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How to Outsmart Your Farm’s Frozen Ground Hazards

While we might be experiencing a little bit of a thaw in parts of the United States this week, there’s plenty of cold weather on the way. Kelly Munro of Lighthoof counts a few hazards for which horse owners should be on the lookout.

In many parts of the country, horse owners are still waking up to iced-over water buckets and deeply-frozen ground around their stables and shelters.

This Queen Elsa-type weather is not only inconvenient for our noses and toes, but it also poses some real risks for our equine friends that go a bit beyond the obvious. Managing the risk and working with what we’ve got can make this winter vet-call-free, if we are smart and careful.

Hazard Number One: Slippery Pathways, Roads, and Turnouts

Sometimes a good ice slick is hard to see. My husband once slipped on the driveway while carrying eight gallons of hot soupy mash to our horses. Not only did he go down on the hard ground, but the mash buckets inverted on his head, covering him in green mush! The mash froze to the ground and made a very entertaining popsicle for the horses, but my husband opted out of bucket-hauling for the rest of the winter.

However, many of us would agree that taking a spill ourselves is preferable to seeing a horse go down on the hard, slick ground. A sore and bruised horse would be the best-case scenario; more likely, it will be a soft-tissue injury, or even a broken bone.

Be protective of your main walkways. Don’t let a hose drip or a bucket of water be tossed out on the ground when you know that a freeze is coming. In areas where horses don’t have free access, you can salt, scrape, or put sand on the path to speed the melting of ice and to improve traction. Planning ahead is great when you can, but if you can’t, test all of your horses’ walking surfaces before taking them out to make sure that these surfaces don’t pose a hazard. A barefoot horse can slip if he’s not being careful, but a shod horse is wearing ice skates!

Hazard Number Two: Frozen Mud Peaks

The second demon of frozen ground comes when a previously soft or muddy paddock or pasture undergoes a deep freeze, and the prints and holes made by the horses’ hooves in the soft ground form solid, pointy mountain peaks.

These points can cause hoof damage in less than an hour by jamming into a horse’s sole. They also put the horse’s hooves at an unnatural angle, which for some horses can put painful pressure on the inner hoof structure, and in others can strain muscles or tendons as horses  stand or move with their hooves at different extreme angles.

Finally, frolicking horses can stumble across this suddenly-choppy ground and fall on the hard surface, risking a serious injury.

Unfortunately, once frozen mud peaks have occurred, the only surefire way to save your horse and your wallet from unnecessary pain is to avoid turning out on the frozen ground. If you can plan ahead by one season, Lighthoof equine mud management panels can create a surface that, when frozen, maintains its shape, uniformity, and traction. See how that works in our frozen paddock mud article.

Hazard Number Three: Reduced Activity Leading to Reduced Gut Motility

If unsafe conditions outside are limiting your horse’s freedom of movement, his digestive system may be at risk as well. An Australian study that used GPS collars to track horses’ movement found that wild horses traveled an average of 17.9 kilometers (around 11 miles) per day, and that even domestic horses in various-sized paddocks logged 7.2 kilometers (4.5 miles) per day. Being stalled due to inclement weather therefore imposes a suddenly sedentary lifestyle.

Synchronized snow sissys

Posted by Jodie Ann on Thursday, January 4, 2018

The morning constitutional, so to speak, plays a major role in moving feed material through the horse’s digestive system. Reduced movement of the horse can result in reduced motility of the bowels, increasing the risk that dry forage material will create a blockage which results in colic.

The best thing you can do for your horse when he can’t be turned out is to hand-walk him in the arena, or up and down the barn aisles, as much as possible. If you’re lucky enough to own a panel walker, you can put a few horses in it while you clean their stalls. Any way you can get them out safely will help to keep the horses from getting stiff and stopped up.

In addition, consider feeding your horse wet soupy mashes, or soaking his hay to keep the ingredients of his slower-moving digestive tract soft and wet for optimal passage. This also has the benefit of getting more water into your horse, as horses tend to reduce their water intake in cold weather. For more ideas on getting your horse to drink water in cold weather, check out Lighthoof’s article: 6 Ways to Get Your Horse to Drink More Water This Winter

Hazard Number Four: Increased Concussion on Joints

After a deep freeze, the ground becomes quite firm compared to its normal “give.” The ground’s reduced shock-absorbing properties can easily be felt in the soles of your cold feet when you dismount. They can also be felt by your horse’s joints, both when trotting through an otherwise safe-looking turnout and when riding in an outdoor (or very chilly covered) arena.

Older or arthritic horses are especially sensitive at this time. To avoid joint discomfort, consider hand-walking or walking under saddle (on safe ground with good traction), and pray that the thaw will come soon.

Of course, we don’t want to live each winter like we’re walking on ice (see what I did there?), but if you keep each potential hazard in mind as you move through your farm management tasks, you can save yourself and your horse a lot of trouble.

Any other hazards that you’ve seen, or ideas for coping with them? We’d love for you to share! Other than moving with all of your horses to Costa Rica… I’m not going to lie, I’ve been pretty tempted!

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