Get Ahead on Winter Main­te­nance

Fall main­te­nance and winter plan­ning for your farm

Dressage Today - - Front Page - By Karen Brit­tle

A h, au­tumn! In many re­gions, that means it’s time for the best rid­ing of the year. Tem­per­a­tures are fi­nally bear­able and crisp fall days rein­vig­o­rate horse and rider. Col­ored leaves, dra­matic sun­sets and har­vest moons pro­vide es­pe­cially scenic back­drops to train­ing ses­sions: Au­tumn is the time of year when be­ing on horse­back is sim­ply an en­rich­ing and in­spir­ing sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence.

While mak­ing the most of all fall has to of­fer, sea­soned train­ers also uti­lize this time of year to be­gin prepa­ra­tions for winter fa­cil­ity man­age­ment, horse care and train­ing. Proac­tive fall main­te­nance means be­gin­ning to win­ter­ize the fa­cil­ity to en­sure high-qual­ity horse care and pro­duc­tive rid­ing can con­tinue even dur­ing the in­clement weather to come. So what should be on your “Fall To-Do List”? In the fol­low­ing pages, es­tab­lished dres­sage train­ers, who are also ex­pe­ri­enced fa­cil­ity man­agers, share their pri­or­i­ties for fall fa­cil­ity main­te­nance and winter prepa­ra­tions.

Main­tain Pas­tures and Drive­ways

Ac­cord­ing to Carol Sea­man, a Grand Prix com­peti­tor, USDF sil­ver medal­ist and L Pro­gram grad­u­ate who owns and op­er­ates Out­foxed Farm in Ch­ester, New York, fall is a busy time, es­pe­cially for her hus­band, Jim, who does much of the farm main­te­nance. “There are fallen leaves ev­ery­where, which need to be raked, blown and cleaned out of gut­ters. But dur­ing the fall, Jim will also win­ter­ize our farm equip­ment, es­pe­cially the large snow-plow at­tach­ments, Bob­cat, back­hoe, truck and trac­tors. One year, we had our first big snow­fall on Hal­loween night, so we start early to make sure we’re pre­pared.”

The Sea­mans drive flagged stakes into the ground to mark the edges of the farm’s long gravel drive­ways, which will make plow­ing eas­ier and safer when the time comes. Though any ma­jor drive­way re­pairs are com­pleted in spring­time, the Sea­mans patch low spots with ex­tra gravel dur­ing the fall. The more level the drive­way is, the eas­ier and more ef­fec­tive plow­ing will be. Sea­man em­pha­sizes the im­por­tance of marked path­ways and well-main­tained drive­ways in or­der to keep the fa­cil­ity ac­ces­si­ble for clients as well as en­sure that horses and peo­ple can get on and off the prop­erty in case of emer­gency.

Dur­ing the fall, the Sea­mans also check gates and fence lines for mi­nor is­sues such as un­sta­ble rails. As the weather cools, they close barn and arena win­dows, check­ing that all latches work prop­erly. This is a good time to check in­door and out­door lights and bulbs, help­ing to en­sure vis­i­bil­ity around the farm, even as the days shorten. Sea­man says, “It’s much eas­ier to get ahead and make small re­pairs now than to try to han­dle pre­ventable prob­lems once it’s icy and bit­ter cold out­side.”

Con­sider Water and Food Sources

Lisa Gruen, USDF bronze medal­ist and 2003 Mary­land Dres­sage As­so­ci­a­tion Trainer of the Year, op­er­ates Ry­der Dres­sage from the Ch­e­sa­peake Dres­sage In­sti­tute in An­napo­lis, Mary­land. For

It’s much eas­ier to get ahead and make small re­pairs now than han­dle pre­ventable prob­lems once it’s icy and cold. —Carol Sea­man

Gruen, im­por­tant winter prepa­ra­tions re­late to en­sur­ing the avail­abil­ity of fresh water and qual­ity feed at all times. Gruen ex­plains: “We want to make sure we don’t ever en­counter prob­lems wa­ter­ing the horses, ei­ther in­side the barn or when they’re turned out. In­side, we’re for­tu­nate to have in­su­lated pipes, so we rarely have a prob­lem with water flow. How­ever, we need to make sure our barn staff is trained to drain and dis­con­nect hoses when the weather gets re­ally cold, maybe even mov­ing the hoses to a heated space like the tack room at night so they will be func­tional the next morn­ing. Out­doors, we need to check that the elec­tric sources are ready, as we use heated buck­ets that hang over the fences. In the mid-fall, we get those buck­ets out and check that they’re work­ing well be­fore it ac­tu­ally gets cold enough for us to need them. In our big­ger fields, there are troughs with water-heat­ing units in the bot­tom, so we also need to check that those are func­tional.”

Ja­clyn Si­coli, a USDF sil­ver medal­ist and L Pro­gram grad­u­ate with dis­tinc­tion, owns and op­er­ates Peace of Mind Dres­sage out of Wood­vale Farm in Frederick, Mary­land. She says that fall is also the time to pre­pare for feed­ing the 25 horses un­der her care all winter long. “Horses will need more hay and grain to main­tain weight in the winter. Cer­tain horses don’t take well to coming off grass, so in the mid to late fall, we might add al­falfa cubes or rice bran to the feed, just to help keep their toplines for the winter. While we don’t use round bales, we do hay the fields when horses are turned out dur­ing the day, be­gin­ning in late fall and con­tin­u­ing all winter. There­fore, I want to or­der as much hay as I can store be­fore winter ar­rives to pre­vent be­ing caught off guard by a short­age or if bad weather pre­vents a de­liv­ery.”

