Tips for Prepping Your Horses and Barn for Winter

Use these 12 tips to get your horses and barn ready for winter.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

Try these 12 tips to get your horses and barn ready for winter. Photo: AQHA Member Laura Whitney for the 2013 AQHA Calendar

The deliciously crisp autumn mornings are soon to become a thing of the past. Winter, I must say, is right on our doorstep. 

While it would be nice to just curl up inside with hot cocoa and the latest edition of The American Quarter Horse Journal, there are still a few to-dos to check off in the waning evening light to prepare for owning horses in winter.

Try these 12 tips to get your horses and barn ready for winter.

  1. Give your show tack a good cleaning and bring it indoors for the winter. This will protect the tack from the damaging effects of extreme temperatures, as well as prevent potential damage from mice and other critters and insects that might over winter in your barn.
  2. During winter, the risk of barn fires increases dramatically. In the winter, fire usually results from faulty heaters, electrical wiring problems or rodents chewing through wires. Search your barn for fire risks, correct them and keep them corrected. 
  3. Have your vehicle is ready for winter driving. Always check the tire pressure before each trip, which is especially important with temperature changes. Drive with your headlights on during inclement weather – even if it is not dark. And during inclement weather, be sure to increase the distance between vehicles to allow more stopping time.
  4. Don’t be deceived by woolly winter hair coats that can make a horse look fat. When trying to assess body condition on a winter-coated horse, run your hands over the horse’s back, hips and ribs to determine if he is losing weight. If you are uncomfortable estimating weight loss through palpation, use a weight tape to check the horse’s weight in the late fall and then weekly throughout the winter.
  5. Make sure you have enough high-quality roughage or forage to make it to spring. Hay – not grain – is the best feed to help generate body heat, plus hay has a higher fiber content than grain, meaning that it digests more slowly. Feed roughage as often as possible and no less than two or three times per day, since horses require roughage continually and regularly. 
  6. Increase grain intake for hard keepers. Grain will help your horse stay warm by increasing fat calorie intake, causing the horse to gain weight and body fat. Corn, beet pulp, high-fat grains and vegetable oil, along with an increase in hay are great ways to help that hard keeper maintain his weight through the winter months.
  7. Avoid feeding a daily bran mash. A bran mash provided no more often than once a week is a good treat for your horse and can provide some benefit to the animal’s intestinal tract. Feeding a bran mash more often may disturb a healthy bacteria population and cause mineral imbalances.
  8. Provide your horse with fresh, clean water at all times. Horses drink an average of 10-12 gallons of water per day. If heated tanks are unavailable, ice should be broken several times a day. If a horse goes off feed, check his water. Interestingly, horses will not eat if they are thirsty. 
  9. Deworm before winter sets in. Winter weather can increase the metabolic demand on the horse’s body. Under these conditions, problems (like parasitism) that during nice weather might not have been very severe can be magnified.
  10. Head off impaction colic by avoiding dehydration. The majority of colics occur during changes in seasons, and as the horse’s metabolic rate increases during winter to maintain body temperature, water intake must increase as well. If your horse isn’t interested in drinking, try a few tricks like flavoring the water with Kool-Aid or apple juice or soaking alfalfa cubes. 
  11. Get your horse outside as much as possible. Aside from the escalated risk of impaction colic, horses kept in stalls also are at risk for upper respiratory diseases. When kept inside, horses are exposed to dust from feed and bedding or other irritating sources such as diesel or gas exhaust.
  12. Find a well-fitted blanket for a horse who has not grown an adequate hair coat. The blanket should be snug around the neck, with the spine of the blanket ending at the top of the tail. Surcingles should be adjusted so that you can barely get your hand sideways between the horse and the surcingle. Be sure to adjust leg straps the same way.