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9 Steps to Winterizing Your Horse

It seems like only last week I was whining and crying about the heat and humidity. (That’s probably because it was only last week I was whining and crying about the heat and humidity.) So how could we already be talking about prepping your horse for winter? Because the further ahead you plan, the more money you save and the fewer mishaps you have when the mercury drops.

Following are nine tips to help you make this winter as comfortable as possible for you and your horses.

1. Stock up on hay

The colder and dryer it gets, the higher hay prices will soar, so save some money by locking in on a good deal now, while supply is plentiful. Many sellers give volume discounts, so buy it all at once if you’re able.

Horses need two percent of their body weight in forage per day – more if it’s especially cold. For an average 1,100-pound horse, that’s 22 pounds of hay and/or alfalfa. For those who don’t like math, that’s 660 pounds of hay per month.

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Pounds of hay a month

 The average two-string square bale weighs 40 to 75 pounds. So if you’re buying square bales, you’ll need a minimum of nine bales a month (per horse) if the bales are on the heavy side.

Round bales give you more bang for your buck, but weights vary more than with square bales. A 4×4 bale can weigh anywhere from 35 to 600 pounds; while a a 5×6 bale can weigh up to 1,800 pounds. That means your horse could survive the whole month on a single round bale. 

If your hay dealer sells by the ton, just remember you’ll need to make it until grass starts growing again, so multiply 660 by the number of months you think you’ll be without grass.

The most important thing to consider is the nutritional value of your hay. Look for bright green, clean (no dust), leafy hay with few buds or blooms. It should smell like grass, not mildew, and have more leaves than stems. The thinner the stems, the better the quality. Hay should feel like grass in your hands – not like a broom.

2. Check your blankets

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If you’ve decided your horse(s) needs to be blanketed as temperatures sink, now’s the time to make sure they’re in good condition. We generally only use blankets for babies, hard keepers, elderly horses, horses in quarantine, or sick horses. Whether to blanket is entirely up to you.

Make sure the vermin haven’t prepped for winter by making a home out of your horses’ blankets. Check all the straps, buckles and snaps. Mend all holes with sturdy, indoor/outdoor thread and fabrics.

Have a quick fashion show to ensure blankets still fit properly, then wash them and store them in a sealed container. You’ll be so glad you don’t have to tinker with blankets when it’s sub zero and your horses are shivering.

3. Check your lighting

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4. Stock up on dry bedding materials

We’ve been picking up 10 bags of pine pellets at a time to spread out the cost and labor of the dry bedding we’re going to need this winter. We use pelleted bedding because it’s relatively inexpensive, easy to clean, composts well, and has minimal dust. 

5. Route storm water away from shelters

You might as well climb into your car, speed down the road and throw your wallet out the window if you’re buying tons of dry bedding but doing nothing about storm water.

Check and repair (or install) gutters on your barns and shelters. Dig ditches or build berms to divert water away from areas where your horses congregate or eat. The last thing horses need is to stand in mud and muck in dreary, cold weather. Better to take care of it now than to suffer and fuss about it until next spring. 

6. Baby your pasture

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Take the time to harrow and mow your pasture one last time; and if you have the luxury of pulling your horse(s) off the pasture – at least for a time – then now is the time. Grass that’s allowed to grow at least four inches is better protected through the winter.

Your pastures will thank you in the spring – and so will your horses!

7. Cover shelters, pens and high-traffic areas with footing material

Demand for materials like screenings, crushed rock, coarse sand and wood chips is relatively low now, so now is the perfect time to cover your dusty, high-traffic areas to keep them from further degrading. Don’t wait until it’s too muddy or slick to get trucks onto your property.

8. Decide how you're going to deal with ice

Horses need 10 to 15 gallons of water every day; and they don’t want to have to work for it. If they have to work too hard, they could get dehydrated, or risk getting impacted stool, colic, and worse. The last thing you want is to be thinking about how you’re going to water your horse when your troughs are coated with three inches of ice. Now’s the time to find deals on trough heaters and heated buckets.

In addition to heating the water at the trough, make sure your hydrants are insulated so they don’t seize up or burst. We wrap our hydrant with bubble wrap and duct tape. 

We also store a hose in a warmer place so it doesn’t get clogged with ice. If you can’t store your hose indoors, at least make sure it’s empty when you hang it for the next use.

9. Prepare your horse's teeth for winter

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As pastures die and you’re required to supplement your horse’s diet with more hays and grains, it’s more important than ever for him to have healthy chompers. Have your vet or a qualified equine dental technician examine your horse’s teeth to ensure there are no sharp points and that his bite is balanced. 

Chewing is the first step in the digestive process. A horse that can’t chew is at risk of all kinds of health problems. A quick float could mean all the difference in whether your horse enjoys – or suffers – the winter.