At­tend to Arena Foot­ing

Sea­man em­pha­sizes the key to good arena main­te­nance in fall and winter

is the same as through­out the rest of the year: reg­u­lar and care­ful at­ten­tion to the qual­ity of the foot­ing and dust con­trol. She ex­plains, “We’re for­tu­nate to have an au­to­matic wa­ter­ing sys­tem in our in­door arena. I find if I sprin­kle early in the morn­ing and drag im­me­di­ately, I can keep the foot­ing nice all winter long and the dust does not be­come un­man­age­able.”

Si­coli men­tions that fa­cil­ity own­ers who do not have a wa­ter­ing sys­tem in their in­door arena may con­sider adding mag­ne­sium chlo­ride to the arena foot­ing be­fore winter sets in. Ac­cord­ing to Si­coli, mag­ne­sium raises the tem­per­a­ture at which foot­ing freezes. It also helps re­duce dust be­cause it at­tracts and holds mois­ture. Note that it is im­por­tant to re­search the spe­cific mag­ne­sium chlo­ride prod­uct—its in­gre­di­ents, ap­pli­ca­tion, in­tended use and main­te­nance—be­fore adding it to your in­door arena foot­ing in or­der to en­sure safety and ef­fi­cacy. Be­cause mag­ne­sium chlo­ride will wash away if rained on or ex­ces­sively wa­tered, it is only suit­able for in­door use.

Or­ga­nize Equip­ment

As the days shorten and the nights get cooler, Sea­man be­gins the process of swap­ping sum­mer gear for winter gear in an or­ga­nized way. In early Oc­to­ber, fly masks and scrim sheets are sent out to a blan­ket­ing ser­vice for wash­ing, re­pair and stor­age un­til they will be needed the fol­low­ing spring. Around the same time, sheets and winter blan­kets are re­turned from stor­age

to the farm. Laun­dered, re­paired and la­beled with the horse’s name, they are ready to go on the first cold night.

Dur­ing the fall, Si­coli takes stock of and or­ders any nec­es­sary equip­ment for keep­ing her horses com­fort­able dur­ing winter train­ing. Ac­cord­ing to Si­coli, “Around the be­gin­ning of Oc­to­ber, we pull out cool­ers, quar­ter sheets and fleece girth cov­ers. I also make sure clip­per blades are sharp­ened and clip­pers are work­ing well so we’ll be ready to clip as needed, usu­ally some­time in Novem­ber.”

In ad­di­tion, Si­coli says that proper equip­ment for the rider/trainer is a crit­i­cal in­vest­ment for those who con­tinue to train horses in a cold cli­mate all winter. Mid to late fall is the time to make sure th­ese es­sen­tial items are on hand:

Winter breeches, boots and lay­er­able cloth­ing

In­su­lated ski pants that can zip over breeches in be­tween rides

Fleece rid­ing gloves.

Pre­pare to Make the Most of It

Sea­man and Si­coli, who both stick it out in north­ern cli­mates for the winter, agree that aes­thetic touches at a fa­cil­ity and re­al­is­tic plan­ning can help ease the tran­si­tion from fall to winter.

For ex­am­ple, Sea­man po­si­tions vi­su­als—such as mums in fall or ever­green boughs in winter—in the barn and arena to pro­vide an invit­ing for­tu­nate to have a great sound sys­tem cold, putting on some nice mu­sic and turn­ing it up a bit can help muf­fle the wind. Rid­ers en­joy it and it’s com­fort­ing for the horses, too.” Si­coli val­ues the qui­eter time that winter can pro­vide for clients and horses, so late fall is the time to con­sider a com­mu­nity cal­en­dar that will keep clients en­gaged through­out the winter. She and her team of­fer

It is a good op­por­tu­nity to re­flect, rest a lit­tle and then set some re­al­is­tic train­ing goals... —Ja­clyn Si­coli

video nights, Pi­lates work­shops and other off-horse learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, as well as diver­si­fied train­ing, fo­cused prepa­ra­tion for next sea­son’s show­ing and goal-set­ting ses­sions. Sea­man agrees that cre­ative train­ing is im­por­tant in the winter: “We hosted a cav­al­letti clinic, which was fun for the horses and had a good turnout. De­sen­si­ti­za­tion train­ing is also al­ways fun. Th­ese kind of ac­tiv­i­ties get ev­ery­one off the 10-me­ter cir­cles when stuck in­doors.”

Ac­cord­ing to Si­coli, “If you are up in the North­east and don’t travel to Florida, the clin­i­cians who are in Florida will not be avail­able in your area from De­cem­ber through March or April. So, there is, in sense, a train­ing void, where you have to rely on your pre­vi­ous train­ing, your videos, your books and mag­a­zines for in­spi­ra­tion.

“As com­pe­ti­tions wind down in the late fall, it is a good op­por­tu­nity to re­flect, rest a lit­tle and then set some re­al­is­tic train­ing goals that will help keep the winter sea­son pro­duc­tive for you and your horse.”

A well-main­tained, pre­pared and or­ga­nized fa­cil­ity can sup­port rid­ers’ ef­forts to make the most of the late fall and winter.

ABOVE: Carol and Jim Sea­man patch low spots in the drive­way with ex­tra gravel dur­ing the fall. The more level it is, the eas­ier it is to plow.

LEFT: Lisa Gruen says that tak­ing proper care of hoses is nec­es­sary to pre­vent prob­lems when wa­ter­ing the horses.

Cre­ative train­ing is im­por­tant in the winter. Cav­al­letti ses­sions and de­sen­si­ti­za­tion train­ing can break up the monotony of rid­ing in­doors.

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