KAREN GRIFFITHS’ HORSEPLAY COLUMN: Equine tips as cold creeps up

BRR! I DON’T know about y’all, but I am not a happy horsewoman when the temperature plummets below freezing as it did in the past few weeks.

Just going outside to feed and water my horses sets my bones to rattling and sends me scurrying to finish my chores so I can go back inside to warm my outsides by the wood stove and my insides with a piping-hot cup of tea or cocoa.

I think my horses appreciate getting their insides warmed, too.

While they’ve never been fond of tea or cocoa, they will polish off my oatmeal if it’s got lots of sugar in it.

To that end, when it’s cold outside, I like to occasionally treat my horses to a bran mash meal.

A simple recipe for one horse might include one cup of bran, cut carrots and apples, and a dollop of molasses.

Pour 2 cups of hot water over it, mix and let steep about 15 minutes.

Horses usually love it.

I’ve heard providing a weekly bucket of warm mash can help prevent cold-weather colic by helping to move digested feed through the digestion track, thus avoiding impaction.

But I’ve also heard that’s a myth.

What I believe to be true are the scientific studies that show the best ways to prevent cold-weather colic and increase the horses’ energy output (which is needed to keep warm) is not through feeding grains but through providing good-quality hay, good water (and not frozen) and encouraging movement, which is important to gut motility.

Inactivity can also lead to colic.

You can also soak the hay in warm water prior to feeding for added moisture.

Warming water

Provide clean and warm drinking water.

The bitter cold zaps the moisture right out of your horse, so it’s important to find a way to get the liquids into them even if it means packing buckets of warm water multiple times each day (think of it as an extra cardio/muscle-building workout for yourself).

There are a variety of heated buckets and stock-tank heaters available at local feed stores.

These are a good solution if you have electricity where your tanks are.

Even then, you need to protect curious horses from chewing on the cords.

An easy fix is to run the cords through PVC pipe.

You need to be vigilant about checking them for safety, though, because PVC gets brittle in the cold and can break easily.


“Shoes on or off?” may be your question.

Shoes offer more protection against cracking and chipping on rock-hard frozen ground, plus you can put pads on to prevent tender soles from injury.

However, the metal shoe is more likely to cause snow and ice to ball up in the feet.

There are special pads with a “bubble” that will pop out the snow if you’d like to invest in them.

Barefoot hooves offer better traction and cost less to maintain.

Do not neglect regular trimming, though, as cracking and splitting left unchecked brings a host of other hoof problems.

It is better to have hooves a little long than too short in this time of frozen ground, as tender feet from trimming and hard ground may cause your horse to not want to move at all.

An absolute lack of activity brings on more problems.

A tried and true remedy for snowballs in hooves is to coat the sole with grease.

Some even spray cooking grease on their horse’s feet when they are sure the sound will not spook the owner of those feet.

Just like any other hard, uneven surface, frozen ground can cause bruising or even abscesses.

The threat of pulls, strains and breaks is not to be ignored either.


Blanketing is an all-or-nothing situation for most of the country.

The rule is that if you blanket once, you just keep blanketing all season because your horse will grow a coat to match its needs.

While our climate is wetter than most, our horses’ needs vary.

Here in Sequim, my horses have shelters to stand under, so normally, I don’t need to blanket them.

I do own blankets for all of them and have used them on occasion.

My friend Z Barker lives in Sol Duc Valley.

Her rains are colder and longer-lasting than here in Port Angeles, so she blankets her horses with a rainproof sheet to keep rain rot at bay.

Mud is not rainproof.

Once it is ground into the fibers of a 1,200-denier rainproof sheet from your pal rolling in the dirt, it is no longer going to work like it did when it was brand-new, but it will keep the worst rain from penetrating to your horse’s skin.

Horse hair is designed to stand up and be fuzzy in the cold seasons — troublesome to dry for those who are still working and training but essential for the pastured equines.

When keeping blankets on full time, it’s important to remove it once in awhile to groom your horse’s coat so it will stand back up again to give it the best natural protection.

Actually, regular grooming will keep the skin and fur covering your animal working at its optimum — unless it is dripping with rain, and then you just push the wet right up to the skin’s surface, making matters worse.

Trees are a windbreak but will not keep horses dry.

If you want what is best for your horse friends, invest in blankets or shelter when the wettest, roughest storms hit our area.

Cleaning up manure with a wheelbarrow stinks in the snow.

Wet circumstances breed bacteria in our horses’ feet, and manure buildup worsens any existing situations, so don’t neglect your mucking work.

In the higher elevations, you might find hauling manure and water works best if you invest in a sturdy sled.

All of us care about each other and each other’s horses.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends, family and neighbors if needed, and try not to take offense when others voice concerns over your horses.


Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears every other Wednesday.

If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at kbg@olympus.net at least two weeks in advance. You can also write Griffiths at PDN, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362.

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