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3 Things Horse People Love About Winter

3 Things Horse People Love About Winter

Horse pasture winter snowI know, after the winter most of us have been having this year, it’s tough to use the words “love” and “winter” in the same sentence. But in an effort to be positive, I thought it helpful to count our blessings and try to enjoy the good…any good…during what I’d guess most people feel is their least favorite season. You’ll note this isn’t a top ten list.

  1. No bugs! Once the temps go below comfortable, bugs die or move south leaving us with no swarms of no-see-ems to accidentally breath in, no itchy mosquito bumps and no surprise knife stabs from wasps (or “waspers” as they say around here). Oh, and no barn destroying carpenter bees and leg attacking fire ants. See, that’s a positive.
  2. Poopscicles. We’ve been below freezing for a ridiculously long time and all moisturize filled equine manure has turned to hockey pucks. This is a positive because they don’t smell as much and are easy to rake, as long as they aren’t frozen to the ground. And they make a satisfying clunk when they hit the wheel barrow.
  3. Tree maintenance. Since most of our trees and their life sucking vines are void of leaves this time of year, it’s easier to see the fence line and do some preventative trimming. Plus we don’t have to worry about snakes in the trees or on the ground while we’re doing this, which I suppose could technically be a fourth thing we love but I’m not willing to concede more to winter.

Having said that, I’m ready for bugs, smelly horse manure and overgrown trees again! But not snakes…never snakes.

Ice Storm and water management

Ice Storm and water management

We knew to be suspicious of the forecast of up to 12 inches of snow that was expected to fall this week. The weather in east Tennessee is apparently extremely difficult to predict. The forecast changed yesterday from snow to only rain and then hours before it hit, the forecast changed again – this time to ice. That’s the one we want the least, because it creates insane road conditions and threatens our electric service. Our horses are of course dry in the barn, munching on yummy square bales of hay. It’s tricky keeping their buckets full and unfrozen; we hope to be able to have heated buckets in the stalls in the coming weeks.

Ice buildup on trailer

We have a supposedly freeze-free faucet now and although it helps, it’s hasn’t been fool-proof. There have been several times where we haven’t been able to get it to work at 5 degrees below freezing. I eventually figure out it worked best when you close the faucet value but open the hose shut-off valves. This allows the water to drain inside the pipe so it doesn’t freeze. Still, I plan filling the trough carefully. Four equines can go through 100 gallons of water, the capacity of our trough, in about 4 days in the winter. On long cold stretches, like we’re accustomed to seeing in east Tennessee, we are in danger of running out of flowing water and having to carry buckets from our house. So in the AM when I let the horses out (if it isn’t precipitating), I take the ice from the buckets (if clean) and dump it back into the heated trough.

First, I put the buckets into the trough. I dip them below the water line and then slosh the buckets back and forth and side to side.

Iced bucket in heated trough

After a couple of minutes, I turn the buckets upside down and usually the solid chunk of ice slides out into the water.

Bucket ice in heated trough

Part of our routine in the winter. Can’t wait until spring!

Winter Blues

Winter Blues

Rusty horse welcome signOkay, I admit it. We are fair-weather horse people. When the temperature gets below seventy or so, we have no interest in riding.

There. Now you know the truth.

I don’t know about where you live, but here in east Tennessee, winter is just plain ugly. It doesn’t snow much, so you don’t have the icy but beautiful snow-covered landscape. It’s not warm like Arizona or Florida, so you don’t feel the urge to saddle up a horse and ride across the sand with the sun on your back. Tennessee winter can be summed up in one word: “muddy.”

Although it really doesn’t get very cold (although Bill would disagree with that assessment),  and in fact there are occasional warm days (in the 60’s), riding in winter here is just too much of hassle unless you’re really serious. Or if your horses, unlike ours, stay clean all winter. Because here is the number one reason why we don’t ride in the winter: two of our three horses (and the mule) stay covered in mud all winter long. To ride, you would first have to clean a horse. That is enough of a chore if the mud is dry – you could spend a good half-hour or more just brushing off the dirt where the saddle and cinch would go. But more often than not, the mud is still wet, because apparently Romeo and Cash think they are elephants. Or hippos. Or maybe just plain pigs. After a night in the barn, drying off (and flaking off), the first thing those two do when they hit the pasture is find a mud hole to roll in. (And, by the way, it’s not just mud.) Warmer than Minnesota it may be, but it’s still not warm enough to bathe a muddy horse. So, no riding.

