It’s that time of year when we’re hit with the reality of what’s in store for the next six months: cold, wet, snowy/icy, dark, windy... ugh! For a horse person it’s hard to get excited about all of that unless you are ready and set up for a chore-efficient winter for you and your horse. As it is with almost everything, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Here are a few key tips for things you can do now to help ease you through those tough times ahead when you least want to deal with winter’s little (and big) surprises.
Bring in footing material for paddocks, confinement areas, and other high traffic areas. Now is the time to think about the crushed rock (gravel) or sand you will need for footing in sacrifice areas, paddocks, walkways, and in front of gates. These materials are more available before demand is high. Plus, it is much easier for delivery trucks to back into paddocks and drive down dirt access areas before they are full of snow or slick with mud.
Begin a manure management program. If you don’t already pick up manure on a regular basis, now is the time to start. A horse creates 50 pounds of manure per day. When mixed with rainwater over the winter months, this quickly turns into 50 pounds of mud per day. Picking up manure on a regular basis greatly decreases the amount of mud on your property over the winter months. All manure should be picked up at least every three days in stalls, paddocks, confinement areas and high traffic areas–and stored under cover. This keeps the nutrients you are trying to save in the compost without them getting washed off by winter rains where they can cause problems. Store manure as far away as possible from streams, irrigation ditches, or wetlands to avoid potential environmental problems.
Check gutters and downspouts. Now is the time to clean your roof runoff system, as well as to make needed repairs or additions. Think “keep clean rainwater clean” by diverting rainwater away from your paddocks to areas where it won’t get contaminated. Good places on your property to divert roof runoff to include a grassy ditch, dry well, rain barrel, stock watering tanks, well-vegetated woods, or an unused portion of your pasture. Doing this greatly benefits you by reducing the amount of mud your horse spends the winter standing in and making daily chores easier for you.
Reroute surface water runoff. Runoff from driveways, parking areas and hillsides adjacent to confinement areas can add significantly to the problem of managing mud. Ditches, grassy swales, dry wells, water diversion bars and culverts are all useful means for diverting water away from confinement areas and barns. It is considerably easier to build these now than during the next downpour.
Review equipment needs for daily chores. Having the right equipment for chores not only makes things more efficient but also ensures that you’ll be more likely to get those chores accomplished when it’s dark and cold. Consider getting a new manure cart that’s easy to push and dump into the compost pile. Is your manure fork half broken? The heavy-duty plastic-tined type with a bent edge is made specifically for cleaning horse stalls and paddocks. Wooden handles or ones wrapped with tennis grip tape (or even vet wrap) are easier -- and warmer -- to grip than metal handles.
Check your blankets for rips or other needed mending or washing if you plan to blanket your horse this winter. If they are dirty, send them out now for cleaning before that first cold front moves through.
Consider your own clothing needs for riding, daily chores, and farm work. Nothing is worse than taking care of your horse in the freezing cold when you are wet from head to toe and chilled to the bone. Do you need a good waterproof jacket? Mud boots? Insulated riding boots? Insulated, waterproof gloves? A warm coat? Maybe this is the year to invest in some of the high-tech cold or rainy weather gear featured at REI or other outdoor clothing stores. Think about layers—a vest with a barn coat and a waterproof shell works well with proper gloves, a hat, and outdoor boots.
Each of these items will make your winter horse life much more chore efficient—and it’ll keep horses and the environment healthier as well!