Good Old-fashioned Customs for the Modern Stable Hand

Now you are going to find out how old I really am! In the good old days (I am talking about last century) you learned the ropes from an old horseman. Here are some rules I learned and still follow. Continue reading

10 Winter Barn Hacks for Horse People

Here are some barn hacks that will make your life easier at the barn in winter. This winter is one of the coldest in Vancouver, BC, Canada since decades. We had a lot of snow too. Not the nicest weather to work in if you work at a barn.

#1 The joy of using de-icers

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I have discovered the joy of de-icers in water buckets for horses. The only drawbacks are that you need a power point nearby and they are expensive with $70 – $100+ apiece. If you can use them, they are definitely worth it.

The horses had to get used to them, some horses preferred the icy water above the warmer water at first. It took some horses up to a week to get adjusted to the weird things in their bucket. But it is worth it!

All the horses had access to water due to the de-icers. Something very important for horses that are already compromised with a body score of 2 or 3. I work at the SPCA, so most horses are not (yet) in the best shape. If you feed more hay, see tip #7, horses need more water. If they don’t drink enough they can get colic.

It also saves a lot of time, not to peck ice out the buckets multiple times a day. Frozen buckets are more likely to break.

#2 Insulate your water buckets

For some farm animals de-icers are a hazard. For instance bucks and goats with horns. We put their buckets into a bigger bucket and insulate the space in between with straw. You can also use shavings or whatever bedding you are using. As long as it holds air and provides insulation. If the water bucket is outside, find a spot out of the wind. This is not foolproof, but every bit helps.

#3 Don’t provide warm water in order to prevent it from freezing

Don’t provide your horses with warm water in their buckets. Warm water can freeze even quicker than cold(er) water. This is called the Mpemba effect.
It is a good idea to offer horses that won’t drink luke warm water.

#4 Provide more bedding for the horses

I find flax the best bedding, but only if you use a really thick layer (15 cm or more). Take out only the manure and leave the wet spots as they are. The bottom layer becomes stable and provides warmth and good insulation. Don’t poke around in the wet spots as the ammonia will come free.

This kind of cleaning will work with other bedding materials as well, although flax absorbs moist the best. Better than shavings (too dusty) or straw (this will be very heavy to remove after a while and doesn’t make a soft bed).

#5 How to deal with slippery ice patches after spilling water

You can put some bedding on it (shavings work well) or use some Stall Dry or cat litter (some cat litter is made of clay and can become very slippery when soaked!).

If you have an arena with sand, keep a wheelbarrow with sand in a spot that doesn’t freeze at night so you can use sand.

#6 Stay warm at the barn

The other day I read the best trick ever to warm your cold hands in a few seconds. Totally safe too. Just put your hand in your own neck (or someone else’s LOL). I tried it on myself and it really works like a charm. It is only cold for a few moments in your neck but then your hands are warm. I read this tip on Pure Cottongrass, one of my favorite blogs.

Another great tip is to keep your head warm. Wear a toque or ear warmers. You don’t want to risk  frozen earlobes. On the other hand, if you are working you will stay warm.

Wear lots of layers. Especially when you are working. Once you’re warmed up, you can peel of a layer.

#7 Make sure your horse stays warm

You are not the only one who wants to stay warm in winter. The best way is feeding your horse enough roughage (fiber). Slowfeeder nets prolong the time your horse eats, it keeps the hay clean (horses don’t waste it) and they are easy to fill if you use this trick. If you have really big ones it can even save you a feeding round.

In some areas the winters are so cold you have to blanket your horse. Do your research before buying a blanket. Make sure the blanket fits  your horse properly.

And a no brainer: provide shelter from the elements for your horse.

#8 House-train your horse

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Scooping poop in snow is like searching for Easter eggs (only equestrians will understand the happiness of finding manure in snow). If you house-train your horse to poop in a certain corner of his paddock or pasture you know the Easter bunny’s secret when it has been snowing overnight. A big pile of manure doesn’t freeze as quickly and is easier to remove than frozen, rock solid dung.

House-training your horse costs time but think of all the hours you save in the next 15-20 years if you can half your poop-scooping time.

#9 Snow shoveling made easy

Keeping the pathways you use often snow free is essential. Spray cooking spray or horse detangler on your snow shuffle to prevent the snow from sticking to it.

#10 Have fun!

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Not really a hack, but still important. Have some fun!

Build a snowman in the pasture and stick lots of carrots in his head. Then let your horse investigate this weird intruder.

Take your camera with you to the barn and make dozens of snow pictures of your horse. Here in Vancouver snow is not a common thing in Winter, so I made sure I have enough snow pictures of Kyra to last a decade.

If your horse is used to driving, you might look into skijoring or letting him pull a sleigh.

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
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Time saving barn hacks

All equestrians know that having a horse and working at a barn is hard work. Feeding, watering and turn ins/outs are time consuming. To save some time I made a list of time saving barn hacks I used myself.

Barnhack_hippologicBrush on a string

For buckets in paddocks and pastures keep a brush on a string attached to the bucket. Without the string it wanders off… For stalls a dishwasher brush works perfect.

Keep a skimmer handy

For big water buckets that are not emptied daily, keep a skimmer at hand to take hay and leaves off of the water surface. Works much faster than using your hands and in winter you keep your hand dry and warm.

Use a leave blower to sweep the isles

Needless to say that you can only use a leave blower when there are no horses inside. It causes a lot of dust to fly around. Wear a dust mask and earplugs.

Teach all the horses how you want them to behave

This is a time investment but well worth it. Teach them all that they have to keep their heads low while haltering, put their noses into the halters themselves and walk with you without pushing or pulling.

Teach them some food etiquette

Rule about safe and desired behaviour around food is not innate. It is taught.Feeding horses_hippologic

When I worked at a barn in the weekends it only took me 3 weekends to teach the horses that hay and grain where only provided to horses who kept 4 feet on the ground and stepped back & looked away so I could throw in the flakes of hay in their stalls (which saved time and increased my safety). I hate the noise 15 horses can produce when they are kicking their doors simultaneously.

Master the hay nets

If you need to fill hay nets I hope you use square slow-feeder nets. They are a bit more expensive but you can fill them up in a few seconds.

If you have to fill old fashioned hay nets use a plastic roll-up sled to keep the opening of the net open. They are a $3 -$10 dollar investment and save a lot of man hours.

Key ring knife

When I was a barn help I bought a small key ring knife to open up bales. You can also cut through baling twine with another piece of baling twine and use it like a saw. Or attach a pair of scissors to the wheelbarrow you use for feeding.

Do you have useful barn hack? Please share it with us! We would love to hear about them.

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners get the results in training they really, really want with joy and easy for both horse and human. I always aim for win-win!
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