These days of autumn leading up to winter are precious; we are enjoying the weather and spending as much time outdoors with our horses as is possible. Since the late spring, they have been turned out on pasture for as many hours as they choose. Although our pasture grass is not rich and a bit thin, the 15 or so acres are more than adequate for our two small Morgan horses. By the end of November and the start of the Big Game (Deer) hunting season, they’ll be ‘home’ for good — in the barn at night, and in the barnyard during the day, and depending on the amount of ice and snow we receive, probably for the rest of the winter.
Paddock/turnout area: There are chores to be done to prepare for having the horses confined to the barn and paddock. One of the most important is to secure the paddock, as the horses will miss their large pasture turnout. We will check the fence, looking for loose nails, replacing cracked boards, straightening and sturdying up fence posts. Electric fence or wire may need tightening; check the tension on your fencing, and be sure there is no short in your electric system.
If your horse chews wood or trees, treat wooden fence, rails and stalls with an anti-chewing product, or cover over those areas with wire mesh. Trees such as red maple and cherry are toxic to horses; in addition to wire mesh, you might first wrap the trunk in burlap and tie it securely.
We remove as many rocks from the paddock as possible (they tend to ‘grow’ up out of the ground each year) to provide more comfortable footing; and also remove a layer of mud and muck that had accumulated in the lower areas. Check your turnout area for fallen or overhanging branches that could fall on an unsuspecting horse and cause a problem.
The paddock area should drain well; especially near watering and feeding places, and areas of high traffic. It is much easier to be pro-active and drag or rake uneven areas and install gravel if necessary during these autumn days rather than wait until the ground freezes and ice becomes a problem.
Barn: Check your barn for leaky faucets or pipes, and replace any leaky hoses to have your plumbing in good shape before the cold weather sets in. When temperatures dip below freezing, consider applying heat tape to your exterior water supply pipes and shutoff valves. Be sure you plug the heat tape directly into a receptacle, not an extension cord, in an area that is protected from curious horses.
Electric wiring, outlets and light fixtures need to be inspected; it is advised to upgrade to Ground Fault Circuit Interruptor (GFCI) outlets for safety’s sake. Check your wiring for rodent damage, and protect light bulbs with cages or safety shields. Be sure that any electric lines that may run across the ceiling rafters of your stalls or barn aisles are affixed securely to the rafters — wires that are hanging down can become tangled around a horse’s head should he rear unexpectedly, which horses are known to do!
Cobwebs and dust should be removed from the walls and ceilings, as they can build up quickly and become a fire hazard. A fire can be started from dusty cobwebs touching a hot light bulb —and can travel quickly along ‘ropes’ of cobwebs from one end of the barn to the other, dropping sparks and flames from stall to stall. Cobwebs should be removed on a regular basis — preferably when your horses are outside, so as not to cause them to breathe in excess dust. Floors and aisles should be swept and kept free of hay and organic matter on a daily basis.
Stalls: Wooden stall floors should be inspected for cracks or holes and boards replaced, if necessary, before your horses return. Soft floors of clay or sand should be leveled — fill in ‘holes’ or low spots. Check rubber mats for holes or excessive wear.
Windows should be protected from contact with wire mesh or grilles to prevent breakage. Open and close your stall doors to be sure they’re operating smoothly and have no protruding or loose nails or screws.
Tack: Go through your tack room and give it a good cleaning. You can start by getting rid of old and unusable equipment that will clutter up the area. Treat your leather tack with a good cleaning and oiling, clean and shine bits and metal appointments. Covering your tack with towels or old shower curtains (which could be hung just above your bridle hooks and saddle racks) will keep the dust at bay and cut down on the amount of cleaning that is needed. Blankets should be washed and thoroughly dried and checked for wear or holes.
Brushes and grooming tools will no doubt need a good cleaning after a summer’s worth of fly spray, sweat, mud; grooming tools will last longer if kept clean. Soak in a bucket of warm sudsy water while you’re doing your other chores, then rinse well and dry in the sun.
A good way to organize your tack room and equipment is with shelving, wire racks, hooks and the like. Hang an extra halter and lead shank at each horse’s stall — they will always be available when you need them. Having an organized tack room saves lots of time, and will ensure that your equipment will last longer by being in tip-top shape.
Feed: your feed room should have a solid, hinged door that is rodent-proof and horse-proof. If there’s a gap between the floor and the bottom of the door, tack a door sweep or rubber strip along the bottom of the door to provide a rodent-proof seal. Feed bins and pails should be clean — use up old feed from the bottom before starting a new bag.
Supplements, medications and dewormers should ideally be stored in a cabinet or separate shelf or bin to keep your feed room better organized. Check the expiration dates on all such supplies, and toss those that are outdated. Empty supplement containers can be recycled into buckets and storage containers. Store the excess containers and feed or bedding bags neatly; using a wooden pallet under grain or bedding bags will help to minimize mold.
Aisles/alleyway: Walk into, and down the aisle through your barn as if you were doing it for the very first time. Look closely at your horse’s winter home — will it be safe, warm and dry? Are there broken boards or shingles to replace, or sagging gates and doors to fix? Are the stall doors secure? Is the barn clean and clear of clutter? By ensuring that your barn is tidy, well organized, and in good repair, you will make the transition from outdoor pasture to winter stabling much easier for your horses, and earn the satisfaction of a job well done.