Thursday, December 9, 2010

Winter Woes

I love fall. Its my most favorite season, but sadly, fall only lasts for about two months before I am slammed with winter. Despite the crunchy leaves and pumpkins warning me of what lies right around the corner, I am always caught off guard that first morning when I go to hop in my car for work and realize that my windshield is frosted... and that I can see my breath, and "hurry up heater!!". Winter came quickly and hit us hard this year. It snowed last Saturday (Dec 4th) and daytime highs were in the 30s this week. We have spent most evenings in the teens. Not only is this annoying to me as a coastal born and bred North Carolinian, but its worrisome to me as an animal owner.

Granite lives on pasture board. He is 3.5 years old and he is pushing 16.2 hands. I strongly believe that he should be outside and be a horse as much as possible. This is a fortunate philosophy for me considering that I could not afford stall (full) board if my life depended on it. He lives in a large pasture and had a three-sided run in shed (where a round bale of hay resides). He has a huge tub of water in his pasture and the tub is equipped with a de-icer. He shares this lovely pasture with 2 other horses during the day. A beautiful, big AQHA and a slightly annoying by relatively innocuous pinto arabian.

At night however, these two decent roommates go into their cozy stalls for dinner and bedtime and two demon horses are released into the pasture which my boy calls home 24/7. One horse is a cremello paint and the other is a bay appendix. They are the most herd-bound horses you have ever met! They will literally hurt themselves if their mate is removed. The two stick together and gang up on granite. I went out to check on Granite on the way to a family function Sunday night (it was sooo cold and I wanted to make sure his blanket was on) and while I went to give Granite a treat, the cremello lunged at him and ran him off. While this was happening the appendix found the opportunity to swipe poor TK in the head (with his own head). TK ended up with a concussion and a day off of work (can't combat high school children while dealing with vertigo and migraines).

I first noticed some small cuts and scrapes on Granite after the devil horses moved in to the barn about a month or so ago (only surface wounds) then I began to notice them teaming up to run Granite away from his water tub (his routine after I turn him out from a workout or grooming session is to immediately go get a drink)! Then, when I arrived on Tuesday (sub-freezing, blisteringly windy evening after work), I noticed Granite standing about 15 feet out of the run-in shed staring at those two horses munching on the round bale! They won't seem to let him in {grant it that I am not at the barn much (an hour or two 4 or 5 days a week if I'm lucky) and it may be that they do allow him free reign in the pasture some/most of the time}. This is obviously concerning to me!

To top it off, I got Granite a lovely blue argyle turnout last year at the end of the season because his Rider's International Turnout was starting to look a little worse for wear (he was previously in a pasture with 2 other adolescent horses- we called it the romper room pasture). I started Granite off in this blanket last week (as I typically don't being blanketing until it hits the freezing mark). Within two wears, the blanket had lost the D ring and associated leg strap on BOTH sides of the blanket, then on wear 3, I noticed a rub on his right shoulder. So, I figured I would switch him back to the dependable, yet filthy, Rider's International Blanket. Unfortunately, I got a message yesterday morning from the barn owner letting me know that Granite's blanket was in shreds. I can only assume the devil horses were the culprits, considering this blanket made it all of last winter with 3 youngsters in the pasture, yet only 1 day this time around!!!

So, its cold. Very cold. And Granite isn't stalled. The barn owner tells me that she thinks he handles the cold fine and that we should only be concerned about a blanket during the freezing rain. I would be inclined to agree if I knew for certain that my horse was getting enough to drink and that he was able to get into the shelter and have hay as he pleases. Somehow, my intuition tells me this isn't true. So I have a couple problems with which to grapple.
A) Buying a new blanket. The cheap/cute one is missing leg straps and rubbing. Old faithful has died. I have no money (christmas, down to 1 job, moving expenses). I could use the store credit I had waiting on me to save enough money to add to it to buy tall boots---
And, do I continue my long-standing tradition of blanketing under 32 degrees, or do I take a more liberal approach and only blanket in freezing rain?

B) The devil horses! My BO has been so good to me for the 1.5 years we have been at her place. She has helped me when I needed to make payments. She has called the vet for recommendations so I wouldn't have to endure a farm call fee. Shes a great barn owner.... But, I do pay board. I am never late on my board check-- ever. Do I ask that she rearrange him. I know for certain that two (of the remaining 3, other than his current) pastures would be "rougher" for him. The horses are more aggressive and granite is very passive. If she would split the herd bound horses (and royally piss off their owners), I think it would alleviate the problem. I don't want to put her in a tough place, but I want my boy healthy!

Apparently the cold is on the minds of many other horse owners locally. I get a weekly email from the cooperative extension service (4-H.... for grown ups) and one of the articles was regarding the cold and horses.... it made me feel a bit better about my situation, although there were no devil horses to take into account.

