The Healthy and Safe Winter Barn

by Nicole Kitchener

From "Canadian Horse"  -  Nov/Dec 2009

Winter can be hard on everyone horse and human. There are lots of ways to make sure your horses stay healthy and happy in their barn when the wind blows and the snow swirls.

Go With the Flow

Airflow in a barn is really important. Closing up the doors and windows to keep the barn (and yourself) warm isn't a good idea. With nowhere to go, dust from barn chores such as mucking out, feeding hay, sweeping and even grooming collects in the air and can give horses breathing problems.

Don't think horses have to stay in the barn all winter, either. They can live outside as long as they have a three-sided shelter to escape from wind, rain and snow.

Blankets: On or Off?

While most horses comfortably manage winter with their fuzzy winter coat, those that are older, sick, or have thin or clipped coats might need the extra warmth and protection of a blanket. Blankets come in a variety of weights and materials to suit every horse and his needs.

Check under the blanket at least once a day to make sure the horse isn't too hot, that there are no rubs and that he doesn't have any icky skin infections. Just because he's wearing a blanket doesn't mean you can forego his daily brushing, either!

Note: To avoid spreading skin problems or disease, don't share blankets, brushes, tack or buckets.

Overhead and Underfoot

Good lighting in and around the barn makes life easier during the long, dark days and nights of winter. It helps when you're doing chores and also makes things a bit cheerier.

On the ground, watch for bad footing, particularly ice. Horses can fall and hurt themselves very badly on ice-and so can you. Use sawdust or kitty litter to line entrances and paths to prevent accidents.

It Was a Dark & Stormy Night...

Prepare for bad storms and power outages. Keep a flashlight in the house for trips to the barn and one at the barn's entrance. A battery-powered or crank radio and cell phone can keep you in touch with the outside world. (Make sure you have fresh batteries and your phone is charged or they won't be much help!)

Your parents should also keep their vehicles filled with gas and have enough fuel for snowblowers, tractors and other farm gadgets.

Water Works

Water is just as important for horses at this time of year as it is in hot weather.

Some horses stop drinking if their water's too cold, and that can make them sick. Special heaters, insulators and de-icers for buckets and troughs keep water at a good temperature. If the water does freeze, break through it using a hammer or some other heavy tool so horses can have a sip.

Get your parents to help you insulate the barn's water pipes to prevent freezing and have them shut off the barn's water supply when it's really cold.

Yummies Are Important

Horses need lots of hay when it's cold. Eating hay heats their insides and helps keep them nice and warm. Store enough hay to get you through the winter months because it can be difficult for hay suppliers to deliver hay in icy or snowy conditions.

Also keep at least three day's worth of feed just in case you're stuck because of bad weather.

Just remember, being ready for all that winter can throw at you means you won't have to deal with as many problems, and will have lots of time to enjoy your horses during the season!