Here in the UK we’re currently ‘enjoying’ a very soggy winter. Wave after wave of low pressure marches resolutely in from the Atlantic bringing with it torrential rain and gale force winds. Coastal areas have seen the highest tidal surges in decades, dozens of rivers have burst their banks and all across the country fields (and riding arenas) are under feet of water.
It’s not much fun being a horse owner during wet spells like this, but here are some tips to help you and your horse make it through to spring without developing webbed feet along the way!
1. When the weather is miserable horses are inclined to hang around gateways waiting to be brought in. The area quickly becomes a quagmire and the risk of lost shoes and mud fever rises with the water level. If you can, lay hardcore in the gate area or use electric fencing to keep horses away from the gate. Rubber stable mats are a cheaper, temporary alternative to hardcore.
2. When grass is scarce it will be necessary to give your horse supplementary forage. Unfortunately, much of this just gets trampled into the mud or blown away and wasted. A Hay Hutch is designed to stop wastage of forage and damage to your grazing. The ingenious device is a plastic feeder with apertures through which your horse can munch the hay, mud free! More details are available at www.hay-hutch.com.
3. Remember to check your horse regularly for rain scald if he’s not rugged-up. This mild, wet weather is also great for lice so check under rugs too to make sure your horse isn’t harboring any unwanted passengers.
4. Rugs are bound to become saturated during spells of heavy, persistent rain so try to have a drying area specifically set aside and make sure you have spare rugs for your horse so that you never have to leave him wearing one that’s damp.
5. If your horse doesn’t have access to a field shelter, try to give him a few hours respite in spells of really nasty weather by stabling him. This will give him a break and a chance to lie down on dry bedding for a few hours or overnight if it’s particularly foul outside.
6. Exercising in very wet weather is horrible but sometimes necessary. Keep your horse dry and warm with a lightweight exercise sheet and remember to oil your tack thoroughly after you’ve ridden to make sure it doesn’t dry out and crack.
Now that you’ve taken care of your horse, it’s time to think about yourself! After all, if you’re struck down with the flu, who will look after him?
1. It doesn’t take long to get chilled right through especially in wet weather. Take a flask of something hot to drink and put a couple of instant soups or Pot Noodles in a rodent proof plastic container in your tack room. It’s also wise to have a spare kettle just in case that ancient one you’ve had for years fails.
2. In cold, wet weather you can never wear too many layers! Start with thermal vests and leggings followed by fleeces, gilets, coats and waterproof over-trousers; you can always remove something if you get too hot. It’s a good idea to keep a spare set of DRY clothing (including a coat, socks and underwear) in your car together with a couple of towels.
3. Most of your body heat is lost through your head so always wear a hat and make sure you have at least one spare, dry one.
4. The first part of you to get cold is usually your toes and there's nothing worse than freezing, wet feet. Invest in a good quality pair of warm yard boots with non-slip soles and some thick, thermal socks to go with them.
5. You can never have too many pairs of warm gloves. When you’re mucking out or handling wet tools, put a pair of household rubber gloves over the top of your woolen ones to keep them dry.
6. Rain is bad enough but here in the UK we’re simply not used to snow. If the white stuff is forecast, be prepared. Put a shovel and a plastic box of grit or salt (cat litter will do) in the boot of your car; make sure your mobile phone is fully charged up and working and that your roadside assistance membership is current.
If you do have the misfortune to get stuck and find yourself waiting for assistance, blankets or an old duvet together with a flask of something hot and a bar of chocolate will keep you going until help arrives. Finally, NEVER risk trying to drive through a swollen ford or through flood water. Two feet of water is all it takes to sweep a car away and if the electrics become waterlogged, you may find yourself trapped with no means of escape.
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