Winter weather has finally hit the Midwest, with nearly six inches of snow falling in this area in the past week. It’s got me thinking about how long stretches of freezing temps and other wintry challenges require different horsekeeping strategies to keep woolly four-leggeds in ship-shape condition. Here’s why that’s also a good business practice.
Everything in winter takes more time and more effort, despite fewer hours of daylight to do it all in. I remember shoveling blizzard snow out to our barn for hours, then hauling bucket after bucket of water for our horses (no, there wasn’t a water line!).
Geographic differences result in a variety of winter climates across the country these next few months, but when you depend upon client satisfaction for your livelihood, does it pay to hunker down and ignore the ways that winter can affect your horsebiz? Here are several points to consider, based upon real-life situations I’ve encountered in horse barns during the past few winters:
- The condition of your facilities (and the horses in them) says a lot to current and potential clients: Does your horsebiz have frozen water buckets, barns that reek of ammonia, or turnouts with previously churned-up mud that’s now frozen and causes horses to stumble? Are the horses overly chubby, skinny, or dirty? Yes, winter weather makes many aspects of running a horse operation more difficult and time-consuming, but look at your facilities with the eyes of a customer. Many owners love their horses dearly and pay a pretty penny to stay in the equestrian game; are your winter practices in line with what they’d expect to keep the horse, and the owner, healthy and able to enjoy activities over the winter months?
- Healthy horses mean less downtime and veterinary care: Horses need 24/7 access to fresh, clean, unfrozen water. Punching a hole in the iced-over bucket isn’t enough, since the sharp ice on the sides could prevent drinking, and less water in the digestive system might result in impaction colic. Plus, did you know that horses generate more body heat by consuming and digesting forages/hay than they do with a grain-based diet? Knowing what horses in your care need and how it differs during cold weather isn’t only a selling point to attract clients, it can also have a direct effect on your bottom line through reduced expenses.
- Your horsecare practices reflect on not only your own business, but also on the industry: A few years ago I covered a story for TheHorse.com about a Chicago carriage company that had its horses confiscated by the city’s Animal Control. The case dragged on for months, and ultimately the company lost the case and the animals, who were re-homed. Bad for the business and the carriage drivers, but also bad for the carriage industry, which is facing ever-tougher public scrutiny. Good horsekeeping is relevant for the equine world as a whole, since it only takes a moment for a smartphone picture to get posted to the Internet.
As for where to find the information you need, there’s a lot available on the Internet. Here’s a good article about winter horse care from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension (originally published by the University of Nebraska); I particularly like the explanation of how to calculate feed needs based on temperature fluctuations. And here’s one I wrote about winter hoof care for Holistic Horse magazine, now up at their website.
Since indoor air quality affects both horses and humans, it’s essential to look at yours; here’s an article from HorseChannel.com with some great tips on creating a healthy barn. I love the one about refraining from using leaf blowers to clear the aisles, since they contaminate the air quality.
With the crazy climate patterns we’re all seeing, even ‘normally’ temperate areas are having winter hardships when it comes to weather. Step back and look at your winter protocols to see what’s still relevant, and what needs fine-tuning. Then, include your winter ‘good practices’ in your marketing and customer communication, and watch what happens.
UPDATE: An article on Cold Weather Colic from TheHorse.com came out in their email newsletter several hours after this post was published; it supports the importance of water/forage for good equine winter health, and gives steps to take should your horse exhibit signs of dehydration or hypothermia. A free account sign-up allows you to read the article, plus search all of TheHorse.com archives.
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