep their calorie intake high to prevent them from losing weight trying to stay warm.  Sadly, for Waco, he is a very easy-keeper who grows a thick, fluffy coat and keeps his weight maintained all year round, so he continues to only receive his ration balancer and supplements with his constant supply of hay.

Luckily, with all that constant feeding, the barn help can break the ice in all water buckets very frequently.  This is a great relief to me, as dehydration in the winter can be just as real an issue for horses as it is in summer, due to horses being unable to drink if the ice is too thick to be broken with just their muzzles. The barn owner also adds electrolytes to every horse’s diet, as she knows dehydration can lead to impaction colic and other serious issues.

We are lucky enough to have an indoor at our barn, so icy conditions don’t stop our riding and training during the winter months, which means that our horses are in better shape when spring arrives, and horse events start again.  One of the disadvantages is that it leads to a higher volume of horses working in the same space since the trail riders in our group often must come inside for their rides as well. Our barn owners add a special mix of footing to the ring which inhibits the amount of dust that having that many horses in the ring at one time can create, which means we aren’t riding in a dust cloud that is terrible for our horses’ respiratory systems. They also add stone dust to all the paddocks which really helps to keep mud to a minimum and that means easier cleaning and a drier environment, so their feet stay healthy.

Although Waco’s lovely, weather-resistant coat can be a pain because his tack doesn’t fit the same way as it did on his sleek summer hair, it also means I don’t need to worry about blanketing and that is a huge relief!  It also means that I have to be careful when I work him, as it can be a challenge to cool him out as well.  I make sure to begin our cool down as soon as he begins to sweat, so he is dry and cool when I put him away. He also has an in/out stall and paddock, which means he can shelter comfortably from the weather or stay out in the fresh, cold air as he chooses.

Even though winter weather can be a challenge as a horse owner, I can rest assured that my barn is doing everything it can to keep Waco healthy and we can finally enjoy chilly bug-free rides in our own winter wonderland!

Want to learn more about season-specific horse health? Check out SmartPak’s Horse Health Editorial on Winter Horse Care