The first snow has fallen.
Well, okay, the white fluffy stuff hasn’t coated the streets here in D.C. just yet (and it would turn grey within hours), but snow has already covered more than a third of the country as far south as northern New Mexico.
Veteran horse owners know that the beauty of a snowfall is only so deep; underneath the snow lies the challenges of winter, which can have negative impacts on our horses’ health and wellbeing. Newer owners, however, may not be aware of the many issues that winter brings, or how to deal with them. For those of you who have weathered more winters than you care to count, consider reaching out to those new to the industry to help ensure they and their horses are prepared so everyone can enjoy the snowy season.
There are many articles available online about keeping horses healthy through the winter months. I’m including four of them here. They all focus on the importance of water intake, shelter, and increased forage, especially when the mercury takes a dive. They also remind us that foot care and exercise remain important all year round.
Just for fun: Take a moment to see if you can answer the following questions.
Horses in good body condition with a long winter coat can withstand temperatures down to _____ (without wind or rain).
Which of the following will keep horses from drinking enough water?
Did you know the answers?
It never hurts to review the recommendations and guidelines about winter care. Again, please share them with those who are new to horse ownership because proper winter care is part of owning responsibly.
Have a happy, healthy holiday season and keep those horses happy too!
Winter Weather Care, by Dr. Tom Lenz, American Association of Equine Practitioners
Cold Weather Colic, by Dr. Scott Leibsle, American Association of Equine Practioners
Equine Winter Care, Marcia Hathaway, PhD and Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota
Winter Horse Care Tips for Owners, Kentucky Horse Council
For how many years have children been putting “a pony” on their Christmas lists? Thankfully, I didn’t get my wish until just over a year ago, but many kids do. Don’t get me wrong. Horses and ponies do wonderful things for kids; kids learn responsibility, build confidence, learn trust and patience, as well as the importance of preparation, goal-setting, and follow-through. Plus, they are outside and away from phone screens, TV screens, and computer screens getting fresh air and exercise. There is indisputable evidence that horses can be good for kids.
But, owning a pony is a big responsibility, literally and figuratively. Consider these questions: What happens to the pony if the child loses interest? What happens to the pony when your child goes to college? What happens if the pony gets injured and is no longer rideable? Even if we could have afforded a pony, my parents would have never kept it after I left for school.
If you believe that your child is ready for a Christmas Pony, please pledge to be responsible owners.
First, do your homework and ask for professional help to find the right pony for your child’s experience. Purchasing a pony that isn’t a good match for your child’s goals and experience usually ends up with an unwanted pony. They don’t come with gift receipts and 180-day return policies (although many reputable sellers will agree to take a horse back after a short trial period).
Second, understand the costs of ownership. To help you consider all costs, including some you may not have thought of, the UHC has created a Cost of Ownership resource sheet, which is available on the website.
Third, plan to work with a trainer or experienced horse person if this is your first horse. It is worth the investment. Finally, have plans in place to deal with specific circumstances such as the questions posed above. Expect the unexpected to guarantee the welfare of your new equine partner.
In an ideal world, owners would keep (or at least provide for) their horses until they cross the rainbow bridge, but it may not be realistic to keep a pony for 30 years. Let’s face it, things happen. Responsible owners, however, know what options exist for their horses before they become unwanted.
So, are you absolutely, positively sure you are ready to jump in so your young one can jump on?
You might consider having your child unwrap some other options first to ensure his/her interest is long-term. Great gifts include riding lessons or monthly trail rides. Partial and full leases are also excellent options to learn the responsibility of ownership without the long term commitment. Volunteering at a local stable or rescue is another option, which can be a gift to both your child and the rescue.
Thinking back on my childhood, volunteering at a rental stable was the best thing I could have done. I had fun, I was out of my parents’ hair, it didn’t cost us anything except some good laundry detergent, and I learned all those things that I mentioned above. Plus, it kept me out of trouble!
It might have taken 25 years, but I was finally ready for my Christmas pony.