Nothing else having to do with horses is much fun in the winter, either. To tell you the truth, we kind of just want to hibernate until spring, so going outside to do anything is really unappealing. Like I told Bill the other day, there is no joy in horse ownership in the winter. So our poor horses are given the most basic care we can get away with all winter long.

Here’s the thing though: we will pay the price come spring. When it finally does warm up and green up and dry out, we will want to brush off all that winter mud and slap our saddles on those now-gorgeous horses and head down a trail. But after spending all winter eating hay, rolling in the mud, and generally acting like a wild herd with no interference from the humans, our horses will be far from ride-worthy. So instead of spending those first glorious days of spring on the trail, we will be riding in circles in the round pen.

That is, after we put the round pen back up, that is. Because the other thing we don’t like to do in the winter is fence building. So when it first warms up, we will be finishing the fence where the round pen panels have been serving as “temporary” fence (long story), so we can reassemble our round pen.

So right now, we’re warm and toasty in the house and only feeling only slightly guilty for neglecting our poor horses in favor of staying as warm as possible, but I know we’re in for many weekends where we stare wistfully at trucks pulling horse trailers, heading off for adventure while we are spending all our time just catching up.

I sure hope we can catch up in time to have a few weeks of good riding before it gets cold and muddy again. Sigh…I hate winter.

We’re Still Here – And It’s Still Cold.

We’re Still Here – And It’s Still Cold.

Frozen Fountain
Frozen fountain 20 mi from our house, 4 days ago

I know we haven’t been writing, but frankly, there’s not much to write about around here. It’s all about trying to keep the water buckets thawed and the stalls clean enough for horses without spending any more time mucking them out than absolutely necessary. We’re certainly not riding, because it’s too darn cold. Although our horses have pretty good winter coats, they don’t seem to be enjoying this weather much either. Even Sinbad, who purportedly does not like to be in a stall, spends a lot of time in his stall voluntarily (albeit with the door open). We hurriedly do our chores in the afternoon at peak temperature, then later in the evening let the horses in to feed them oats as quickly as possible. Right now it’s 10:00 am and the horses are still in the barn. We need to go up there and let them out, but it takes soooo long because they really don’t want to come out. We have to coax them out, sometimes with a halter. Then they stand around the barn gate looking like they want to go back inside. I really don’t blame them; nice, warm, dry stall or barren, muddy pasture? (There are round bales of hay out there, though, I assure you.) It’s kind of a depressing time of year.

C’mon, spring.

Too Cold to Ride?

Too Cold to Ride?

snowy-pasture.jpgIt’s that time of year again, when you have to wear three layers of clothes and a goofy hat to go outside. I don’t like winter! Here we are, all excited about riding, with three horses to ride now – and it’s in the 30’s. In the daytime. And windy, too. We’re so disappointed. It’s not actually snowing (the picture is from last winter), so maybe we should just suck it up, bundle up and ride. But it’s just so cold!

I spent a lot of time outside yesterday, actually, cleaning out the spare stall, seeing as how it’s not actually a spare stall anymore – we now have three of each (horses and stalls). It was supposed to be 15 last night, so we thought Sinbad should have a stall too, whether he wanted one or not (his owner says if he’s locked in a stall, he’ll knock the walls down to get out). So we shifted everybody down and gave Sinbad the stall closest to the pasture and left his door open. As it turned out, we had an overnight low of 12, so I’m glad we did it. Sinbad didn’t seem to mind either, once he confirmed – 7 or 8 times – that the stall door was still open.

Tonight it’s supposed to be 18, so everyone will be inside again, but tomorrow it’s supposed to start warming up again, with highs in the 50’s this weekend. Yay! We’re getting 100 square bales of hay on Saturday, and then we’re going to ride. I can’t wait. I haven’t gotten to use my beautiful new Henry Miller bridle yet. If all goes well, I’ll post pictures soon of Valentine in all his fancy tack.

So how’s the weather where you are? And when do you think it’s too cold to ride?

Getting Ready for Winter with Horses

Getting Ready for Winter with Horses

We’ve almost come full circle here with the weather and our horses. Bill brought Valentine home in the dead of winter (28 degrees the night of February 13! Brrr!), experienced a gorgeous spring, survived a hot, relatively dry summer, and now it’s fall. Today, however, already feels like winter – we had our first frost last night and it’s supposed to be below freezing again tonight. So I guess it’s time to winterize around here.

