Winter Horse Management Ideas

Hello from snowy southwest Colorado. With snow and bitter cold I am reminded on how to efficiently manage water, hay and livestock.  I spent the first 27 years of my life in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Many of those years included providing horse care during frigid months. In Minnesota and Wisconsin, it gets so cold you can bend a hose and have it snap like a twig. Luckily I don’t have those extremes here, but there still are challenges.

Here are a few ideas I have accumulated over the past 30 years of winter horse management:

  • Cover Cord Heads: Many people have to use extension cords for tank de-icers and heaters (although this is not recommended by the manufacturer). Connector covers can be purchased at many retailers. I save money by using empty plastic bread bags. Simply put the cord head through a hole cut in the bottom of the bag. Use electrical tape to tighten around the cord. You can reach into the bag to plug/unplug. I like the bread bags because the length provides plenty of coverage from snow and rain.
  • Thermostatically Controlled Outlets: A Thermo Cube is a device which, when plugged into a standard 120V AC GFCI electrical outlet, will automatically turn power on and off to any device plugged into it. It will turn on power when air temperature reaches approximately 35°F (2°C) and will turn off the power when the temperature exceeds approximately 45°F (7°C). Thermo cubes are great for tank de-icers, heat tape, heat lamps and engine block heaters.
  • Unplug the Juice: Most days here get warm enough to melt the ice on tanks. Once it is melted enough for drinking, I unplug things (if I don’t have them hooked up to a thermo cube).
  • Feed Big Bales: If your situation allows it, feeding big bales gives horses a steady amount of feed so that they can consistently produce heat. Most horses will slow down after the first few days of big bale bliss, and it keeps them from getting frantic at feed time.
  • Wash Your Tanks: If you use tanks for water, don’t forget to run bleach and hose out your tanks regularly. One of the biggest reasons for winter colic is lack of water intake. Water that stinks, contains pieces of hay or bird poop discourages drinking. In addition, horses sweat under heavy winter coats and blankets. In Colorado the sun is intense. I feed Restore Electrolytes at least once a week in the winter. Clean water and electrolytes go a long way towards preventing colic.
  • Avoid Slippery Spots: We get a lot of day melt here, and that creates wet spots. I keep a pile of pea gravel handy. When there is melt, I simply throw a shovel of it on the puddle. Once frozen it is a puddle with traction.
  • Walk the Line: Anyone who has experienced heavy snow accumulation knows the challenge of finding the path to and from barns, over cords and other places. I use electric fence posts to mark my paths. To help with visibility, spray them with high visibility paint or use flagging tape.
  • Hoses: I have found that only high quality rubber hoses keep from kinking. Hang your hoses where the hot afternoon sun hits, and try to drain them as best you can after each use.
  • Breaking Ice: If you do have tanks that need ice broken, avoid using an axe. An axe makes a narrow cut and can slice through metal and plastic tanks. Instead use a 2×2 or 2×4 that is three to four feet long. It works very well for bashing a hole in ice.

Most important of all, plan ahead. If you know severe weather is coming, get your water tanks filled and prep your horses with a belly full of hay.