Horsin’ Around in a Winter Wonderland
The inclement weather has meant I have had to dig out my wellies not used since my last trip to Glasto to undertake my daily tour of the sanctuary grounds. This however is not an option (or a good look) for our horses or for Daisy so the fields in which they spent their summer days frolicking and grazing in are now much quieter. Why would that be I pondered? Are they playing an elaborate game of hide and seek, surely not? I knew who would have the answer; our horsey expert, Sarah!
Over a warming brew and a packet of Hob-nobs, she explained that during the winter the care of horses and ponies can alter slightly and their differing needs and management of land can often become an issue. Horses, ponies and donkeys love to graze but during the winter the grass deteriorates, doesn’t grow and the land often gets “poached” or very muddy, this often leads to grazing time having to be restricted and the horses staying in their stables a little more – aha! So they weren’t hiding from me after all!
With little or no grazing possible outside, more hay or haylage (which is dried or semi-wilted grass. Yuch!). It doesn’t sound yum to me but apparently my horse chums love it and it must be fed to make sure enough fibre or “roughage” passes through their system to keep them looking and feeling well. In addition it satisfies the natural grazing urge that keeps them happy and content. Feeding fibre like this will also keep them warm due to the fermentation in their hind gut and is more preferable than concentrated feeds for warming a cold horse. This can be topped up with “concentrates”; either high fibre cubes or conditioning feeds depending on the horse concerned and their particular requirements. Feeding succulents in the form of carrots or swedes is also good for extra vitamins and minerals during the winter months.
If you are visiting the sanctuary you might see some of our horses and ponies are now wearing rugs; waterproof turnout rugs for the fields and warm, quilted stable rugs for indoor use. Not all the ponies require rugs most have thick weather proof coats themselves, but for the older ponies they do become necessary, as also with the bigger horses. Bigger horses are not as hardy as the small native breeds and they always require more care or mollycoddling over the winter period, and I thought I was a Diva!
Access to fresh water is also important so keeping the water flowing on a cold icy morning is essential; it is worth remembering if horses have automatic drinkers these are likely to freeze and a water bucket may be necessary.
Sheltering in the warmth during these cold, grey days means mucking out becomes a daily job with the equines requiring a change of their bedding of chopped straw. Although this is an economical option, it increases our costs greatly over the winter but it does give the staff a good morning’s workout and increases the size of the muckheap too!
The winter months can make the exercise they normally take in the fields a challenge. Exercise is important and here at the sanctuary for a variety of reasons our horses are not ridden. On days when the weather is inclement and the horses are inside, they are allowed to wander freely in the barn area in pairs whilst being mucked out. This provides them with the opportunity to have a mooch about and to socialise whilst staying undercover.
Our horses are very fortunate to have a warm, snug barn in which to escape the winter chill, perhaps I should save my boots for the Pyramid stage and use a bit of ‘horse sense’ and stay in from the cold myself!