Tips from horse

owners determined

to keep up with

the Canadians in

their barns,

all year round.

From "Horse Canada" - December 2009

Canadians are well known for their hardy nature. Hard working, they do not let a bit of winter weather stop them from going about their daily activities. They are well acquainted with north winds, snowdrifts and frozen ground. In fact, they have developed ways of surviving whatever Ole Man Winter throws their way. Now, most will think I am talking about the people who live in Canada, but, in fact, I am referring to a breed of horse - Canada's National Horse, the Canadian.

If like souls attract, and I believe they do, then it's not surprising that Canadian horse owners (on both sides of the 49th parallel) seem to share the same hardiness as their equine partners. To follow are some of great ideas from the owners of Canadians on how to make dealing with winter easier for horse and human.

Ruthanne from Cape Breton seems to personify hardiness itself. She states "I'm a firm believer that since I live in Canada it is important to learn to embrace winter. Don't study the thermometer too much - just get ready and go outside!" She loves her "Muck boots" as they are easy to slip on, fit in her stirrups and are warm, waterproof, and comfortable. She does not recommend them for ground driving as the tread is not quite what she likes for this activity.

She is fortunate to have a small flock of sheep and an aunt who knits custom mittens for her with a separation for her rein finger. Her wool headband that fits just under her helmet, keeps her ears and head nice and warm, too. If you can't find or make a wool headband, I recommend a neoprene style ear covering.

Ruthanne also offered some sage advice about winter riding. "If you aren't used to riding in snow it is important to remember that it is much harder on your horse than riding on bare ground. The simple zippity-doo-dah trail that you do on bare ground becomes a tough work out for an out of shape horse trudging through a foot or more of snow. The horses' hair is longer and they sweat easily and take longer to dry so all this requires special consideration.

Ruthanne Hart, driving her Canadian mare, Quinns Alf Lillybelle foregoes Caribbean island winter getaways in favour of her own Canuck island. "My island paradise is the island I already live on: Cape Breton. I am happy to live in a valley that gets a moderate amount of snow in winter and only a reasonable amount of wind. Once winter settles in here, I change gears and ride and drive my horses and it just feels like living in a Christmas card."

Rose Cook of Port Colborne, Ontario loves her flannel-lined jeans. She says she used to use "those noisy snow pants" but found they sometimes startled her horses. They keep her toasty warm and they are much more reasonably priced than the winter riding pants.

Sue Drover from Haverhill, MA has practical and creative solutions to the problems that come with not having access to electricity where she rough boards her horses. To avoid facing frozen-solid water buckets in the turn out areas where her horses are led every morning, she made her own insulated water "troughs". She took a 55-gallon plastic barrel, cut it in half, and drilled three drain holes in each bottom. She then insulated it using rigid Styrofoam for the bottom and fiberglass insulation similar to that used in house construction. Taking a piece of 6 ml builders' plastic, she folded it in half and duct-taped the folded edge near the top of the outside of the barrel. Then she folded the plastic over the edge of the barrel and down over the insulation. Next, a Fortiflex muck bucket went in - this became her water trough. She topped it off with a garbage bag wrapped Styrofoam disk that sits inside the bucket at night. Every night when she brings the horses in, she puts the lid on and in the morning she just adds heated water from home. This system makes it easy to clean her bucket and if she has ice it is only a small amount - not a solid ice cube!

Not having to deal with ice also gives Sue more time to ride her Canadian mare, Marina. She loves her cozy combination of Irideon wind-pro breeches with Lands' End Thermaskins underneath.

Susan Drover's Canadian mare Marina has liquid rather than ice in her paddock buckets all day, thanks to Susan's homemade, insulated water tubs.

Antje in Newfoundland, who is the proud partner of Gala, also deals with ice problems by topping her heated water bucket with a piece of two-inch thick rigid Styrofoam cut to the size of her bucket. This cuts down on her loss of heat and helps the power bill stay a bit lower.

A common tip from many was the use of heat tapes for pipes and faucets. Jeff in Nova Scotia says they've made many a winter easier, as does Jayme Bizoso-Velez from the North West USA. However, Jeff reports his newly installed hydrant, which allows the water to drain back to six feet underground (and below freezing), will make his heat tapes no longer necessary. He is hoping the only ice in his barn will be Black Ice, his Canadian mare.

Jeff Mason loves his new cold weather barn hydrant, which has eliminated the need for heat tapes on the pipes.

Jayme also likes her Mountain Horse Ice Rider boots. She says they are "super warm", and she can "muck in them, trudge through snow in them, or ride a horse in them".

Many claim their most useful implement in the winter is their sled, often a child's sled converted to barn usage. Gaby in New Brunswick purchased a sports sled at her local Home Hardware store and reports that it worked great. Water buckets and hay bales pulled to pastures were frequent usages. One suggested spraying it with cooking spray to stop the manure from freezing to it. Ruth at Tiekety Boo Farm in Langley, BC also added feed sacks and bedding pellets to her list of things her little red sled (only $10 at the Co-op) could pull.

Gladys Mackey Beattie sent this shot of her not very fancy, but very practical black plastic hay sled. She can pull five bales on it without creative stacking. Gladys says the sleds last about three years, but at only $19.00 each, they're good value.

A variation on the sled theme from Ginger in New Hampshire is my favourite. At her barn they use a snowmobile to haul manure on an inverted car hood. They speed out to the field then swing in a fast circle, which sends the manure flying out in a wide fan. "Manure removal and field fertilization in one fell swoop."

Sporting her favourite Columbia jacket, Jessie Cook of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia is ready for a ride with Canadian, Black Ice.

Gladys Mackey Beattie and her neighbour Kara Spring out for a ride on their Canadians on a bright minus-40 degree day. Gladys, in red, is making use of her faux fur-lined stirrups.

Gladys, from North Hatley, Quebec reported that frozen toes take the pleasure out of her winter riding and many will agree with her there. Her great idea involved lining a pair of Western stirrups (with tapaderos) with really thick fake fur. She fastened the fake fur in with leather laces so she could take it off in the spring. They are warm, but also colourful. "I also made some toe covers with fake fur liners for my English stirrups. I guess a good seamstress could make pockets in the fake fur to hold one of those little chemical hand warmer packages." Toasty toes, for sure.

And, since we are talking about Canadian horses, the last tip is brought to you from Nell, in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, who dearly loves her tail bag. It is bright red and compliments her beautiful black coat. She loves to flick it around on snowy days as it makes her stand out from her three pasture mates who have boring black tail bags. It also keeps her tail out of the snow and dirt so she does not end up with a snowball at the end of her full tail.

For me, there are two favourite pieces of winter attire that I won't ride without. First are my SSG Thinsulate-lined riding mittens with rein finger. They have a suede palm and provide excellent grip on the reins while keeping my fingertips warm. I ride in all weather and there is nothing that can beat these mittens. The second is my Dollar Store fleece neck warmer. It usually starts out at my neck but if the wind comes up I can use it around my ears or even over top of my helmet (it has that much stretch).