How do I pre­pare my barn for the win­ter?

Practical Horseman - - Here's How -

Q I re­cently bought a small horse prop­erty in New Eng­land and am pre­par­ing for my first win­ter on it. Do you have any tips for win­ter­iz­ing the barn?


A One of the first things I rec­om­mend do­ing is check­ing your hay and bed­ding sup­plies. The avail­abil­ity of both can de­cline dra­mat­i­cally mid-win­ter. Ideally, store enough hay mid-fall to last un­til next year’s first cut­ting. If that’s not pos­si­ble, find a re­li­able sup­plier will­ing to bring you hay at any time through­out the win­ter, even on short no­tice. Sim­i­larly, stock­pile enough bed­ding to get you through the win­ter or ar­range for a sup­plier to make reg­u­lar de­liv­er­ies.

Also in the fall, in­spect the en­tire ex­te­rior of your barn. Look closely for any type of dam­age or de­te­ri­o­ra­tion—loose boards, bro­ken win­dows, miss­ing shin­gles, etc. Be sure to com­plete any nec­es­sary re­pairs be­fore win­ter starts. Win­ter weather can quickly turn a mi­nor is­sue into a ma­jor struc­tural prob­lem. In an es­pe­cially cold cli­mate, air leaks or loss of in­su­la­tion can lead to drafts. If you have an older barn, open­ing barn doors ju­di­ciously to im­prove air cir­cu­la­tion— which is es­sen­tial to equine res­pi­ra­tory health—is still prefer­able to un­con­trol­lable drafts. Well-built newer barns in­cor­po­rate ven­ti­la­tion into the roof struc­ture to pro­vide ad­e­quate air cir­cu­la­tion even when the barns are closed up tightly.

Next, ask a plumber to check that all of your plumb­ing sys­tem (in­door/ out­door spig­ots, au­to­matic wa­ter­ers, frost-free pumps, etc.) is in work­ing or­der and prop­erly in­su­lated. If you don’t al­ready have them, con­sider in­stalling wa­ter heaters in your pas­ture wa­ter troughs and heated wa­ter­ers or buck­ets in your stalls. Both can be a god­send in ex­tremely cold cli­mates. Also plan to de­tach, drain and store all of your hoses, both to pro­tect them from dam­age and to pre­vent them from freez­ing solid onto the faucets.

Ask an elec­tri­cian to in­spect your barn’s en­tire elec­tri­cal sys­tem to make sure it is ab­so­lutely safe and ca­pa­ble of ad­dress­ing your cur­rent elec­tri­cal needs. If you have an older barn, it may be nec-

es­sary to up­grade the elec­tri­cal sys­tem. An in­ad­e­quate sys­tem is a fire haz­ard, so this is well worth the ex­pense!

We re­cently had a tragic barn fire in our re­gion that was traced to a space heater. I strongly urge you to ban space heaters from your barn. If you do de­cide to use one—for ex­am­ple, in a tack room—en­act a pol­icy that it never be left on unat­tended.

Be sure that you have a sec­ondary power source, such as a gen­er­a­tor. Most barns re­quire elec­tric­ity to run their wa­ter pumps, so no power means no wa­ter. This can be very dan­ger­ous if a snow or wind storm takes out your power for a pro­longed pe­riod of time.

Check that all horse cloth­ing has been re­turned from the clean­ers and, if nec­es­sary, re­paired. Re-wa­ter­proof all turnout blan­kets. Also have one ex­tra turnout sheet on hand for ev­ery size of horse in your barn in case a turnout blan­ket gets wet and needs to be re­placed tem­po­rar­ily with a warm blan­ket cov­ered by a turnout sheet.

Fi­nally, cre­ate a com­pre­hen­sive snow-re­moval plan to guar­an­tee ac­cess not just for ve­hi­cles to the drive­way and main road but also for hu­mans and horses on the path­ways to and from the barn and pas­tures. Be sure this plan in­cludes keep­ing at least one trailer plowed out at all times, so that you are al­ways ready to trans­port a horse in case of emer­gency. Also plan to clear snow away from all gates and barn doors rou­tinely, so there’s no risk of them be­com­ing blocked. Have a des­ig­nated place to put all the re­moved snow—some­where large enough to ac­com­mo­date mul­ti­ple storms oc­cur­ring close to­gether.

If you plan to re­move snow your­self, find a con­ve­nient lo­ca­tion for your plow, snow­blower, shov­els, etc., so they’re in place and ready to go be­fore the first snow flies. I also rec­om­mend stash­ing sev­eral bags of ice melt strate­gi­cally around the barn, where ice is most likely to ac­cu­mu­late. Icy foot­ing is ex­tremely dan­ger­ous for horses.

If you don’t plan to re­move the snow your­self, line up a de­pend­able con­trac­tor for the en­tire win­ter sea­son. Make it ab­so­lutely clear that, no mat­ter how bru­tal a storm is, hu­mans must al­ways be able to get to the horses to care for them.

Sarah Geikie is an FEI four-star dres­sage judge and cur­rent co-chair of the U.S. Dres­sage Fed­er­a­tion’s In­struc­tor/Trainer Com­mit­tee. She is also a mem­ber of the USDF Judges and Freestyle com­mit­tees. Based at Mead­ow­brook Farm in Marl­bor­ough, Con­necti­cut, where she works with riders at all lev­els, Sarah is also a very pop­u­lar clin­i­cian with a busy sched­ule con­duct­ing clin­ics across the coun­try.

Cut down on win­ter stress by tak­ing the time in the fall to care­fully in­spect your barn, fix any dam­age or po­ten­tial prob­lems and make a plan for snow re­moval. You’ll feel more at ease with the com­ing sea­son if you don’t leave re­pairs un­til the last minute.

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