Winter Horse Keeping At Home

This is the first winter we've kept horses at home for a few years. We've been boarding all three of them for the last few winters so we'd be able to ride them in an indoor over the winter. This year just Rogo is boarded and Dan and Savanah are at home. Doug and I love having them here. It feels empty when there are no horses in the back yard.
They've had a very easy winter. There's been a lot of ice and I've been driving so much to ride Rogo (a round trip is 3.5 hours) so this translates to time off for Savanah and Dan. I must say though, it is very tempting to jump on furry Savanah bareback for a heated seat ride.
We've done a few things differently this winter than we did other winters when we had them home. One of the biggest differences was that we rarely put them in. In the past, after about the first week of Oct., we'd lock them in their stalls every night and let them out in the morning. This year they may have been put in for the night about five times - only when it was REALLY cold or it was raining or snowing. They can go in on their own and we clean and bed their stalls everyday, but we don't lock them in. We're basing this on research reports we've read that it's healthier for them. This is very easy for us to do, because their stall doors open onto their turn out. They have heated buckets in their stalls and we can feed them in their stalls or throw hay outside on nice days.
I'm thinking about offering outdoor board as an option at the facility we're building. I'm curious about how people do this when the turn out isn't attached to a barn. I know that run in shelters are required, but how about water? I guess it would be necessary to run electricity for heated water tubs? And I wonder if it's standard to give free choice hay to horses kept outside 24/7? This would work for Dan, but Savanah can't have free choice hay. We tried it one winter and she ate steady and blew up like a beach ball - decidedly unhealthy. Also, we put our horses in when it rains or is below -15 or so (depending on the wind). Do some people leave them out regardless of the temperature? What about blankets? Savanah is like a wooly mammoth, hates blankets and they would be counter productive. Dan doesn't get nearly as thick a coat and loves his blanket - he gets in a snit if we're late getting it on him and then is happy and sweet once it's on. If they're out 24/7 how could you be sure they were dry under their blankets, that they weren't over-heating, etc.? I wonder if it would end up being more work than keeping them in a barn at night, because you'd still need to carefully monitor and check their needs, but it would be harder to do.
One of the other big changes we made was switching to haylage. We thought we had an agreement with our hay supplier to sell us hay all winter, as required. This solves the need to store large amounts, but mid winter he told us he'd sold all the hay. Not a good system it turns out. So we switched to another supplier who had only haylage. This is out first time using it. It was strange in that the the horses wouldn't touch it for about 36 hours (we still had hay left and gave them that). Then, they started gradually picking at the haylage we'd put out and fairly quickly they couldn't get enough of it. Now they love it. We feed a little less than hay as it is higher in calories. The up side of haylage is that it isn't dusty at all - I love that. Now they are completely on haylage (after a period of easing them onto it), are the same weight as before and look great. To be honest I think I should have done a little more research, but I asked horse people I trusted, read what I could and proceeded. It wasn't new to Dan as he was fed haylage when he was at Joan's. It was new to Savanah though and I need to be careful with her as she's colicked in the past and also she's a very easy keeper. I suspect she could get laminitis easily. One option would be to get the haylage analysed at the agricultural college so we'd understand the calorie and nutrition content, and plan from that in consultation with our vet. Great intentions but since it's working out I haven't made time. We'll have to figure out something else as the weather warms up because haylage can mold quickly once it's opened (in the cold weather it hasn't been a problem) and with only two horses eating it it is likely to mold before a round bale is finished once the weather gets warm.
Here are some pictures I took with my phone today. You can see that spring hasn't come to Nova Scotia yet.

Here is Savanah eating her haylage and looking very happy and hairy :) I wish I had a better picture of her face. She truly is wooly and I think it's quite beautiful. For comparison purposes I included this picture Maria Casey took of her in the fall (below). What a difference!

Then there's Dan munching away, and a picture from my office window so you can see how wintery it still is.
I'm very interested in hearing about how you manage horses in the winter and anything you do to make the job easier.


Oak Creek Ranch said…
We have our horses out 24/7 as much as possible. We bring them into the barn when it rains or is exceptionally windy but even then we leave their turnouts open (they open into the pasture). The horses will come into the barn when the weather is fierce but otherwise they are outside, even in the rain. Jackson loves his blanket. Flash doesn't wear one as he gets fuzzy as a bear. Same with Kalvin. Winston is clipped so he has to have one. In general I try to not clip and let them go without a blanket. of course, our winters aren't nearly as harsh as yours.
Anonymous said…
As long as the horses have access to shelter from the elements, especially the wind. If the horse grows enough of a winter coat, blankets are needed as long as they as sitting out without shelter, soaking wet.
Do you mean "haylage?" I haven't heard of that but I am thinking it is similar to silage which is fed to cattle.
juliette said…
I leave my horses out 24/7 and they have access to two sheds. I wish they had access to the barn like yours do. I don't live there and you know how turnouts can be time consuming. Because my pastures are trashed this year, I have been putting them inside occasionally (heavy rains) to give them a rest from the mud. This isn't easy since I don't live there and requires two more trips a day in addition to my riding/barn chore trip. ugh.

