Winter Horse Keeping

brown and white horses
Photo by Sarah Jane on

What do you do for your winter horse keeping? The Horse.Com has an awesome slide show that goes over a number of tips for making sure your four-hoofed friends stay healthy and happy during the cold season. Here’s are some of their tips:

  • Provide plenty of hay for forage. Horses need more forage to keep warm in winter.
  • Provide adequate shelter. It’s best if they can get completely out of any wind and rain.
  • Keep your paddocks clean to avoid a mess during the spring thaw.
  • Add sand for traction, especially on icy patches.
  • Make sure your water sources are ice-free and, if possible, use a heated water source for your paddocks.
  • Use a good turnout blanket. The higher the denier, the sturdier it will be.
  • If you are continuing with a rigorous program, you should probably body clip your horse so the sweat doesn’t build up when you are working during the winter months.
  • Use a cooler to keep your horse warm after working and to wick moisture away.
  • Have your horses go barefoot to prevent ice and snow buildup in hooves.
  • Fence off any standing water so horses don’t venture onto ice and fall in.

What other tips do you have for your own winter horse keeping?

Is Your Barn Ready for Cold Weather?

two brown horses
Photo by Chanita Sykes on

While it has been unseasonably warm in the Northeast this year, we all know that January and February often usher in biting cold and winter snow. To that end, it’s always a good idea to review barn plans for cold weather management.

While the best time to prepare for cold weather is the fall, there are things barn owners can do now to help horses. One of the biggest concerns horses face is acute cold where the temperature drops suddenly. According to Bob Coleman, PhD, PAS, an extension equine specialist with the University of Kentucky’s Department of Animal and Food Sciences, acute cold can be far worse for horses than chronic cold because a sudden drop in temperature often means horses are not used to the cold and horse owners might not have prepared adequately to handle the shift. In chronic cold weather situations, horses are more likely to be acclimated so the shock to their systems is less problematic.

No matter what, horses need shelter, adequate feed, dry bedding space, and access to water. Coleman also notes that horses use digestion to generate heat and horses need to eat around 2 percent of their body weight in feed in order to maintain weight throughout the winter months. Extra hay is critical at this time of year not only for keeping horses warmer through digestion but also because field forage is at its lowest.

If you blanket your horses, make sure the blankets are waterproof as wet horses will not retain their body heat as well. In addition, if you have open water sources in your pastures, it’s best to keep your horses out of those until warm weather is guaranteed to avoid a horse falling into an ice-filled water source and needing rescue.

For more information check out the article by Holly Wiemers: Cold Weather Horse Management Tips found on The

Get Ready for the Cold

Most of us, if we aren’t lucky enough to have a southern barn to retreat to in winter, must blanket our horses during the winter months. I know I have at least three different weight blankets for my horse, Lou that Nancy gratefully puts on him when the weather is not cooperative. Blanketing isn’t all that complicated but there are some things to consider.

What’s the deal with blanket weights and what’s the difference between a sheet and a blanket?

Sheets are just that, they don’t provide any insulation. There are sheets for the rain, for protecting against flies, for shows, for drying your horse off, or for being in the stable. They are one layer or maybe two but they don’t have insulation. Lightweight blankets, on the other hand, have up to 100 grams of fill. Mid-weight blankets sport 180-200 grams of fill and heavy-weight blankets are 300 grams and up.

Ok, so now I know the difference in blanket weights but what do I put on my horse?

Just like people, horses are all different. Does your horse run warm or stands in the stall shivering? Do you clip your horse? Does your horse have a thick coat or a thin coat? Is your horse an easy keeper? Does your horse live outside or in a barn? Did your horse just move from one place to your barn and the weather was different? All of these factors make a difference in what you should put on your horse in addition to the weather for the day. If you have to err, it’s better to err on the lighter side; horses that are over-blanketed can start sweating and overheat then get chilled from the perspiration cooling. Dover Saddlery has a great blanket wizard to help you out in determining what you should use.

What about size? There are so many!

Well, of course! Just like there are people who need different size clothes, horses need different sized blankets.  A good fitting blanket is critical if for no other reason than your horses’ safety. If the blanket is too big, they can get caught in the straps and potentially break a leg. If the blanket is too small, they will be uncomfortable and may suffer from blanket sores. Make sure you measure your horse from the center of the chest, over the shoulder to the back of the tail with a soft tape measure. This should be the correct size for your horse.

How is it supposed to fit?

Put the blanket on your horse and make sure the fabric on the chest portion overlaps with the buckles set in the middle position. The back of the blanket for the tail seam should reach to the correct point on the back of your horse. Make sure you have a hands-width of room under the blanket at the withers and shoulder and around the entire neck. If the opening is too small, the blanket will rub and if too big, your horse may catch himself in the blanket. Now adjust the belly and tail straps with the same idea, you don’t want them too loose or the can catch a hoof in the straps.

I just got a blanket and now my horse ripped it up! What gives?

