Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Last year on October 29th--two days from now!

The temperatures dropped this week at the same time the rain came. It seems winter is never subtle around here. The rain soaked turn-outs, the muddy horses, the mucking up of the stalls, combined--make me less melancholy of summer and more hopeful for SNOW!

Here are a few of my opinions about winter, and an explanation about why I prefer snow.

Rain or Snow?

Last year everyone around here celebrated the lack of snow. After all, we had just survived two of the snowiest seasons in the history of Spokane record-keeping. About the time we all bought lots of shovels (there were none to be found during the first snowiest winter) and snow-blowers, we had one of the least snowiest seasons ever. (We all attribute this to our readiness, because we know Mother Nature likes to mess with us!)

If you don't have horses and you don't ski or snowboard, a lack of snow is probably a good thing because it keeps the roads clear and really cuts down on the shoveling. I can understand why cold rain would be celebrated by this group.

But, in my opinion, for my horses, if it's going to be cold, I prefer snow. Here's why: the snow sits on top of the fur and actually creates a barrier that holds in heat. The fur puffs up, the snow sits on top, and the horse's body heat circulates around the hairs like a convection oven. Rain, on the other hand, soaks the fur, leaves the horse skin to cold air to the point that you can look outside and see the heat coming off the body. If this is the case, you either have to blanket (waterproof) or stable the horses. Do they stay in their covered stables if given the choice? No. Horses are naturally gregarious and will eventually gravitate out to the society of the other horses, where general fighting will invariably ensue and ripping of the blankets will invariably occur.

So, my choice for horses is....snow. Actually, I believe they thrive in snow.

Blanket or No Blankets?

I used to blanket all of my horses, especially when they were in rented stables with allotted turn-out and I could keep them relatively clean and rip-free. When I moved to Spokane though, in those snowiest seasons ever, and gave my horses full turnout with optional stalls, I opted for no blankets. I didn't want the blankets to push down the fur and ruin the effect of warm body-heat circulating underneath. No blankets worked out great those first two years of heavy snow.

Last year, however, the rain and slightly-above-freezing temps, put more of a strain on the horses. Even though every horse in our herd has a covered stall in the barn, some of them spent their time out of the barn. It was especially stressful on Old Red. On the really cold days I locked them in, and I locked them in every night, but what a mess it made the barn! (Had it been snowing, they could have stayed out grazing round bales....pretty snow adorning their puffy coats...beautiful white snow covering the ground....rather than green mud.) Because of the constant rain, Red developed a rain rot on his broad back--and an old proud-flesh sore above his hoof opened up again and had to be kept covered and treated daily. (I posted about this last winter) Red's thirty and his immune system is probably not what it used to be--he's more susceptible to everything, but last year was the first time he'd shown evidence of it.

Cold rain is a nuisance!! Let it snow!!

And in those conditions, RAIN, I prefer to blanket.

How much food is enough?

Every year we debate how much hay to put up for the winter and what types. Last year we got 20 tons of the prettiest alfalfa I've ever seen and a number of Timothy round bales.

This year, our hay supplier never got back to us to arrange shipment--he just disappeared! So, we were left scrambling for second cutting alfalfa. We had to go through several people to piece together enough and we had to accept some first cutting as well.

One of my new guys told me something I found to be interesting. He said that although the pretty green alfalfa we were getting shipped up from Waitsburg looks good, it actually is much less nutritive than the alfalfa grown around here that is not irrigated. He said that because of the irrigation, the alfalfa is harvest four or more times from the same spot in a given year, thus reducing the amount of minerals in the soil. His alfalfa, on the other hand, is not irrigated and he can only get two cuttings off of it. He says it grows heartier because of it.

I wasn't sure whether to buy this explanation or not until I started feeding his hay to my horses. Indeed, it appears that it takes less of his hay to keep my horses fat than of the other, pretty, stuff. Hmmmm....anyone else have thoughts about this?

Shoes or No Shoes?

This one's easy for me. I'm pulling the shoes on Cowboy after the riding season. All of my other horses are already barefoot--they go barefoot year round. Cowboy, because of his P3 fracture, keeps fronts on during the riding season to give the hoof wall more support in case of arthritis in the coffin joint. It works out pretty good. He'll get the shoes pulled at the beginning of December.

Trailering or no Trailering?

This one's easy for me, too. If it's snowing or icey, I don't trailer. I'm careful not to schedule any activities that would require trailering. I know lots of people who do, but I don't feel comfortable with it and would hate to have my trailer slip off the road with such precious cargo. (Not to mention, I have a bumper-pull trailer which is less stable). If the roads are clear, no problem.

These are my thoughts about winter. Let it snow, let is snow. And, in early spring, please let it disappear quickly with sunshine and warmer temperatures! This scenario would be my PERFECT world.

Happy Late Fall Trails, everyone!

Past Winter Photos:


  1. I agree that snow is easier than cold rain! I don't blanket mine either. It seems like blanketing is a double-edged sword in that once you do it, you've ruined that nice hair/air/body oil configuration that the horses naturally have and so then you need to keep the blanket on. Then I worry about it getting to be 40 or so during the day, then you have sweat under the blanket, which isn't good either. I read somewhere that horses are evolved from arctic creatures, and the temperature they are most comfortable at (kind of like us at 70 degrees) is around 40 degrees or so. They are comfortable with their winter coats alone down to about 18 degrees. I will throw a blanket on my old Arabian gelding if we get one of those arctic chills down to 20-below. Our horses are locked in stalls in rainy or windy weather.

    I hear this is a La Nina year and we are due for milder temps but more precipitation in the form of snow - I agree - Let it snow!

    As for the hay, I don't know, but that's interesting. I guess the only way to find out for sure is to send off a sample to a lab and get a nutritional analysis. I mean to do this every year...but haven't gotten around to it yet.

    As for shoes -- I think there some horses that need shoes, like in Cowboy's case, but I am a barefoot advocate for all horses who have otherwise pretty normal hooves. I have a QH with problem feet who was always ouchy on his feet for the first 3 years I owned him. I had an award-winning farrier trimming him since he was a weanling and trusted him and just thought I was stuck with a horse with problem feet...until... I started having him trimmed in a proper barefoot trim. He is happily sound now. I also have educated myself on hoof function. Horse hooves are fascinating stuff.

    And trailering in winter, I'm with you. I don't trailer on slick roads. Just not worth the risk.

  2. The past couple years here in southern New England have had little snow. Just a couple small storms. I'm thinking we're about due for a snowy one on the east coast.

  3. Hi Laura--it sounds like you've come up with a lot of the same answers I have. Good to hear the same things have worked for you!

    Did you get my email?

    Joanne--I don't know if you want a lot of snow, but it's true these thing usually come in cycles. It's always nice to at least have a white Christmas!!


Please feel welcome to join our discussion by telling us about your own thoughts and experiences.