The long mild days of summer have passed, and the cool bright days of fall are waning.
Winter is just around the corner and it's time to take a good look around your horse's home to ensure the facility is ready to withstand whatever winter brings to your neighborhood.
-- A thorough cleaning is the first step in staying on top of winter barn maintenance tasks. Organize and reduce clutter by packing away seasonal items such as fly sheets and fans; remove liquid items that may freeze from medicine cabinets. If your horse is blanketed, be sure that you have several different weights of blankets available and that they are clean, they fit well and are in good repair.
-- Ward off fire dangers . The shorter and colder days increase the use of electric lighting and heating units so ensure that your system is free of dust, cobwebs, hay and shavings. Discard appliances that show signs of wear, as electrical fires are a leading cause of lost property and livestock. Inspect fire extinguishers and consider installing remote smoke detectors that sound an alarm at the house. Make a habit of removing trash such as grain bags and twine from the barn promptly.
-- Be sure that indoor and outdoor lighting is adequate for horses and humans. Change bulbs (remember to look into energy-saving alternatives to incandescent light) in fixtures and be sure they are well away from piled hay or bedding and out of the reach of whiskered noses.
-- Drain exterior pipes that won't withstand freezing temperatures; insulate and heat indoor water pipes to avoid freezing and bursting. If your climate promises continuously below freezing temperatures, use a hose to siphon water drained from stock tanks well away from the paddocks to avoid a winter-long skating rink. If you plan to leave water tanks out, install safe and effective tank heaters and inspect them daily.
-- Check shelters and stalls for drafts. Horses can generally keep themselves warm even in the coldest climates if they are protected from wind and drafts, so be sure that doors and windows are closed and secure when your horse is stabled. Pastured horses should have access to a three sided shelter that is carefully positioned to block the wind. The shelter should be cleaned out frequently and be deeply bedded. Two or more shelters may be necessary to accommodate a large herd or one that includes especially aggressive or passive horses.
-- Reduce dust for respiratory health. If you have an indoor arena or even a dusty barn aisle, consider the use of a dust inhibitor such as calcium chloride. The dry winter air in conjunction with the limited circulation in the stable and riding arena create air conditions that can compromise the respiratory health of your animals.
-- Pooper-scooper prep. Fall is a good time to spread a growing manure pile. Use the winter months to plan a maintenance system that allows daily spreading or composting of manure for the next season. [See Holistic Horse Issue #50 Summer 2007 for composting tips or visit www.holistichorse.com ] Tractors and other heavy equipment should receive a seasonal check-up as well.
Planning ahead for the short, cold days of winter ensures that your horse will be comfortable and safe, and you might actually have some free time to catch up on reading that stack of horse magazines.
A frequent contributor to Holistic Horse, Brenda Thoma is a freelance writer with publishing credits in a variety of areas. Always interested in what lies beneath the exterior of horses and people, Brenda is interested in alternative health therapies and psychology, and enjoys yoga and distance running. Brenda and her husband David live in Minnesota with their son Grant and daughter Lauren.