Just like blanket weights, blankets come in different deniers or thicknesses. If you turned your horse out in a sheet designed to be for stable use only, then that might be the cause of the problem. Make sure you use the appropriate type of blanket or sheet based on how your horse is stabled. You wouldn’t expect a cashmere sweater to be worn as an outdoor raincoat. Likewise, your soft stable sheet isn’t appropriate as a turnout sheet for your horse particularly if the weather turns while your horse is outside. The higher the denier, the thicker the outer layer is and typically the more durable the blanket is as well. A note to the savvy buyer; if you can wait to purchase a new blanket at the end of the season you can often get some incredible deals on last year’s blankets. We personally use a very heavy denier for Lou as he likes to play rough with his stablemates. Consider that as well. If you have a horse that is very active, you might want to use a heavier denier as well. If your horse is older and is out with quiet companions, you might be able to use a lighter denier and that is usually less costly.

For more on blanketing, check out Dover’s Blanketing 101 article.



Training Ideas

How do you train your horse? Do you go for the dominance school which suggests that the most effective method of training horses is to be the “alpha” of the herd and “lets them know who’s the boss” or do you approach training differently, from a personality of warmth?

If you are like me, you’ve probably had trainers who ran the spectrum of both methodologies. You’ve also, maybe, been exposed to horses that only respond one way or another (much like people, one might argue). Yet, new research seems to indicate that the dominance school is not the approach to take and that a horse doesn’t view people as part of the “herd” so thinking you have to be the “alpha” horse is actually counterintuitive to getting the best from your horse. You can read the article here: “Dominance in Human-Horse Relationships.”

What do you think? What works best for you?

Fly Season Starts

OK, well it’s not full on us yet, but we have started seeing those nasty flies on occasion here in our area. Nobody likes flies, but they do serve a purpose in decomposing things and provide a food source for other insects as well as birds. That said, managing them can be a full-time job. Casey Bazay on Horse Network had a great article on managing flies naturally called “15 Ways to Ward Off Flies (Naturally)“.

Bazay writes that we have myriad ways of dealing with flies and as we (hopefully) want to do so with the least impact on our horses and on the earth, we should find natural solutions whenever possible. Here are some of her suggestions.

  1. Use a natural fly-spray (or make your own). We happen to like cedar oil but some people have an issue with cedar oil so make sure you aren’t allergic. Dr. Bonner’s eucalyptus soap also works wonders in keeping lots of bugs at bay but might be expensive for horse needs. Lavender, peppermint, and lemongrass along with citronella also work exceptionally well.
  2. Use plants (just make sure they aren’t toxic to your animals).
  3. Use your mower (seriously, shorter grass keeps insects at bay).
  4. Use fly-traps.
  5. Use fans.
  6. Use chickens. Chickens eat the fly larvae and if you have ticks, they do a great job keeping the tick population at bay as well. What is even better are guinea fowl if you can stand the noise. They are known to clear ticks out in a 24 hour period. Chickens have the added bonus of providing eggs and food.
  7. Use fly masks and sheets.

What are the ways you keep flies at bay? Have a secret recipe for warding the nasty bugs off? If so, we would love to hear it!

Remembering the Joy

Have you read the article “An Open Letter to the Little Girl Who Loves Horses?” It’s a wonderful blog post by Sarah Eder that celebrates the joy of a young girl and her beloved horse. How many of us were that little girl (or maybe, little boy) who was absolutely horse-mad? Were you one of those that only drew horses in the margins of your school papers? Maybe you were one of those who didn’t come from a horsey family but rather begged your parents for riding lessons.

Although I grew up in Kentucky, my parents were hardly horse people. In truth, my mother was terrified of the beasts and put off my endless badgering to learn to ride until I was about 11. That was when we moved to the next county over and into the heart of the local Pony Club haunts with a wonderful Pony Club DC named Mrs. Bennett. Convinced that I wouldn’t get horses out of my system, my mother, somewhat bewildered by my obsession, signed me up for riding lessons at one of the local barns.

Love at first ride! It wasn’t long before I was jumping cross-rails (my mother waited in the car convinced I was going to break my neck). Next came working extra hours at the barn to earn enough for my very own saddle. I joined Pony Club, borrowing mounts until I finally had my first horse at the old age of 16. She was a saddlebred mare named Wing’s Faith who wasn’t very good at jumping and had a somewhat surly attitude towards work she didn’t like, but she was MINE and a joy nonetheless. She had been donated to the Pony Club and was 12 but was a good sport about it all.

Then it was off to college, the college equestrian team and a more advanced horse who would jump anything but who was, in reality, WAY to big for me (I’m only 5’3″ on a good day) at 18 hands. After some knee surgery, job hunting, and life, my big boy was sold to a man who needed a horse that size to fox hunt. Then, like most things when you are twenty, life happens, bills happen, and horses, no matter how much you love them, become too expensive to own and time is filled with making ends meet.

Years later, with a little girl of your own, who wants to learn to ride, you take her to a local barn and discover your love is still waiting in the eyes of bay horse just the right size. Although your daughter isn’t as horse-mad as you, the love you always had is still there lurking under the surface and before you know it, you are coaxed back into the saddle and your life is never the same again.

If you are in the Bucks County area of Pennsylvania, come join us and discover the love again (or maybe for the first time!). We would love to have you.

Time to start training

We all make goals at the beginning of the year and hope to achieve them before the next winter season rolls around. What are your goals this year? Now that the weather is starting to cooperate, are you getting out there and training? If so what are your tips and tricks for easing back into the saddle? Let us know and we will post them here.