Perhaps the most blissful thing about summer with horses is that in those long, action-packed days in the sunshine, the drudgery of winter seems like a distant, hazy memory. But as the leaves turn and the evenings get darker, the cold begins to creep in and winter, that far-off threat, is on your doorstep once again.
The key to not being caught out by winter’s arrival is to make sure you prepare early. With a leak-proof, cosy stable, a pile of clean, weatherproof rugs and a serious stockpile of thermal socks, winter won’t be so bad after all. Did someone say mulled wine…?
Sort out the stable
Now the nights are longer and inclement weather more regular, your horse is likely to spend more time in his stable, so it’s important that it’s warm, dry and cosy. A full stable MOT while you can still turn your horse out for the day is essential.
Give it a deep clean Spending more time inside can lead to an increased risk of infections such as thrush and respiratory problems. Both are exacerbated by high ammonia levels, faecal matter and trapped urine, so a thorough deep-clean is essential before he sets up shop for the winter. Strip the stable out completely and pull up any unfixed rubber matting. Use a disinfectant to scrub the floors, walls and matting, ensuring that you use a small brush to get into the corners. Allow them to dry fully.
TOP TIP If your stable has adequate drainage, pressure-washing it with disinfectant will kill off bacteria and leave it looking as good as new.
Protect your pipes If your horse’s stable is equipped with an automatic waterer, it’s important that you put measures in place to safeguard them against freezing temperatures. Frozen pipes don’t just cut off your horse’s water supply, they can also rupture as the ice expands, leading to costly repair jobs. Foam lagging and heat tape reduce the risk of a freeze.
TOP TIP Invest in tap cosies to help prevent outside taps freezing. A kettle is also a necessary addition to your tack room, not just for tea, but for thawing pipes, too.
Keep it ventilated Use your stable deep-clean as a chance to check for draughts and do a window once-over. While you need to be able to secure your horse’s stable from the elements in the case of a storm, it’s important to remember that good ventilation is vital, even when the temperature drops. Give the windows a thorough clean and make sure they open and close easily, and that the locking mechanisms work well, to ensure adequate airflow while your horse is spending extra time inside.
TOP TIP Horses tend to be more comfortable in the cold than we are. Although you might prefer to be tucked up with the windows shut, your horse will be happiest and healthiest with them open.
Get rid of pests As the cold weather sets in, rodents will find their way into warm, dry areas with plenty of available food. Stables and feed rooms are obvious targets for vermin, and the damage they’re capable of doing can put you out of pocket. Not only do they eat and contaminate horse feed, but they can also chew through electrical wires, causing a fire risk, and damage equipment. Call your local pest control company to come up with an effective plan that won’t cause any harm to horses, pets or children.
All stocked up
Make sure you’ve got plenty of the essentials, so if your yard is hit by an unexpected freeze you won’t be caught out…
- snow shovels allow you to quickly and easily clear a path from your horse’s stable to the muck heap and his field
- rock salt takes the edge off slippery yards when the temperature drops. This can be hard to track down once the cold has hit, so buy early for peace of mind
- headlamps are a useful tool for looking after your horse when the days are short and are handy if there’s a power-cut
- plenty of forage, as your horse will eat more hay or haylage in the winter when his turnout and grazing are reduced. In the event of a deep freeze, it pays to be stocked up so you’ll be well prepared. Forage is also cheaper before winter hits, so order it early
- water containers can be filled and stored inside in case pipes freeze and your water supply is cut off
TOP TIP To prevent doors freezing shut, spray WD-40 in the locks and apply a thin layer of Vaseline to the seals.
The amount of time and effort you’ll have to commit to getting your rugs ready for another winter depends entirely on how you left them in spring. Did you get them cleaned, mended and reproofed or are you guilty of stashing them away to be dealt with later?
Did you know? Some rug washing businesses offer discounts if you send a certain number of rugs over together, so band together with your friends at the yard to maximise savings.
If they were properly looked after at the end of winter, all you’ll need to do is give them a check to make sure they’ve not suffered any rodent damage over the summer. If, however, they were improperly stored or have residual damage, you’ll need to get them cleaned, mended and reproofed well before they’re needed.
A domestic washing machine isn’t usually large or powerful enough to clean rugs, so unless your yard is equipped with rug washing facilities, your best option is to send them to a professional for a thorough clean. Ask around for recommendations.
Most businesses offer a full service of cleaning, mending and reproofing, but if you’re handy with a needle and thread, you can make repairs yourself to save money. It’s worth keeping a patch repair kit, spare surcingles and some reproofing spray at the yard to make minor repairs throughout winter.
TOP TIP Keep spare rugs and old duvets clean and ready to be brought into service if your horse damages a rug or needs an extra layer.
Don’t forget to winter-ready your horsebox or trailer. Cover all your bases with our handy checklist.