If you are an equestrian in Britain then this post just might be for you. Winter in Britain is usually very changeable- from frosty and the occasional snowy days to gale force winds and unrelenting rain. As a result of this, our fields are muddy, our horses are muddy and we ourselves get muddy, not to mention soggy. It’s enough to make you mad BUT there are a few things you can do to make life that little bit easier while you slog through the winter months!
Tip 1- Stock Up
My first tip is to stock up on, well, everything! This means from feed, to hay, to bedding to medical supplies. It is always a good idea to buy in bulk if you can as you can usually get a discount for things like hay and bedding, depending on who you buy from of course. Not only can it be cheaper, it saves some hassle throughout the winter.
Buying medical supplies is also a really good idea. Horses in the UK are particularly susceptible to abscesses and mud fever/ rain scald (which I will get to below) due to the wet weather. To save some time and stress if these issues arise, stock up on vet wrap, animalintex poultices, duck tape, nappies (also very good as a poultice for abscesses), epsom salts and disinfectants as well as perhaps some other specific products for the likes of mud fever. From experience, it is always much better to have these things at hand than not to!
Tip 2– Bleach your horses feet
Bleach is your new friend. Yes, that’s right, I said bleach. I know it sounds strange, but this was actually recommended to me by my farrier. With the weather being so wet and horses often standing in wet conditions for lengths of time, their feet can soften meaning dirt is more likely to get in and cause an abscess. My farrier suggests to bleach your horses feet as it can help in hardening them up and simultaneously it kills any pesky bacteria. How often depends on how wet the conditions are and how soft your horses feet are. Personally, I bleach Bo’s feet a few times a week because his seem to be doing fine just now. However, in the past I have bleached them once a day after picking out his feet. I had a thoroughbred a few years back and this was a life-saver.
When you bleach them, try not to let it get on the frog, only do the surrounding sole of the foot and you can also spray around the hoof wall- just be careful not to let it get on your horses sensitive skin! I would recommend using ‘Flash with bleach’, as it works a treat and also comes in a decent spray bottle for easy and quick application.
Tip 3- Regular Grooming
Similarly, horses and horse-owners in the UK can struggle with mud fever and rain scald because of the climate. Mud fever and rain scald are the same issue, just located on different parts of the body. Mud fever is typically more common as generally speaking, horses tend to be rugged so they don’t get soaked.
To help prevent mud fever, don’t wash your horses legs when you bring them in. This might sound counter-productive however it is actually the water and wetness which causes the mud fever- not the mud itself. While the mud does contribute to it, washing the horses legs on a frequent basis can soften the skin, thus causing mud fever. Instead of washing them, allow the mud to dry and then brush it off. Additionally, if you have a heavy horse with lots of feathering, it may be more beneficial to clip their legs or at least trim them back as it means the mud will dry quicker and will be easier to remove. Grooming your horse is so important and can really eliminate issues such as these, saving you from a lot of work and saving your horse from unnecessary pain and discomfort.
If the horse already has mud fever, use some warm water diluted appropriately with hibi-scrub to wash the legs, dry them and then coat them with talcum powder or Flowers of Sulphur. Both of these work well as they dry up the skin and loosen the scabs as the bacteria thrive on damp conditions. You can then brush the scabs out.
Tip 4– Be Organised
Organisation is key. Your winter will run much more smoothly if you are organised. Set yourself a routine that works for you and stick to it. For a horse that is stabled overnight and turned out during the day (as is customary in Scotland anyway) I would recommend to get all the chores done in the morning. Muck out, fill your water buckets and hay-nets and make up your feeds for that night and the next morning. That way you will have much less to do later and more time to spend with your horse doing what you like.
Obviously, your routine might be different to this so think up ways where you can be more organised to get the most out of your day!
Tip 5- Water Containers
Invest in some water containers. If you happen to be at a yard where the water tap will freeze up no matter what you do, get yourself some water containers- big ones! Fill them up when you know it’s going to be a freezing night and wrap them in an old rug or blanket. This will reduce the likelihood of them freezing over and you will have access to fresh water when you need it.
So there you have it, five winter tips which could help with the little niggly annoyances we British equestrians have to deal with throughout winter. Do you have any winter tips to make our lives easier? Pop them in the comments, I’d love to hear about your ideas!