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A California Girl’s Winter Survival Guide – Part 1: The Horses

I grew up in Northern California where “cold” was when it occasionally got below 40°F. New England winters were a shock to my senses and came with a slew of new experiences and challenges.

Snow!? That’s the thing you go visit in the mountains when you want to ski, right? Then you get to leave when you’re done! No, apparently snow is something that sticks around for four months making commuting, barn chores, and riding extremely enjoyable on a day-to-day basis (sarcasm font applied here). And you’re telling me I have to get up an extra half hour early to ensure my car is warmed up and has had the snow brushed off it?! I never knew horses and cars required the same prep steps before being used. Also, who knew that snow could get so ugly and gray!?

But complaining about the downfalls of cold winters doesn’t help or fix anything. So here’s one Californian’s survival guide to living in a winter wonderland of freezing temps, snow covered pastures, and winter riding.

The Horses

My poor horse is possibly more of a Californian than I am. He’s the only one standing under the overhang when it rains, and if he’s outside with no covering, you better believe he’s standing right at the gate waiting to be brought in. He also doesn’t grow the best winter coat. I prefer to under blanket my horses, giving their natural systems a chance to kick in and allow them to self-regulate their body temperatures. Plus, your horse can’t shed a layer if he gets too toasty, and sweat can later turn into a dangerous chill. Neither of my boys are in heavy work in the winter, so allowing them to grow a big fluffy coat works for us. I like to outfit them with a light weight turnout for day-to-day turnout and a medium weight turnout when it drops below 30°F. My blanket of choice has been the SmartPak Deluxe Turnout.

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This turnout has all of the features I’m looking for in a blanket: adjustable surcingles and leg straps, quick-clip front closure, and a fleece covering at the withers. Not to mention, it is extremely durable! With a 1,200 denier ripstop polyester shell, this turnout has held up well under the pressures of blanket tag! The horses at our barn get turned out in groups and when you mix horses and blankets and turnout the results are usually torn blankets and naked ponies. My SmartPak Deluxe Turnouts have survived 3 winters and counting!

The other tricky part about winter is the no baths thing. Because my boys roll in all-day turnout, they tend to get muddy, dirty, and generally just gross over the course of the winter. Blankets take a beating and help to protect them from the gross a little bit, but there’s still an incredible amount of gunk and grime a girl has to get off before riding. The cure-all? A good curry comb, an all-purpose brush like the SmartBrush (did I mention this brush has antimicrobial properities? How cool is that!?), and as much Miracle Groom as you can get your hands on!

The other thing I learned about horses and the cold weather is that they sometimes decide that those cold buckets of water just aren’t that appealing. (Can you blame them?) To ensure that my boys are drinking enough through the cold, I add a good electrolyte to their SmartPaks. I love SmartLytes because it’s more than just a salt additive—it also contains potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Plus it’s available in pellets! As much fun as it is to haul buckets of water in the winter (you guessed it, sarcasm), I love knowing my horses are drinking enough water to keep them healthy and happy!

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A good blanket program, grooming tools, and a balanced nutrition plan help to make my winters at least a little more bearable. If my horses are happy, it goes a long way to ensuring that I can survive the winter with them!

How do I get through all of those barn chores in the winter? Read my next blog to find out!


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3 comments on “A California Girl’s Winter Survival Guide – Part 1: The Horses
  1. Nancy Canu says:

    A better idea than electrolytes is a heated bucket or heater for the water trough in the pasture/turnout area.

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    All our horses are out in below-freezing temps, and they’d rather drink from the heated trough outside than the buckets in their stalls.

    And supplementing with electrolytes if they aren’t needed is not a good idea–there’s a difference between sweating out those salts and minerals (and having to replace them and get rehydrated) and simply needing your horse to drink more water in cold weather.

  2. JACKIE says:

    I’m certainly glad we don’t have winters like that here in central Texas. This year has been on target, we actually had a fall season this year, and my Bojangles, really fuzzed out, and a little more and earlier than my daughter’s 2 horses. So for our winter I haven’t used any turnout blankets, I’ve never used them in all my 48yrs, of having horses, but I have lived all over the state and never the same kind of winters, and I’m old school. But every day at feeding time I will check to see how warm Mr B, is to make sure he’s staying warm en ought, what’s bad and good are the days go from 1-2 in the 20’s & 30’s to a couple of days in the 50 to 70’s and on the warmer days Mr B. Is sweating pretty good. So I keep a close watch on them, they have a barn to get in for cover, but they seem to prefer the shelter of the trees. Unfortunately I can not ride anymore because of a back injury, so we have a extra horse for the kids to ride on. MrB loves my Grandson so tgthey take care of each other. But I watch for the dryness in their hooves, do you have any suggestions on rather or not I should be concerned, we live in a sandy area and I’ve noticed that his hooves have stayed really nice and round, doesn’t look like I need the farrier yet anyway. Thanks for the winter pack ideas . Stay safe

    • Denise says:

      I am now a central coast gal in California from Wisconsin. Our horses did great without blankets in Wisconsin. They had protection from the wind. I did ride in the snow and in an indoor arena. Only used a non-fill turnout after riding in the Wisconsin winters. Once the horses were dry, I would take their turnouts off. Luckily they were on our property, so it was easy to manage their health. All 3 were separated in stalls for the night, plus one was a carnival cruise line meal, the other weight watchers. I feed at least 4 times a day (5 times in WI winter). try to mimic natural grazing, plus the additional hay keeps them warm in the winter. We had heated automatic waterers, and they did drink.
      Being in CA now, they still have a winter coat. I do use SmartPak Lytes more here, because of their workload and heavy sweating.

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