Guest Author - Susan Hopf
First let me say Happy New Year to all!
As the New Year approaches I look back, as many do, and find that there was much left undone that I had hoped to accomplish. As I have aged, darn it all if we could just find a cure for that, it seems many tasks take longer to do than they once did – and for that I say phooey!!! But looking at the whole I appreciate life less frenetic more than I mourn for my youth. I have come to realize that taking things a bit slower has its advantages as well and for this I will be grateful as another year ends and a new one begins.
Things in the barn are in good order. We have a great group of people and a wonderful group of horses. The small playgroups in which the horses are turned out to pasture each day consist of creatures, big and small, that all get along without any squabbles whatsoever. No one is ripping up another’s blanket (or skin) and the pecking order in each group is well established and not seemingly challenged in any way.
Most of my equine tenants are past their prime but they are all in good health and doing quite well thus far into our rather tough winters. Heated buckets both in and out plus a good ration of concentrated feed and lots and lots of hay help keep them warm and their fragile digestives systems in good working order. Despite our cold winter I do my best to keep them out for as long as the weather allows. On nice days they are out well past dark, which falls about 5PM currently, and I am very thankful that that all seem to appreciate their time out, rather than pacing at the gate wishing to be indoors.
I am an advocate for turnout for our equine friends, since this is really how they are supposed to be kept, but there are several factors during cold weather that we must consider.
Blankets are a must for any temps below 40 degrees. This is so my elderly equine population does not spend too much energy trying to keep warm – elderly horses need more good quality feeds just to maintain an acceptable body condition so I would not want to stress them with environmental challenges as well. I think of a good turnout blanket as a self-contained shelter – it should provide protection from the wind and wet. During blanket season it is imperative that these covers be removed almost daily and the horse inspected for rubs, wounds, weight changes, etc.
Here we give hay every few hours and also provide enough hay at the end of the day so they are munching for most of the night. There are and always will be equine gluttons but most horses will learn to eat slowly if they know that food will be coming at the same times every day. I prefer grass hay for all but those with dental issues, such as no teeth. For those with such needs or those that have trouble maintaining their weight hay cubes or a good leafy second cut alfalfa hay may be needed – always check with your vet before changing to such a rich hay.
So when do you leave your horses in? Wind chills in the low teens and below are not good for the horses’ lungs – this creates too much irritation and can lead to several inflammatory conditons. I would not turn out in such weather nor would I ride. These temps are also tough on equine muscles – the cold creates muscle tension as the horses try to stay warm and can make for a very stiff horse. If you create the need for too much movement when the muscles are in this state the chance of injury increases. The best course of action in these extreme circumstances is for horses to be in, out of the wind, munching hay.
A nice addition to any horse’s day during very adverse weather is a warm bran mash. The link below contains a recipe for such. Bran mashes are wonderful for getting water into horses that may not be drinking due to the extreme cold. Heated buckets are indispensable in such conditions but if you do not have access to such the mashes can help fill in. You should not overdo the bran mash as it can create an electrolyte imbalance but twice a week is not too much and may help prevent impaction colics.
So keep your horses warm, ride when you can, and here’s hoping that you fulfill your hopes and dreams for the New Year to come.