Early mornings, constant darkness, plummeting temperatures, endless mucking out, little riding, mud everywhere, multiple people all using facilities at the same time and frozen taps, arenas and fingers, all do their bit to make winter a particularly challenging season for horse ownership. So what can we all do to glide through winter with the same ease and smiles as we do in summer? Here are my 10 Top Tips for surviving winter with your horse….
1 Well firstly we can all remember, and I have to remind myself of this at least once a day from December to February, this is only temporary! It can often feel as if winter will never end, that we’ll never make progress with our horses again - it will and we will, it happens every year. The temperature will rise, the mud will dry out, our horses will enjoy the sun on their backs again, we will again ride without ten thermal layers, the feeling in our fingertips will undoubtedly return. Note to self: MUST BE PATIENT! Got it? Ok, here are a few ways in which we can all do our bit to survive until the spring…..
2 Get organised in advance - make sure your winter rugs are washed, repaired and reproofed ahead of when they’ll be needed, organise your hay, feed and bedding deliveries and make sure you have your salt/grit supplies topped-up ready for those frosty mornings.
3 Plan your horse’s annual holiday in the winter time. If you normally give your horse a month off at some point in the year, why not make it during the hardest months of the year? I’ve started doing this and what a difference! They’re still in at night so there’s still all the yard work to be done so not exactly a holiday for me, but not having the pressure to get out and ride in horizontal rain has been lovely and to be able to focus on family time over Christmas and New Year has been a joy. I don’t feel any guilt or frustration like I have in the past when a week has gone by and the weather has prevented me from making any progress with the horses and the horses are showing no signs that they’re missing their work, happy to be relieved of the requirement to work in the wind, rain and sleet.
4 Use your extra time saved not riding to plan your horsey activities and goals for the year ahead. It can be really fun to co-ordinate your competition schedule, events you’re going to spectate at or plan what pleasure rides or trips to the beach you’re going to take along with jotting down when vaccinations are due and dentist, farrier and physio appointments are needed. All of the planning takes time but it’s really exciting and allows time for ideas to take shape and develop if you start thinking of them early enough. Thinking to the future keeps us engaged in what we’re doing and why we’re doing it and maintains our enthusiasm about our horses, which in turn makes us happier to be at the yard visiting our horses.
5 Speak to the nutritionists at your feed company of choice about making adjustments for the winter months. I work closely with our Topspec representatives to ensure all our horses have all the nutrients they need to maintain their condition and energy levels throughout the winter months and their advice and input is invaluable.
6 Make the morning rush as stress-free as possible by doing anything you can the night before. I’m always trying to find ways to make my mornings more productive. I’m naturally an early riser and get so much more done all day if I start as I mean to go on. Some of my favourite time-saving tips are: stuff extra hay nets the night before, make up your horse’s breakfast the night before, invest in good rugs that act as stable rugs as well as turnouts to reduce time changing rugs in the mornings (added bonus for your horse - he gets to keep a cozy rug on rather than the 6am switch to yesterday’s cold and still-wet turnout rug, brrr!), skip out your horse’s stable before you leave the yard, always leave your wheelbarrow empty, clean your tack after every use and remove dirty and wet saddlecloths and girth-sleeves before storing away for tomorrow, wash boots and bandages as often as required and return to the yard ready for use the next day, plait up your horse’s tail before turning out in a muddy field to prevent it getting caked in mud and having to wash daily.
7 If you stable a horse on a livery yard, remember that it is a communal space and keep your equipment stored neatly and sweep up after yourself. As a yard owner, the most common moans and groans I hear from liveries about other liveries is related to this kind of stuff - people leaving a trail of bedding through an already swept area, not picking up after their horses, people using their things without permission and others using more than their share of storage space. These may seem like silly things, and we’re all reminded to not ‘sweat the small stuff’, but they’re the things that irritate others beyond belief and thankfully, super-easy to fix. Just keep your eyes open and be considerate and fair to those you share space with. Oh, and if you can, try and sort these things out amongst yourselves, us yard owners hate to have to get involved in this kind of stuff, we’re far too busy gently rocking in a corner ageing at twice the rate of a ‘normal’ person with all the other yard issues we have to deal with like flooding, broken lights, fixing fencing and stressing about how our grazing can possibly recover in time for summer…
8 Avoid venting about other yard users on the yard if you can - the person you’re frustrated with may not overhear you, but they may find out second hand (probably with arms and legs added!) and those that do hear can get swept up in the negativity. We all get frustrated and its natural to look for reassurance that you are in the right, but if possible, it’s better to resolve the issue with the person concerned or if you chose to pick your battles, vent at home then let it go - for your sake as well as everybody else’s. It’s always better to avoid getting involved in these discussions and to not pass on what was said to others - at best you can only give your interpretation of what was said and at worst you can end up being the target for a whole new set issues.
9 Use tact and maturity when dealing with issues that arise on the yard and attempt to see the issue from the other person’s stand point. Most people don’t go out of their way to annoy others and may do so without realising it. Many frustrations and irritations can be easily resolved with sensible handling but can also quickly escalate through poor communication.
10 Lastly, make an extra effort to smile at your fellow liveries and offer to help when you can. Everyone is fed up in the winter, everyone would rather be at home sipping a cup of tea/glass of wine/pint of gin (delete as required) than hike up a muddy hill to the muck heap in a gale. Sometimes a smiley face rather than a scowl makes all the difference. We’re all in the same boat.
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