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Help Your Horse Avoid Winter Hazards

Winter Horse Hazards


As they days turn colder, the way we care for our horses must change. If you live in more northerly climes like I do, you can look forward to several months of ice, snow and frigid temperatures. However, even those who live further south may have to deal with cooler, damper weather.

Frozen Mud

Autumn rains often turn paddocks and pastures into mud bogs. Add the churning hooves of several horses and you have a big mess. Sticky mud can pull shoes off, and long winter hair coats can become encrusted with mud if you don't groom regularly. Of course, there is a risk of a horse slipping in mud and injuring itself. But things get really hazardous when that mud freezes into treacherous lumps and divots. Horses have difficulty walking over the hoof-print pocked terrain and there's always a potential for injury. Hooves can easily become cracked, as the ground becomes hard, like craggy course rocks.

You may be able to build up low spots to avoid mud bogs, but if a whole pasture or paddock this might not be possible. You may have to keep your horses off of the area until it dries or hardens up. Avoid slimy mud build-up in front of stable doors by putting all floor sweepings of manure, chaff and dirt into the manure pile, rather than whisking it out the door. A length of rain gutter over the stable door can divert rain, and snow melt away, keeping the immediate area drier. Ice


Mud puddles can turn into ice rinks as the weather turns colder. As horses walk on snowy paths, the footing can get quite icy and slippery. While ice melting products may solve the problems on roadways and sidewalks, these substances may not be good for your horse's hooves. Instead, spread manure, shavings or sand on slippery areas.

Ice over ponds or other bodies of water can be a hazard if horses wander out on them and fall through or do a 'Bambi'. Block access to slippery banks or frozen water with a line of electric fencing if you can't keep the horses out of the pasture altogether.


Horses galloping through the snow can look beautiful. Generally, horses can handle walking through snow without a problem. Just make sure there is nothing lurking beneath the snow cover by cleaning up all jumps, poles, buckets, pylons, tools and other objects before the snow falls. Snow drifts can be a hazard. I've had horses either lie down in deep snow, or slip and fall and not be able to get on their feet. We had to dig them out and pull them up, so they could regain their footing. We solved the problem by clearing the drifts with a snow blower. Strategically placed snow fencing (hedges or tree lines) can also prevent snow drifts in your pastures and paddocks where horses hang out.

Frozen Water

Horse cannot eat enough snow to provide themselves with adequate water in the winter. Fresh water is especially important in the winter time, when horses may be eating more dry hay. Lack of water can lead to impaction colic, as well as poor over-all health. Heated water bowls, heated buckets, and trough water heaters are just a few of the ways you can keep your horse's water from freezing.

Stuffy Barns

A snug barn may feel cozy to you. But horse shouldn't have to constantly adjust between a warm barn and the cold outdoors. If your barn is warm and air-tight, there may be air quality issues as well. Ammonia from manure can build up quickly. Bedding and hay can be dusty and moldy. Molds can build up on window frames and walls too. All this may cause respiratory problems, or aggravate conditions like COPD.

Unsuitable Grazing

As the weather cools and becomes rainy, your pasture may suddenly take on new life after a parched summer. Lush grass can be a hazard for horses who've been eating drier grass or hay all summer. Allowing horses to chew down pastures in the fall or winter may not be good for the grass either. Some research suggests that frozen grass is higher in sugars and may be a problem for equines with laminitis or EMS.

Falling tree leaves can also be a problem. Some, like the red oak are toxic to horses. A very bored or hungry horse might munch on dead leaves, but those who have better tasting options like grass or good hay probably won't touch the leaves. Nevertheless, know what species of toxic trees and plants are in your pastures and be prepared to remove the horses or the leaves (or the trees themselves) if your horses are likely to eat them.

Thrush, Rain Rot and Lice

When the weather gets colder, problems like rain scald, thrush and lice crop up. Lice like to live snuggled under thick winter rugs and are actually more of a problem in winter than summer. Damp, cool conditions bring on thrush and rain rot.


As soon as the nights get cooler, the mice and other rodents start moving in. This is something I've noticed in barns as well as my house! I have to admit, the chipmunk that lives in the stable, taking sweetfeed out by the cheek-full is pretty cute. However, his rat and mouse relatives, I'm less fond of! Rodents eat food, damage feed bags, chew through wooden and plastic bins, chew electrical wires, and can spread diseases like rabies, salmonella and leptospirosis as well as consume and soil costly feed.

I don't like the idea of poison baits, especially if you have other pets. Live traps are an option, as are mousers like a Jack Russell Terrier or spayed cat. Make sure your grain is in rodent proof containers and all spilled feed is cleaned up. Keep your barn tidy to reduce possible nesting sites. Make sure your barn wiring is not appealing. Some wire coatings are more tasty to mice than others.

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