Managing Horses in Icy Conditions

Ice is an unavoidable part of winter in many parts of the world, but there are ways to minimize slipping incidents around the barn.

Heather Sherratt knows something about keeping horses in icy conditions. Her farm, Elphin Mountain Connemaras, near Ottawa, Canada, was hit hard by the 1998 ice storm that caused weeks-long power outages and several deaths in Canada and parts of the northeastern United States.

"My ponies are barefoot, and that helps," she said. If going barefoot over the winter isn't an option, farrier Pat Sweeney of Mandan, N.D., recommends applying borium to shoes to increase their grip. Sweeney also said that snowball pads and rubberized rim pads will help keep snow from packing into the foot.

Sherratt also keeps her ponies outside most of the time. Although this can be hard to do in extremely icy conditions, Sherratt says that if they are kept in too long, their energy levels will build up. "That's when they take off and get running around," she said.

If horses are to be kept in when it's icy, it's best to give them some exercise in an indoor arena, said veterinarian Amanda Rizner, DVM, of Arundel Equine Service in Maine.

When the paddocks are icy and keeping the horses inside the barn isn't an option, Sherratt lays paths with the manure from the stalls. "If you get it on in the morning when it's warmer, then it freezes in and makes for good footing," she said, adding, "it makes a mess, but you can clean it up in the spring."

Deicers like salt should only be used as a last resort, according to Rizner, as they can cause skin irritation if they splash up on the horse's legs.

"If you have a dog, you've probably noticed after they've been outside on salt, their paws seem to sting. The same thing will happen to a horse's legs," she said.

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Liz Brown

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