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Winter Horse Care, as Nature Intended

Published: 1/13/2014
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Editor’s Note: Julie Kenney lives at Blackberry Farm in Harpswell, Maine. She graciously writes about the work, strategies, and challenges related to horse management during winter. For her, a simple, thoughtful plan that parallels nature’s intentions works best. Thanks, Julie!

By Julie Kenney

Horse caretakers are amateur meteorologists.  Anyone else notice this phenomenon?  I could easily go on the local news and give a weather update at any moment.  

As we deal with winter storms and frigid wind-chills, horse folks can tell you what the expected temperature will be at any given hour, along with the wind speeds and type of precipitation.

I have five horses in my care, varying in age from 10 through 25.  For our horses to be properly prepared for winter weather conditions, we let nature prepare their coats all fall.  They have been growing their thicker coats for months, unimpeded by any attempts on my part to protect them as the days grew shorter and colder. 

This is how God created them and how nature helps them.

Read research review of blanketing.

Here are a few things I do during times of sub-zero weather in my horse care routine:
  • Feed out additional good forage (hay) and adding alfalfa cubes when necessary for maintaining weight.
  • Make sure the horses’ water is clean and free of ice
  • Keep track of the footing in their turnout, making sure it is safe for them to walk on.
  • Provide some kind of wind break when necessary, either natural from trees and the land, or a man-made shelter, or both.

I have a barn with large box stalls that are open to each of the stalls around them, and I use the stalls as little as possible.  

Sound odd?

The horses' winter turnout is in a natural low spot that has some north/northwest wind protection from the barn structure and surrounding trees.  On a cold day with wind chills around -10, my herd is happily outside eating hay together.  In fact, they are most content when they can interact as a herd and that means being outside together as much as possible.  

To be able to comfortably do this did not happen overnight but took months of nature's preparation. And keeping track of these things for our horses’ comfort is relatively easy.

Now to just accurately predict the weather, and we would be all set!

Photos by Julie Kenney.

Pictured below:
Blackberry Farm horses (L to R) Eagle (age 23), General (14), Khoura (25), Eli (10), Peanut (12)

View Reader Comments:

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1/23/2014 Nancy A
Thank you for helping me not feel guilty. My horses have plenty of hay and a place to get out of the wind. Most of the time I find them outside though.
2/13/2015 Marsha Craig
This is our first year treating our two miniatures like horses and not children. Articles written by NickerNews columnists, such as this one (like Nancy mentioned) removes the guilt which results in healthier and happier horses!
2/16/2015 Debbie Hight
I was completely convinced in the value of not blanketing the other day when my horses had 2" of snow on their backs. I scraped the snow off and it was dry underneath, what great insulation!
2/17/2015 Bob Gorham
I agree with you on your view on winter care. Also A donkeys favorite winter pass time is standing by a wind brake absorbing sun.

"Want to end up with a million bucks in the horse business? Start out with five million." - Anonymous