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How to Prepare Horses for Winter

Fall is here, and if you live in Northern Arizona you know what that means: winter is coming! Now is the time to get the horses ready for cold temperatures. It’s much easier to take care of repairs and other chores around the stable while there’s no snow to slow you down!

In this article you’ll learn how to prepare your horses for winter so that both you, and your animals, can enjoy the season.

Horse Stable Preparation

The first thing to do is stock up on hay, feed, and necessary supplies in case of a winter storm. Here’s a “rule of thumb:” buy 10% more than you think you may need. Then you won’t have to fret if a storm hits when you’re low on horse supplies.

When was the last time you cleaned and/or reorganized the horse stable? If you can’t remember, then you should plan on cleaning your horses’ home now, especially since they’ll be taking up residence there for most of the season.

Take the following steps to prepare your horse stable for the winter:

Cleaning

Start barn clean up by getting your mind on the gutter (in a good way). Check the gutters around the barn for leaves and other debris which can accumulate and cause drainage problems. If rain and snow can’t drain properly and instead get backed up onto your roof, you could have serious water damage.

Once your gutters are in good shape, it’s time to inspect your horse blankets for mold, rodents, fleas, etc. If they haven’t been washed since last season it’d be a good idea to throw them in the wash to make sure they’re clean and ready to keep the horses warm.

Take some time to walk through the barn and clean up any other areas that are cluttered or dusty, such as the tack room. While you’re there, grab a sponge and a good leather conditioner to clean and preserve your tack.

Bedding

Since your horses will be spending more time in their stalls, ensure they have comfortable bedding to get a good night’s sleep in. Bedding should be kept clean and dry at all times, which can sometimes be a challenge during winter if melted snow sneaks in. More absorbent bedding, such as high quality wood shavings or rice hull, are a great option for this time of year (and any other time!).

Ventilation

Proper air flow will help your horses stay healthy while indoors, but you want to make sure it’s balanced. Too little ventilation could cause dust to accumulate, while too much means a drafty, bone-chilling stall.

Here’s how to check how much air is moving in each stall:

  • Hold a one to two foot strip of toilet paper at arm’s length at different spots in the stall.
  • If the paper waves around gently, then there’s an appropriate level of airflow.
  • If the paper is hanging motionless, then that means the stall needs more air. To increase the amount of ventilation in the stall, open a window or two.
  • If on the other hand, the paper flaps around vigorously, then there’s too much air. Inspect walls and windows nearby for cracks or breaks, and seal up any problem areas with weather stripping or caulk.

Health and Nutrition

Health and nutrition are important year-round, but are even more critical in the winter. Did you know that horses can get the flu just like humans can? Take extra precautions to keep them healthy this season, especially seniors or youngsters.

Water

It may seem counterintuitive, but horses actually drink more water in the winter than in the summer! They can be very picky about their water, too. For example, horses typically won’t drink water if there’s even a thin layer of ice on it. Unlike people, horses don’t like ice cubes in their drinks.

Horses aren’t fans of cold water. Their ideal water temperature is around 45 to 65 degrees, with 50 degrees being optimal. You may want to invest in heated water buckets and/or a de-icer to keep water at the correct temperature. There’s also the option of installing an automatic water system, which will help regulate water temperature throughout the year, and also help you monitor how much water your horses are drinking.

No matter which option you choose, making sure your horses are well hydrated is probably the most important thing you can do to help them stay healthy this season. One of the most common horse health issues this time of year is dehydration.

Exercise and Play Time

Nobody likes to be cooped up 24/7, and your horses are just as prone to cabin fever as you are! As long as the weather isn’t too nasty, letting your horses turn out to pasture is fine. And if both you and your horses need a break from the cold, you could always pack them up and head south to the Phoenix area! The temperature is perfect this time of year for a trail ride in the valley. Check out our article on How to Prepare for a Horse Trail Ride before you go, then hit the road, “Jack!”

For the rest of the season, there’s horse toys. Horses enjoy kicking balls around. Make sure you get balls that are made specifically for horses so they don’t get punctured or torn by hooves. There are also toys that double as treats, which some horses enjoy gnawing on. For mouthy horses, try a “pas-a-flier,” a toy which you mount in the horse’s stall. Just pour some molasses or wheat germ on it to attract them to it if they don’t “get it” right away.

Treats

Supplementing your horse’s diet and exercise regimen with a few nutritious, fun treats are a great way to keep your horses healthy and happy. Hang a salt/mineral block in the stall to provide them with key minerals lost during exercise, while at the same time alleviating boredom. There are other types of treats that can help with everything from digestion, to hip/joint issues, and there are even kinds for specific life stages.

As long as your horse is getting enough exercise, treats are fun to give them and can make your horses very happy.

Next Steps

Now that you know how to prepare horses for winter, it’s time to get to work before the snow starts falling! And when you come down to visit the Phoenix area for a break from the cold, make sure you stop by Shoppers Supply in Apache Junction or Chandler! We have everything your horses need to be healthy and comfortable all year long.