What you need to do depends upon where you live. If we still lived in Arizona, we’d be celebrating right now, because it would finally be cool enough to ride! But around here, we’re dreading the cold and even more so, the MUD. We thought we were making progress with the mud pit outside the barn this summer, but as soon as it cooled off again, the mud came back. Yuck.

So here’s what we need to do, and what we probably actually will do:

It doesn’t get so very cold here. It’s often in the twenties and thirties at night, but usually warms up to the fifties during the day. Our horses are already doing the most important part of getting themselves ready: they are growing the most gorgeous, thick winter coats. They just look stunning, I have to say. All the sunburned summer hair has fallen out, and thick, velvety new hair has come in. They’re also very fortunate to both be all black, it attracts the heat very nicely. Lucky them! If your horse doesn’t grow a good winter coat, or if it’s really cold where you live, you should purchase a good blanket. I’m not sure why they call it a blanket, because it looks more like a coat, but that’s what it’s called. Good luck with this – I’m told that most horses hate them and do everything they can to get them off, from pulling on them with their teeth to rolling in the mud to having their horse friends help them pull them off. But in some climates, they really should be wearing one. Please, though, try to preserve their dignity by choosing one that doesn’t look too goofy.

Horse Blanket

For our part, the most important consideration for winter is the food supply. The grass in the pasture actually sticks around all winter, but becomes shorter and scarcer and not a good thing to rely on for winter forage. Our ultimate goal is to seed the entire pasture with cold-weather grass in the winter, but you need a tractor for that and we don’t have one yet. Hay also becomes harder and harder to come by as winter drags on. Last year, we had a panicky moment when we actually could not find any more hay (after paying $4.50 a bale for the hay we had last found). Luckily, we mentioned our dilemma to a friend whose mother had a barn full of “old” hay that she sold to us for $1.00 a bale. This year, we are planning ahead. We built a loft in our barn so we could store more hay, and have begun to fill it up. (A note on hay storage here: the biggest risk with stored hay is that it will develop mold. As you dispense hay to your horses every day, check each flake for signs of mold. The easiest method is with your nose – moldy hay smells bad. Never feed moldy hay. You should be checking hay for other stuff anyway – I’ve heard of everything from plastic bags to dead snakes being found in baled hay. Maybe you should be wearing gloves as you’re checking.)

We have also supplemented the hay supply with a round bale of hay, which is in the pasture for the horses to munch on whenever they want. Since they spend most of their time in the pasture, that’s a good place for a supply of hay. Ideally, any hay in the pasture should be protected from the weather. A “run-in shed” is a good thing for this purpose. It’s a three-sided shed that protects your hay – and your horses – from rain, wind, snow, whatever. We have an old barn in our pasture that we intend to use for this purpose, but it needs some serious maintenance right now. So the hay is parked beneath a large evergreen tree.

Another important note about winter feeding is that your horses will need to eat more to keep their weight up. Keeping a body warm in cold weather takes a lot of energy. We give our horses more oats in the winter – they’re higher in calories than hay.

Although your horse won’t need as much water in the winter as in the summer, a supply of clean, fresh water is still just as important. If you live somewhere where water might freeze, you need to invest in a bucket or trough de-icer. You might consider one even if it doesn’t freeze – horses don’t like to drink icy cold water and may avoid drinking if they don’t find the water to their liking.

As for protection from the elements, most of our horse friends laugh at us because we don’t just leave our horses out in the pasture all the time. They say that horses are just fine out in the cold, and I’m sure they’re at least partly right. But we have a nice barn with lots of room, so every night we bring them in to sleep in their stalls, and if it’s cold and/or windy, we close the exterior windows to keep the drafts out. But that’s up to you.

The biggest winter problem for us, though, is the mud. We battled it with straw this summer, piling it on and mixing it in (in Arizona, we’d have adobe by now). The next step is a large load of sand, to help the clay drain better. The best thing to do would be to shovel out the mud, lay down a layer of stone, then gravel, then sand and put the original soil back, but again we’d need a tractor. So we’ll try out the sand and see if it helps.

You’ll be hearing a lot about mud again this winter, I’m sure.