Winter is Coming
by Aubrey Moore
It may still feel like summer out there, but fall and winter lurk just around the corner. And while winter may have many people thinking of hot chocolate, warm nights by the fire, and the holiday season, anyone in the horse boarding world is probably picturing muddy pastures, frozen pipes, and wrestling with the eternal question of what blanket to use and when.
To make your winter season run a bit more smoothly, Stable Select has come up with a list of ways to prep your winter barn now while the weather is still warm, so you can save time and energy when it’s frigid (and you might even get the chance to enjoy a little of that hot chocolate).
Inspect Your Blankets
Hopefully, you took the time to get your blankets laundered at the beginning of spring, but if you didn’t, it’s essential to make sure that blankets are clean and in good working order before the first frost (which always seems to come earlier than we expect!). Blankets caked in old, dry mud are not only stinky and more difficult to fasten, but they can reduce the effectiveness of the material inside the blanket.
Even if you already had your blankets cleaned, it’s a good idea to give each one a once-over and make sure that no rodents have chewed on blanket material or that it wasn’t torn at the cleaners. You’ll also want to check that all buckles and straps are working correctly. If you’re involved in your barn’s management, you can even have a day where you host a barn blanket party (snacks not optional) to encourage all your boarders to check their horse’s gear. This will help ensure you don’t have to bother boarders to replace their unusable blankets at the last minute.
Prepare Your Clippers
Like blankets, you should be properly cleaning and oiling your clippers every time you put them away to help them live a long and rust-free life. But, if you’ve slipped up, now’s the time to inspect clipper blades and replace them or get them sharpened if needed. You’ll want to clean all the hair out of the blades (including shifting the cutter around to ensure no hair is trapped inside), oil them with an appropriate product, and store them in an airtight bag until you’re ready to clip your first winter coats.
A tip from us here: Don’t use kerosene to oil your blades. Although that may have worked in the past, new clipper blades are made from steel and will deteriorate with the application of kerosene.
Prep Your Farm
Well-thought-out horse barn plans are one of the most important parts of winter barn management and running a safe and effective horse boarding service in the coldest of months. You’ll want to begin with a good, thorough walkthrough of your entire property, so you can make a list of any necessary barn maintenance that can be done now (before you’ll need to don gloves and cold weather gear).
Take note of the condition of exterior walls, piping, roofing, and the location of any hose bibs. Although most horse barns are somewhat open to the elements, any gaps in walls or windows can be caulked or plugged with insulation to improve heat retention, and exposed piping can be insulated with sleeves or even newspaper to help protect against the elements. Heat tape may also be utilized according to manufacturer instructions. If your area is prone to freezes, keep garden hoses unattached from hose bibs when not in use, and use hose bib covers, as these are a common source of burst pipes in the winter.
You’ll also want to examine whatever equipment you’re utilizing to heat the barn. If you’ve got standalone heaters, inspect electrical cords, plugs, and the heater itself for any issues or poor condition. Clean cobwebs and declutter any areas of trash or rags, to reduce common sources of barn fires. Perform any needed maintenance on roofs, shutters, windows, and barn doors to ensure they can be used and shut in the case of a snow or wind storm. If you have a barn in an area with Nor’easters, it may be prudent to put away extra equipment and secure loose items in the yard and around arenas, so you won’t need to perform a last-minute cleanup if one is on its way.
Gather Some Supplies
Like the Boy Scouts, barn managers should always be prepared, so now is an excellent time to make sure both your human and equine first aid kits are stocked and up to date. Inspect your fire extinguishers and make sure their location is well-marked. Verify you have appropriate snow removal equipment and that it’s in an area that can be easily accessed should snow pile up against barn or shed doors.
You’ll also want to ensure you have equipment on hand to deal with any problems resulting from a winter storm or severe freeze. For example, you should check that you have a backup method to get water to horses should you have a burst pipe. It’s also a good idea to stock up on extra hay and grain in case roads become difficult to traverse and to perform any necessary maintenance on your generator and farm vehicles (including stocking up on fuel in case of a power outage).
Check Your Gear
Last (but certainly not least), you’ll want to take a look at your own gear. Pull your winter breeches, coats, and cold-weather layers out of storage (or the back of your closet) so you’re not frantically searching for them on the first chilly day. Find an easily accessible place for boots, gloves, and hats to live, preferably somewhere where they can hang up to dry when they’re not in use.
You may also consider purchasing some “nice to haves” around the barn to make those January days a little less dreary, like a Costco-sized box of hand warmers, a hot water kettle, and warm drinks for the tack room, or even an extra tack room heater or two. All these things can go a long way towards making boarders feel more at home.
With these tips, you’ll not only be prepared for anything, but you’ll make your wintertime barn activities more enjoyable by providing a safe and warm environment for you and your equine friends.
About Aubrey Moore:
Over the years, Aubrey has dabbled in a variety of equestrian activities such as eventing, dressage, Pony Club, and one epic safari ride across Africa. When she isn’t busy freelance writing for such publications as Horse Network, she can be found at home with her pony Khali and pony-sized cat, Frankie.