Struggling for motivation when it’s dark and cold outside? You’re not alone. We asked five readers how they manage owning horses during winter, and the interesting ways they save time
Natalie Clark is based in Middlesex. She has a full-time office job and keeps two thoroughbreds on DIY livery. They are stabled at night and kept fit enough to hunt and showjump throughout the winter. This is how she does it:
Make the most of the morning light
“I like to get as much done as possible in the morning, before driving to work straight from the yard. The yard is in between home and the office, which works well. During the week I aim to have both horses fed, mucked out, turned out and one ridden before I leave at 8.30am. That way, all I have to do after work, when I’m tired, is bring them in from the field, change rugs and ride the other horse. Riding in the morning also means I can do some roadwork, because dark evenings mean I am otherwise confined to the school.”
Utilise the weekend
“On a Sunday I make sure both stables have decent beds that are thick enough to get the horses through the next five days. If I can avoid topping up shavings mid week it saves time.
“We don’t have any lights in our hay barn, so I always make sure their nets are filled in the morning. My pet hate is having to make their feeds at the end of a day — it only takes five minutes but it’s five minutes earlier I could get home — so I make that evening’s and the following morning’s after I have put them in the field.”
Don’t waste time
“I muck out around the horses while they are eating their breakfast, and I prefer to ride the fastest eater in the morning so that I don’t have to wait for the slow one to eat after he’s been worked.”
“I keep all my gear in handy places. For example, numnahs, brushing boots and girths are hanging in their stables so that I don’t have to mess around finding tack in the morning. Putting things away and keeping everything tidy really helps.”
London-based Michaela Jones works in the city and keeps her horse on part livery in Kent. She rides five nights a week by following this routine:
“I finish work at 6pm, get home at 6.45pm and change in two minutes flat. I’m in the car and on my way out of London on a 45-minute journey to where my horse is kept. My office is in central London, so I commute on public transport. I’m usually riding by 7.45pm and home by 10pm.”
“There’s no indoor arena at the yard so I have to be pretty hardy; waterproof yet breathable clothing is essential. My Thermatex quarter sheet is a lifeline. It attaches under the saddle flap with velcro from the back so there’s no bulk under my legs, but keeps the horse warm and breathable. I also have ear warmer attachments in my hat and I love to shove my hands into my armpits on my walk breaks to keep them warm — unless my horse is feeling sharp! I use brushing boots with a smooth outer rather than material so that they don’t absorb water when the arena’s wet. I also only wear my riding boots for the minutes I am on the horse — I change immediately before and after getting mounting to keep my feet as warm as possible.”
Be rug savvy
“After working I give my horse a warm wash off and put her under the solarium. I have a heavyweight wicking stable rug by Bucas which has a wicking lining, so there’s no need for cooler rugs and then hanging around to change them an hour later as it can be put on and left on a wet horse. I also always keep a spare set of clothes in the car, as I’ve sometimes been drier in the shower than I have riding on a winter’s evening.”
Thomas Palmer is based in Cheshire. He keeps three horses, including two hunters, at his parents’ farm and works full-time as a sales agent, involving lots of travel around the UK. He manages his horses like this:
Keep them out as much as possible
“My job takes me away from home several nights a week, leaving my two thoroughbreds and an elderly Welsh pony in the care of my parents. Consequently, I have to keep the horses as low maintenance as possible, which is particularly challenging in winter. Because they live on my family’s farm, they are never stabled — they are free to roam the yard. The fronts of their stables are removed so that they can go in and out as they please. The three of them get on very well, but of course there is a pecking order, so I have to make sure there are no enclosed spaces for one to become trapped — hence the open stables.
“Because they are always moving, my horse is never stiff, filled legs are a thing of the past and vices are a thing of the past. I really believe it is a great way to keep them, particularly as the fields are too wet for them to be turned out for the majority of winter.
Apply economies of scale
“Keeping my horses like this makes for a messy yard, but mucking it out is quick and easy with the help of a tractor and yard scrape on the back. The horses share a round bale that is surrounded by a smooth, wooden fence and is under cover. It means all three can always access the food, and dad can drop in a bale with a tractor every three days or so. Water is stored in a large container on the yard, and when their tank gets low we turn on the tap to fill it again. The taps are wrapped with thick, waterproof towels and coats to prevent freezing. Inevitable it happens, though, and we resort to lugging water carriers from the house.”
Keep it simple
“Because it’s such a straightforward routine, it is as simple as a rug change, water top up and hard feed in the mornings and evenings, with hay bales replaced every couple of days and the yard swept and fresh bedding put down at the weekends. The only downside is that when it snows or the ground freezes slippery conditions are hazardous for roaming horses. When the temperature plummets, I put old hay on the whole of the yard. It takes serious muscle power to remove when ice turns to rain, but the long-term gains are more than worth it.”
Alison Corbett lives in Somerset and stables her pony on a nearby farm. She attends university four days a week in Bristol, which is an hour’s drive away from home. This is her routine:
Location is key
“My pony’s stable is in between two cow sheds, but with a brilliant view over the surrounding countryside which my pony stares at for hours. Mucking out is simple, because I throw it straight through the back door into the cow yard, where it is taken away by a tractor when the cattle are mucked out.
Keep everything nearby
“My tack and equipment is stored above the stable, with a staircase up to it immediately outside the stable door. Hay, feed and straw is up there too, so everything is within easy reach and therefore makes the regular jobs speedy, which is important when I need to leave for university at 7.30am. Dust from the forage isn’t a problem, as the stable is well ventilated.
“Putting on and taking rugs is incredibly time consuming, so I try not to make it too complicated. I’m lucky that, as a Welsh pony, mine is naturally quite hardy, plus the surrounding cattle generate heat, so even in the depths of winter a thick neck rug is too much for her. However, she is getting older now and she has to wear something. Having it hanging on some baler twine on the side of the stable, so that it’s close along with all my other equipment, saves me a lot of time when it is dark, cold and inevitably I’m in a rush. I would also be lost without my head torch when walking to the field in the dark or trying to muck out in a poorly lit stable.”
Claire Smith runs a livery yard in Gloucestershire and follows a strict management regime:
Have a plan and stick to it
“I own and run a livery yard, so while I don’t have the pressure of needing to be at the office by 9am, I do have to be well organised to exercise and look after up to 20 horses during winter daylight hours, with only one part-time girl for help. I find that shortcuts only ever lead to delays in the long term, so I have learned to be thorough, but quick. Wearing a pedometer works, because I set myself daily targets to beat. As a result, I move quicker — even just saving seconds when emptying the wheelbarrow adds up.”
Don’t overlook the small things
“Mud fever is the bane of my life. I never wash muddy legs, because the horse will end up with mud fever every time. I put baby oil on before they go out which helps prevent mud from sticking. When they come back in I towel dry every single leg before brushing. It’s a routine that works for me, even on sensitive horses — and I’ve got better at doing it quickly over time.”
“I hate cold hands, so I take warm water out to the yard to mix feeds with. If I’m going hunting, I leave fresh water buckets made up because it takes the chill off. Sometimes I add a dash of warm water, too — it must be nicer than cold water hitting an empty stomach, which risks colic.
Be rug wise
“Damp, smelly turnout rugs are a pain, so I hang mine over straw bales. Rather than spend lots of money on fancy stable rugs I use old duvets as an extra layer on horses who are clipped or feeling the cold. They are far quicker and easier to remove in the mornings, too.”