 Is it to Cold for horses to be outside??

As you all know, even those that live under a rock….Its COLD!  Yesterday I received 2 phone calls (one included a reporter) complaining about seeing horses outside and just standing out in the field and nobody appeared to be looking after the horse that was outside. Sometimes the [problem we have in animal agriculture is sometimes the problem we face today may not be one of ethics in the use of animals for the production of food and fiber, but rather it is a problem of affluence within the general public and their lack of understanding of production agriculture. So education is very important for those not involved in animal agriculture as well as those within animal agriculture.

So, when is the winter temperature too cold for a horse to stay outside?

If the horse is acclimated to being outside and has an opportunity to grow a winter coat, the horse will be O.K. all winter. If you are going to house a horse outside, here are a couple of things to consider:

1) Make sure the horse has adequate water available. Horses may become dehydrated, even in the cold weather, if the water is frozen most of the time. The horse will not consume enough snow to meet its water requirement.

2) If you are going to blanket the horse, make sure that the blanket is intended for a horse living outside. The outer surface of the blanket will be made of a more durable material, usually a canvas-like fabric, which will stand up better to being outside than the quilted blankets used on stalled horses. Also make sure the blanket is checked regularly for any damage that may create a place for the horse to get caught in the blanket. If the horse is acclimated and has shelter, it can be comfortable without a blanket even when living outdoors.

We do not recommend hooding a horse that is living outdoors. There is too much opportunity for issues to arise such as the horse to get the hood caught on something and become injured trying to get free.

Finally, provide the horse with plenty of hay throughout the winter. Digesting the forage produces heat, which assists the horse in maintaining its body temperature.

The horse has two natural defenses against cold, a long hair coat and a layer of fat beneath the skin. Both provide an excellent means of insulation against the cold. The long winter hair coat serves as insulation by reducing the loss of body heat and provides the first line of defense against the cold. Its insulating value is lost when the horse becomes wet and/or is covered with mud. This is why it is important to provide a dry sheltered area in cold wet weather and regular grooming. In damp weather, be alert for skin problems. If unchecked, problems can result in hair loss and irritation to the horse. It is very important to keep the horse from loosing its hair coat and body weight and approaching an energy deficient state (the horse must be properly fed).

A heavy winter hair coat is a horse's first defense from the cold. When allowed to grow, a horse's natural hair coat acts as a tremendous insulator and provides as much warmth as the best blankets. Horses that are to be maintained outside should be allowed to grow a long hair coat, plus the hair within the ears and around the fetlocks should not be clipped throughout the winter months. Cold weather causes the hair to stand up, trapping and retaining body heat. Once the hair coat becomes wet, the hair lies down and loses its insulating ability. A long fuzzy hair coat can be deceiving of a horse's true body condition. The most accurate assessment of body condition is done through feeling the condition over the horse's ribs, plus visual inspection of overall condition.

While horses need shelter from cold winds, rain and snow; it is not necessary to keep them in a closed barn throughout the winter. Horses kept outdoors in the winter with access to a run-in shed, which opens away from the normal wind patterns, will generally have fewer respiratory disease problems than horses kept in poorly ventilated, heated barns. With a three-sided shed, the horse can take shelter during a rain or snowstorm and its insulating hair remains dry and fluffed. When the storm is over, the horse can emerge and be comfortable even though the mercury has drops below zero. Horses maintained in an enclosed barn should be exercised regularly, to maintain muscling and health.
Show horses with hair coats that are artificially short should not be turned outside in bitter winter cold without protection of a blanket or windbreak. If you do have a show horse that is housed in a barn during most of the winter, the barn should be adequately ventilated in order to reduce the risk of respiratory disease. Proper ventilation eliminates excess moisture and condensation buildup. Care should be taken to also prevent a direct draft on the horse; this will cause stress and additional problems. Even in cold weather horses frequently prefer to be outdoors. The horse, when given the opportunity, will acclimate to cold temperatures without much difficulty.


  1. I go through every winter worrying. I have come to conclusion that most healthy horses, with a proper winter coat, are TOTALLY fine in the winter. Remember, too, I'm in Michigan where it's waaaaaay more bitter cold than in NC (i think thats where u are at). We are in the 20's and lower in the evening now. I even yanked Laz's turnout today b/c it was sunny and not windy to allow his coat to vent out and he was happy to be without.
    NOW..regarding the tag brat night team. I do think you are entitled to say something. First off, it's extra expense to you to replace blanket and tend to nicks, etc. It's clear this duo is not happy with Granite, and poor sweet Granite is being bullied. Not fair and not healthy if he can't eat/drink, etc. Is there another pasture he can be put in...or with other horses? I'm sure there is something that can be worked out.

