In cold and warm climates alike, winter brings challenges that the stable and horse owner must cope with. Shorter daylight, colder temperatures, and more precipitation often force us into crowded indoor riding areas and cope with mounts who are used to more turnout time. To make the best of the situation, we must budget our time carefully and use wells of patience long forgotten during the more pleasant days of spring and summer. Here are a few steps horse lovers can take in preparing the stable for winter to make it safe and bearable until spring arrives.
- Clean house. De-clutter tack rooms, work areas, aisles, and indoor arenas by storing fans, bug zappers, fly spray, bathing equipment, fly sheets, and other warm weather items. Get rid of old hay, bedding, and cobwebs to make the indoor air quality of your barn healthier for horses, riders, and workers alike. Provide adequate room for winter sheets and blankets. Remove hoses, electrical cords, twine, and other potential tangling hazards from areas where horses and riders gather.
- Electrical inspection. Inspect electrical cords, fuse boxes, and wiring in anticipation of the shorter daylight and lower temperatures. Blown fuses and weak circuits may indicate overloading, which can lead to serious hazards. A qualified electrician should be consulted to be sure your electrical system is adequate for the demands of winter use. Discard appliances that show evidence of deterioration or failure. Use only appliances that have automatic shut-off switches to prevent overheating or electrical overloading.
- Fire Prevention. Inspect your fire extinguishers and re-charge them if necessary. Consider installing smoke alarms or other type of early fire detection system in tack rooms, break areas, and other places where appliances may be used. Remove trash regularly. Store fuel containers properly, in separate buildings if possible.
- Remove temperature-sensitive liquids and medication and store in more suitable conditions to prevent damage.
- Apply dust inhibitors, such as calcium chloride, to arena footing. Proprietary dust control compounds are also available that may be more suitable for your circumstances.
- Horses and ponies can generate sufficient body heat if they are not exposed to wind and drafts. Therefore, seal drafts in walls and doors. Close louvers and soffits that are not necessary for wintertime ventilation.
- Drain and cover exposed outdoor pumps that cannot withstand freezing temperatures.
- Replace tractor antifreeze and dispose in properly sealed containers. Remember, dogs and other barn animals drink ethylene glycol and suffer fatal reactions.
- Clean light fixtures and replace burned-out lamps to enhance indoor lighting.
- Insulate exposed piping with foam-type pipe insulation, available from hardware stores.
Finally, some things worth avoiding when winterizing your stable:
- Avoid using electric heat tape in locations within reach of horses and ponies.
- Avoid using coil type water bucket heaters and never leave an electric bucket warmer within reach of a horse. Electrocutions can result.
- Don't leave coffee pots, microwave ovens, and space heaters on for long periods of time. Automatic shut-off timers can provide this assurance when human memory fails.
- Don't hang electric lights and other decorations within reach of a horse or pony. Injuries and accidents related to these items can spoil the spirit of the season.
- Don't store tractors and equipment in riding areas when they are in use.
Even if winter is well underway, it's never too late to winterize your stable. Some of the steps discussed here are simply good practice regardless of the season, but they can make a big difference during the winter months to enhance the economic performance, safety, and enjoyment of your stable.