Like it or not, winter is on its way, and as we hang on to the last of the September sunshine thoughts turn to prepare our horse for the elements. Autumn rain and arctic winds come thick and fast once September is out and the nights are already drawing in, meaning that after-work hacks are soon to be a thing of the past. Don’t let the cold season sneak up on you this year, get your yard and grazing winter ready now.
One essential item that you must provide for field-kept horses in the autumn/winter season is shelter, and from experience, we know that trying to erect a stall or field shelter in driving rain is not fun. Make the most of hazy sunny weekends and make sure you check all existing field shelters for signs of leaks, damage and general wear and tear. If you do need to repair or replace shelters make sure you use durable treated timber that will weather well and withstand a horse leaning or even kicking against it.
If you have had additional horses join your yard over the summer, you will need to reassess your field shelter provision to ensure that each equine has space and opportunity to find shelter. You may need to add an additional field shelter in order to accommodate newbies, particularly if you have some territorial residents who are likely to push them out. The British Horse Society advises that a field shelter should be 12ft long and 10 ft-12 ft wide for one horse, with an extra 5ft for each additional animal, so check your current shelter sizes and make the necessary additions or amends well in advance.
Savvy horse owners will have already washed and treated their rugs earlier in the year ready for the winter months, but if you haven’t quite gotten around to this task then get cracking this weekend. Rugs that are washed and proofed are more effective at keeping your horse warm and dry in all the elements, plus they will be far more comfortable for him to wear. In dry weather, horses can actually maintain their core body temperature very successfully, but in the wind and rain, this becomes more problematic. It is important to bear this in mind during the winter so that you only rug your horse when they need it, otherwise, they could quickly fall victim to overheating.
If you have acquired a new horse this year and this will be your first winter together, take the time to measure him correctly and try several rugs to find the best fit for him. Most horses will need two rugs at least, a New Zealand is the perfect wind-proof and waterproof rug for winter, but you may need a lightweight Turnout rug for Autumn and then switch to the heavier New Zealand when the frost sets in. In addition, horses that are stabled at night will need a quilted stable blanket to keep them cosy and some owners opt for leg bandages to prevent stiffness in older equines.