Stable Environment


Dealing with Ice and Snow

Jessica Lindlet Cherry
Winter! What a joy… or is it?   Photo by Jessica Lindler

Winter weather is lovely to look at, but not so lovely to live with. We have all shared stories of such times, and I remember some of them very clearly… such as when our 40-something-year-old horse tried to cross some slick, melting ice - he unfortunately didn’t stay up.

To make a long story short, it took several attempts and two hours, a pile of blankets, a bucket of ashes, a carpet, a piece of fencepost, a couple of lead ropes, a couple of long tow chains, and a tractor to get him to safety… with the two of us people most of the time on our knees. What worked was we rolled a corner of a carpet around a short piece of post, punched a hole to wrap a chain around it, and rolled him over onto the carpet. He was then pulled by tractor (several lengths of tow chain away) up the icy hill to the snow, where he stood up shakily but gratefully. We were all lucky to escape broken bones.

Dealing with ice and snow around the barn can be a challenge. Since that incident, we learned of - and were reminded of - several other things that could have been of help. We now keep a good supply of many of these earth- and animal-friendly products on hand for the winter months:

Barn-Dri (by Martin’s) - A gritty natural limestone product with coarse granules for traction and finer particles for absorption, also used for drying stall floors and wet aisles in barns, neutralizing the acidity of manure, and giving traction to slick surfaces

Sand and/or ash - for traction

Sawdust or shavings, and/or cat litter - traction and absorption

Susan Stahlin
Springs and streams may flow freely all winter, but water troughs will freeze unless heated.   Photo by Susan Stahlin

Alfalfa meal (or your hayloft dustings) - a totally natural fertilizer that contains nitrogen to promote ice melting and has a texture to provide traction while it works

Safe Paw Ice Melter (by Gaia) - a safe ice melter for around pets - non-toxic, won’t cause chemical burns, does not injure paws, eyes or skin and will not damage concrete, lawns, asphalt or shoes

For vehicles - Use eco-friendly and pet-safe antifreeze in vehicles. Check for cats under wheel wells and hoods before starting that engine. Avoid letting your diesel engine gel up - use anti-gel additive, and park where the vehicle can be plugged in (the heater that keeps the engine warm for easy starting).

For riding - Hoof boots with studs (Stride Equus makes a nice boot) will help provide traction on packed, icy roads and trails. Boots can be used as needed, allowing maximum barefoot time.

If you use a bit - Bit warmers are great! Horses don’t like cold metal bits, which can cause damage to the sensitive mouth tissues. You can warm the bit in warm water or your hands… never place a hot bit in a horse’s mouth. Warm your hands with hand warmers as well. Some fit right into gloves - or boots.

Snow packing in hooves - Barefoot is best to avoid this problem. If needed, use olive oil on soles, or other non-petroleum and non-silicone products. HoofArmor helps to reduce snowballing; apply it to the soles. It’s non-toxic. Says David Fryer of Pegasus Forge,, “Snowballs don’t stick to HoofArmor at all; in fact, little discs of snow can be seen flinging out as the hooves come up. The Amish in Canada are using HoofArmor in the winter because of that, and because if you have snowballs, the borium on the shoes is not touching the ground at all and does no good. Unless you use the special snowball pads with shoes, horses in the snow are better off barefoot.”

Ice Bucket
An electrically heated bucket or tub works well to keep water from freezing, and is safe if used per instructions. Run cord between or behind boards to prevent horses from chewing on it. These buckets are great for pets too.

Consider hoof boots for this as well; be sure they are well-fitted and keep snow out.
Slopes - Remember too that when riding down slippery slopes, it is safer to go straight down than at an angle. The horse can keep his feet under him better that way than traveling down at an angle. If you can stay on, do - getting off means he can slip and fall on you, especially if you go in front of him. If you must get off, stay beside him as you both go straight down.

Salt - melts ice, but takes some time, and its use should be limited due to its damaging effects on plants and water sources

A portable propane torch - if used with care, it is great for non-flammable small surface areas such as concrete or metal steps that have iced over.

Back-to-basics - Remove snow by shoveling, of course. A broom can sweep away dry fluffy snow easily. Ice choppers are handy for breaking up ice; shovel away the shards. Expose those surfaces so the sun can take over.

Fill water-collecting areas with cinders and stone.

Get a banana-boat or saucer sled large enough to hold a hay bale or two, or a tub of manure, for those times when wheels won’t do. Better yet, teach that pony to drive and enlist his help to drag it. A sleigh would be nice, too.

Let the sun shine in! Expose frozen snaps, buckets, boots, etc. to the warming sun. A mirror strategically (and safely) placed  can double the sunlight.

A fozen snap can be thawed by blowing into it, but be ready to use it because the moisture in breath will refreeze it.

Water must be available - using electrically heated buckets and tubs or water heating elements can be very helpful if an electric source is nearby.

Ice Trough
Electric water heating elements for troughs are available and can be invaluable if electric outlet is nearby. These items should be kept submerged and out of reach of horses.

Run hoses along eaves or rafters  for easy self-drainage to avoid freezing. Make a narrow shelf or other flat surface to avoid hose droops that collect water, and slant it to drain. Disconnect hose ends for compete drainage. Short hoses can be coiled and stored immersed in tubs with concealed base heaters; keep an instrument to retrieve it handy, and out of horses’ reach. Keep tub full of water...!

Shelter - as temperatures drop, shelters that enable the animals to escape wind and precipitation become a necessity. Placing one or more posts or a trough in the center of wide shed openings will make a working ‘entrance and exit’, to deter one horse from hogging the whole shed. (And get that horse some emotional help - EO’s, Flower Essences, homeopathy, Reiki, etc. Herdmates will help him keep warm, if he lets them.)

Roof avalanches - These can be dangerous. Count small children and animals frequently; they could become buried. Craft and mount old horseshoes or rasps or other  such items  (best to coat them to prevent rust) and affix to roof as snowslide stoppers.

Play - Make a snowman and family, and their horses. Make snow obstacles for playing ground games. Have a snowball fight.

Drippy nose? Put sock tops (cut off old socks) around wrists; washable, save trees, less trash

And last but not least, keep plenty of Arnica on hand. Ice makes a hard landing, and with Arnica gel and homeopathic Arnica, the bruises and breaks will heal much faster. Especially after those snowball fights.

With each freeze or snowfall, we will be reminded of many other simple ways to help us get through this beautiful but trying season. Remember, spring is just around the corner!Hoof Print