This winter has been incredibly frustrating at the ranch. We deal with one winter storm only to be hit a week later by another. It’s been difficult on both the volunteers as well as the horses, as the mud makes everything more arduous. This year has also been unusually COLD, which has meant that we have had to break out more blankets than usual, and we’ve even had to put two blankets on when it is obvious that the horse is still cold. It is true that usually horses do not need blankets as long as they have enough food and shelter because they have a thick winter coat, but our herd skews older, and they suffer from arthritis and some just don’t have the best winter coats.
Blanketing the Horses
We decide to blanket horses based upon their individual needs. For example, Grace has a light waterproof sheet that she wears everyday, even during the day, unless it’s over about 60 degrees, because she suffers from arthritis in her hips, and the sheet keeps her warm enough so she doesn’t have difficulty getting up. Jesse doesn’t have much of a winter coat at all, so he also wears a light waterproof sheet to keep from getting chilled. We have a few horses like Lou Dillon, Ruby and Noelle who have thinner winter coats, and they need blankets when it is colder or when it rains. This last rainstorm was so cold that Raven and Quixote, horses who have thick winter coats and who are usually just fine without a blanket, were shivering, so we put blankets on them as well.
We tried putting a blanket on Venus, but she tore them off and stomped them into the ground and ripped them up… after the third one we finally got the hint.
Shelters and Shavings
There isn’t much we can do about preventing the rain, so when it does rain all we can do is try to keep the horses as comfortable as possible. All of the horses have shelters, and have mats that they can stand on so they can keep their feet dry. We also put shavings down for the horses after rainstorms to give them a dry place to lie down. We trench around the stalls and do everything we can to divert water to keep all of the stalls from flooding. When it is not raining, we rake the stalls to help them dry faster.
There is an underground spring that runs through the property, so a few of the stalls have randomly started to flood when it’s not raining (the water just puddles up from the ground!), so we have worked to raise those stalls to prevent flooding there.
One of the ways we can help the horses stay warm is by warming up their bellies- extra hay and grain can help their body system warm them up naturally. The horses will get their “snacks” in the middle of the day, and we give them either an additional feeding or more feed during the wintertime in order to help them stay warm.
We do what we can to exercise the horses safely in the arena and round pen- the arena usually takes several days to dry before it is safe for turnout or exercise, but the round pen drains quickly, so we’ve been lucky that we’ve been able to use that as a turnout for most of the winter. Sometimes we will also take the horses for a walk down the street for some exercise… if you have ever wondered what it would be like walking a dragon, feel free to take a horse who has been penned up due to a week-long rainstorm for a walk. All kidding aside, the horses actually enjoy these walks as well as the buffet of grass that grows alongside of the road. Every walk has at least one munching session!
Horses Being Horses
At the end of the day, there isn’t much we can do when the horses have a lovely shelter, fresh hay, shavings, and they STILL stand out in the rain. ARRRGH!