Friday, February 20, 2015

The Cold Hard Secrets of Horse Care

In The Cold, Hard Winter

The world will little know the secrets those of us who care for horses are aware of in the cold of winter. Proper horsehusbandry has its own special challenges when things freeze up.

First, of course, is water. I'm lucky enough to have set up my barn so there are electrical outlets conveniently located so I can keep a plug in water heater in my outdoor horse trough. I have a submersible one, not a floater. Sitting at the bottom of the tank, it's not quite as enticing a toy for my more mischievous Boy to play with. The cord is outside the fence and as long as I keep water in the trough, it does a darn good job of keeping it thawed and liquid, even in this bitter cold weather.
Power outages aside, the Boys have water available all the time.

But, they are, thank goodness, drinking a lot. So my three feeding trips out to the barn require me to refill the trough nearly every time. I have a hose that goes from the spigot inside the barn to the trough, but, of course, this time of year, it's frozen. That leaves two options. The first is a plastic coil hose I keep in the bathtub inside my house, ever ready, thawed and supple for use if I need to put a lot of water in the trough. Otherwise, it's the bucket brigade. I fill a bucket in the barn, and while the second bucket is filling up, I dump the first one in the trough, and so on, over and over.

Getting bales of hay from the carport hay storage area can be tricky when there's snow and ice. For that, I have a sled. It's one of those plastic toboggans and carries one bale of hay quite nicely as it slides over the snow. Problem solved.

But, the biggest secret of all, is the curious challenge of frozen horse manure. In the stalls, the horse manure does one of two things. It either solidifies into a poo pile like a boulder, or it breaks apart into dozens of little round hard balls that mix with the bedding and hide beneath the surface to trip unwary owners as they cross the stalls to feed or water.

Stall mucking is kind of like mining for ore. Sometimes, with the big poo piles you strike a forkful of treasure. But the little round balls? Get out the sieve and start sifting. Trying to do a thorough stall cleaning is  prospecting for nuggets. Even after I think I'm done, my foot will inevitably step on one or two hard lumps I've missed.

And then, if like I do, you use a wheelbarrow for every day cleaning, it's always interesting crossing the frozen wastes to get to the manure pile. Since I don't dump the barrow every time I pick out the stalls, the final insult is when the manure and damp bedding I've loaded earlier in the day is frozen to the wheelbarrow itself. Dump it? More like find a good strong stick and beat it into submission until it surrenders and falls out.

Suffice it to say, spring thaw will bring new challenges since there's frozen solid manure collected under the run-in roofs as well. No way to clean it out now--it's like set cement.

Fortunately, the Boys seem to be tolerating the cold quite well. Aside from the torn to near shreds of Tucker's second new blanket--he's dressed in an older one with a sturdier rainsheet over it now--the snow, sleet, rain, and low temperatures don't seem to bother them too much. I've been feeding lots of hay and they have shelter.

Meantime, each trip out to the barn brings a new adventure for me in just plain coping.


  1. You certainly don't have to worry about getting your exercise!

  2. Taking care of horses in these brutal winter temps and snow is always an adventure! Grady and Donnie's automatic waterers are frozen and not working. Guess the heaters took a vacation. So it's the bucket brigade for them and Sami who doesn't have a waterer in his stall. Nothing is easy but when Spring finally does come I have a hunch there will be some very muddy messes to deal with. Like I said it's always an adventure. But I do think they appreciate our care.

  3. was wondering how you were managing, having read the news...