  2. So sorry the G-man is getting picked on! That's awful. I'm with Kristen on this one. If it was a simple "boys being boys" and playing too rough that would be one thing, but it sounds like he's not getting access to food, water, and shelter. That's not okay. Not like he's going to keel over or anything, but he'll probably start dropping weight at some point, and could become dehydrated, or cold. Plus, if they are being that aggressive, I'd worry about him getting kicked if he accidentally got himself into the wrong place at the wrong time. I'd talk to the BO. Tell her you are concerned, and see if she has any other ideas. She doesn't want a horse getting hurt or sick on her property either, I'm sure. Good luck... keep us posted.

  3. You are absolutely entitled to speak up about the two night time horses. The barn owner must be able to rearrange things so Granite can have more suitable companions. Some horses are just bullies. Be sure to carry a long lead (or a dressage whip) when you're in the pasture and help Granite drive them away - they need to know you're boss and that Granite is under your protection.

    Good luck!

  4. I would much rather have a blanket free horse, but when temps are extreme or we get freezing rain, then I think it's a good idea to blanket. I do think, though, that if you blanket more often than just in extreme temps, especially if it's early in the season, that you almost have to blanket all the time. I don't think the winter coat has a chance to grow properly otherwise. I noticed that this year with my gelding, so I leave the blanket on him all the time now.

    I think you should say something about your pasture situation. It never hurts to ask, and I think if he's being chased away from water and hay, there's a fairly serious problem. Not to mention the fact that you have to replace your blanket and Granite could get hurt.

    By the way, this weather is driving me crazy too!!

  5. I'm with Kristin, Kate, and Marissa. Say something! As they mentioned, Becky doesn't want Granite to get hurt any more than you do. There has to be another solution.

  6. I think we missed Fall altogether!! We've got about the same temps up here in Virginia and it's awful. As for the over-night bullies, I would definitely ask for a re-arrangement. If they've gotten aggressive enough to have torn up a blanket that lasted through toddler horses then I'd bet they're aggressive enough to do real damage. Is the owner of the bully horses going to pay to replace the blanket? What if they do hurt Granite and he needs a vet visit, are they going to pay then? Scrapes and minor bruises are one thing and totally to be expected. A shredded blanket is a HUGE red flag to me that the turnout arrangement isn't working. For the blanket rubbing, you could try a sleazy/shoulder guard kind of thing. Not as expensive as a new blanket and could help with some of the rubbing.

  7. Thank you for posting that information. My mom and I always worry about her outdoors mare, Lady. We constantly question whether to blanket her or not. I always thought to not blanket is best, unless the weather is slushy/sleety/wet and freezing. I feel like blankets flatten the coat and don't allow it to function to its full potential...bla bla bla... ;0

    Anyway, I hope that you find a good solution for the two crazy horses...poor Granite :(

  8. First, love your blog!
    Granite is 3 & most 3yr olds are pretty passive but they are learning alot about horse behavior so having him out with bully horses is not a best scenario (he sounds to have a good day crew so that will help balance the demon boys) so I'd investigate options ... would Becky allow you to fence off part of the shed & a "run in" area for Granite to go into at night? Craigslist would hopefully supply the materials at low cost (or even free) - electric should work & isn't too labor intensive.

    Today I noticed an arena with outdoor "stalls" attached at one end, this works for the 2 school ponies - could Granite go into the riding arena at night until something gets sorted? This would be extra work for Becky so you'd want to offer some compensation (hopefully you could just do some holiday feeding/cleaning in exchange).

    Re Granite's stopping, he may've just been tired but also check your saddle fit (the Pony just got a saddle upgrade due to fit issues - like G, he's 3 & was started u/s in July)

  9. I think that it is okay to ask if Granite can be with different buddies outside. Being the owner of a "mean" pony I never took offense when someone asked NOT to go out with Gen. It is always the barn owners prerogative to say no though so make sure you are okay with hearing that before you ask.

    Also, what blanket size is Granite these days?

  10. Oh, I wish I could just ask. I wish Granite would learn to kick their butts back! Hes wearing a size 80 these days.

  11. I don't know if this has been suggested, but when you do get another blanket, put one of those $10 cheapy Ebay fly sheets over top of it. They'll chew that and often the real blanket will be untouched. Jeffers has some really nice blankets (med weight turnouts) for $49.00 too. I bought one for Rocket and was really impressed with them for how cheap they were.

    I agree with everyone who has said you should discuss the buddy situation. I wouldn't want to have horses keeping mine away from food/water/shelter- especially while paying board.

  12. The fly sheet over the winter blanket is an excellent idea, it has saved tons of blankets for me! Also, absolutely talk to the barn owner about the pasture situation. I had the same problem with Cruizer but got it resolved after talking to the BO. It might piss off the other owners, but your horse is a top priority. All horses should be in well adjusted herds and have fair access to hay and water. She sounds cooperative so I'm sure she'll understand