Horse owners in the Rockies and the northern tiers of states are bracing right now for a sudden and severe temperature drop, as Arctic air descends behind a wind-driven storm. Windchills in Montana and North Dakota, for example, are forecast to reach 30 and 40 degrees below zero. “Coldest weather in 15 years,” says one forecast.
In some areas, the change from recent lows could be as much as 60 degrees’ worth, in about as much time as it takes for a horse to digest one or two meals.
If you’re in the area to be affected, be aware that this is a red-alert horsekeeping situation. Horses actually do quite well in severe cold, but only if they’ve had several weeks to adapt to it. Right now, they aren’t going to have that chance, and will need some extra attention from you. Here are some ways to be prepared.
1. Make sure your horses have drinkable water and are consuming it–no matter what else you do. Even if you have to carry buckets of warm water from the house, even if the pipes freeze, even if the power goes out to the well, even if you have to chop ice from the water tank four and five times a day, even if you have to transport water on a sled…be ready to keep those horses watered. They’ll be eating more hay in order to keep their internal body temperature steady, and if they can’t or don’t drink, the risk of compaction colic is huge. Got a bathtub you can spare in the house? It wouldn’t hurt to fill it, just in case.
2. If your horses don’t have access to free-choice hay, plan to increase what you give them at each feeding. But also see No. 1, above. If you’ve let yourself get low on hay, you’d better do something about it, sooner rather than later. You may not be able to travel in the next few days to come, and you can’t afford to run out. Ditto if you have horses that rely on daily meds or supplements.
3. Have a plan, and supplies on hand, for dealing with a colic if it occurs. I have saved the day, more than once, just by having a tube of Banamine in my immediate possession.
4. There are times when quality horse clothing has a purpose, and this is one of those times. Be aware that juvenile horses, old horses, and pregnant mares are more susceptible to cold than other horses. Also be aware that wet blankets are worse than no blankets. Your horses must be dry, whether covered or not.
Good luck through this stretch of horsekeeping in brutal cold, and feel free to ask questions or offer tips if you should happen to have either.