I keep the boys without blankets. In fact, I don't own one. In the fall I leave them outside and the change in light and temperatures tells their body how much fluffy hair to get. If you put a blanket on even a few nights it can mess up that system. Old/or sick horses need blankets as do horses who haven't been allowed to get the proper winter coat.

We have a big heated outdoor water tub which is fantastic. Unfortunately, we have a swimming Sovereign who puts his foot in the tub and gets it muddy and dumps it multiple times a day. I am still working to perfect the watering system. With normal horses, my system would be great. Pie and Foggy would have a clean heated tub. You may have a boarder like Sovereign so good luck with that. He makes our life interesting.

There is a link about winter horsekeeping on my blog. It took me a long time to feel secure about this and work out a system. Then, my system got ruined with our rains this year and the addition of a new horse (Foggy) so I am back to the drawing board and adding more pastures.

Good luck! It will be a work in progress.
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Carol said…
Yes I did mean haylage. I'll go fix it. Thanks :)
Our winter horse keeping doesn't differ much from the rest of the year. All our paddocks have sheds and heated waterers from Nelson. They don't usually wear blankets so they're all hairy beasts and filthy. In winter they normally come in at night. The stalls also have automatic waterers. Now that the weather is warming up they have the choice of coming in or staying out. They know the routine: come into the catch pen between 5-6 and you come in if not you stay out. Most opt to come in.

The biggest time saver my daughter has come up with is for distributing hay. We have "hay trees" in the center of the catch pen which we hang hay nets from. There are also huge hay nets attached to the fence in various locations that hold an entire bale of hay. We also use the hay nets in the stalls. This slows consumption down and there's not mess dragged through the stalls or paddock. If you'd like to check these hay nets out here's a link: Just put in hay trees and hay nets and the posts should come up. Now that we have these I wouldn't be without them.
The Magical Hay Trees are on my blog:
My horses live out 24/7. My "barn" is a shed row type with stalls on one side (facing into the paddock) and a tack/feed room on the back ( outside the paddock, so as not to be accessible to curious equines). They have the option of going into their stalls, but rarely do. When there is no grass, they have free choice hay. They get blanketed if it's below freezing. I have water and electricity at the barn and use a heated 16 gallon water tub for winter. Unfortunately, we still haven't installed freeze proof spigots outside, so I have 4 extra long hoses that I have to connect and run out from the house when it freezes. Luckily it's pretty temperate here (Zone 7), so I don't have to do that much!

Running electric and plumbing is actually pretty easy. Just make sure you have a good layout and plan everything well from the beginning. Because, while it's easy to do initially, fixing it or changing it once it's done is a royal PITA!!
Lori Skoog said…
Our horses are outside all day everyday and in the winter they wear blankets. I started using them many years ago as the horses got into their 20s and 30s. They have the option of going into the barn (not their stalls), a run-in or can simply get under a 60 foot shed roof. They do go in at night. The pastures are open year round so they nibble here and there. We have a heated water trough in the paddock but not in their buckets at night. If there is any question about the weather, I think horses should be able to go in. Frequently, there are horses who will not allow the others to get into a shelter...this is hard to watch, particularly if there is freezing rain or other bad conditions. Everyone has an opinion. My horses are very happy to get out of the weather at the end of the day. In the long run, it is easier for me to manage.
Achieve1dream said…
Yuck! I couldn't live there. Too cold!!

I live in the southern U.S. so it doesn't get that cold here. Rarely ever gets below 0F. I keep my horses out 24/7 on thirty acres with access to a three sided run in shed or a big old cattle barn. I free feed hay in the winter and that's basically the only time they spend inside (I feed inside the big barn to keep hay dry).

At the stable where I work they horses are out 24/7 unless someone pays to have them up day or night. They are all fed 24/7 hay because there isn't much grass in the small pastures. They all have a roof over their hay (no sides), but it's mostly for shade in the summer because the heat is way more dangerous here than the cold. The horses are all brought up twice a day (all pastures are connected to a central aisle, so gates are opened and the horses are allowed to gallop up to their stalls, which they memorize fairly quickly) to be fed, checked for injuries and blanketed/unblanketed as needed. It works really well there. :) It does require a lot of walking out to the pastures to open and close gates as the horses leave and return to their pastures, but if you had a four wheeler or something it wouldn't be bad at all. That's all I can think of. We don't have a problem with water freezing so can't help you there. Good luck!!