Although autumn is just beginning, be smart and prepare for winter. Here are some steps you can take now to be ready for when the temperature drops.
Well, it is officially fall. You know what that means?
That’s right. Fall has just gotten started, so it’s time for horse owners to start looking ahead to winter — especially if you live in a climate that has an actual winter with snow, ice and freezing temperatures.
So, before you get too caught up in the perfect riding weather and colorful leaves, here are eight things you can do to prepare for winter so you’re not caught unaware when the first cold spell hits:
1. Check your blankets. That’s right — now is the time to make sure your blankets are in proper working order. You’ll want to check D-rings, leg straps, surcingles and make sure that all rips and tears are repaired. A little water-proofing wouldn’t hurt either. The years that I am really ahead of the game, I’ve managed to have all this done in the spring when the blankets first come off (that’s happened once — maybe). If you’re smart enough or fortunate enough to use a blanket service, this is probably done for you. But for the rest of us, now is the time to work on this.
2. Stock up on hay. Let’s get real, you should have been stocking up on hay from the time the first cut came out of the baler. However, if you didn’t do it then, definitely do it now. Scrambling for hay after the weather turns can put you and your horses in a bad position. Not only will you have to take what’s available rather than what’s choice, but also you’ll have to pay a premium.
For many parts of the United States, hay is hard to come by due to drought, flooding or, as is the case where I live, too much rain during what would be prime baling months. Low supplies will make the price go up. Don’t get caught without enough hay to make it through the winter.
3. Stock up on bedding. Although the same shortages are unlikely to affect bedding as they do hay, getting your bedding now will be much easier — and probably cheaper — than when the weather gets colder. Whether you have it delivered or haul your bedding yourself, loading and unloading and actually getting to the barn is always much more pleasant when it’s temperate.
4. Check for fire hazards. Okay, so this should be done no matter what the season, but it is especially true during the colder months when there is increased use of heating devices to keep equipment functioning and animals warm. According to the Animal Welfare Institute, there are nearly three times as many barn fires in winter (January through March) than summer (July through September). So, now is the time to check your fire extinguishers, clear any cobwebs and dead insects from surfaces and make sure no shavings are piled or built up near electrical outlets.
5. Check de-icers. Speaking of electrical concerns, making sure your de-icers are in good, working condition is imperative for winter preparation. Look for wear and tear on your devices so that they are safe for your barn and your horses. Most of us have read about the horror stories of horses getting electrocuted due to a faulty de-icer. Making sure they’re in working order before you have to use them can ensure that your horses are safe and have plenty of access to fresh water in the colder months.
6. Clean your tack. Cold weather can be especially hard on your leather tack. It can dry out, crack and generally become unusable by spring. Therefore, now is a great time to give your tack a thorough cleaning and oiling to help protect it from the impending colder temperatures. If you don’t ride throughout the winter, storing your tack is advisable. However, if you’re like me and you ride no matter the temperature (nearly), keeping it oiled will extend its life.
7. Have a plan for your liquids. You know those first warm weeks of the year when we start getting excited for show season, grass to fatten up our horses and all the other wonderful things summer brings? They’re also the weeks when the flies first come out. Inevitably, every spring, I dig out my bottle of fly spray from the year before only to discover that the nozzle no longer works because it froze over the winter.
As annoying as a broken spray bottle can be, the bigger issue is that many of the chemicals we use on a regular basis can alter due to the freezing process, which in turn affects their ability to work. Find a temperature controlled place to store your fly sprays, medicines and any other liquid that can be affected by the cold.
8. Take care of freeloaders. Winter tends to bring unwanted pests. The draw of shelter, warmth and errant pellets of grain will invite rats, mice and other vermin to take up residence in your barn. Set traps now to try to get ahead of these squatters.
If you live in a temperate climate and winter is not something about which you have to worry, well … we envy you. Go forth, ride all year long in your t-shirt or light windbreakers and think of the rest of us who are battling the elements to see our four-legged pals.
And for everyone else, enjoy fall while you can. Get in plenty of rides and take in the beauty of the season, but don’t forget that winter will be upon us in a matter of weeks. Take the necessary steps to prepare yourselves and your horses.