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Facility Management: Ten Winter Horse Safety Tips

Each season presents itself with challenges for horses. In winter particularly we run into issues that are associated with snowfall, freezing rain and wind. This can mean safety is compromised, leading to unfortunate accidents (like slips and falls). It can also result in horses getting out if fencing is affected. Or it could mean that existing health issues can worsen, such as the arthritic senior horse.

Over the years I have changed many things on my little farm, and have made numerous improvements based on the habits of my horses. Habits do play a part as to the frequency of fix-ups needed, or to the degree of management required. For example, my horses respect fencing, so not all of the fencing needs to be live with electric current. Nor do they require 5-rail fencing as they do not crib on boards, or push against them. Nor do they argue and rough-house a lot. But if they require separate spaces outside I can easily accommodate for that. Consider your horse/s habits when it comes to safety. Each horse is different in many respects. Some things are common sense but can easily be overlooked just the same.

While there are many more safety tips to consider, here are 10 things that are on my radar that repeat themselves each winter.

1. Keep entrances clear and non-slip (for horses, people and emergency services):

Entrances (and exits) for horses take a beating and in the winter this can quickly lead to falls and accidents. Snow that is not cleared and gets compacted by hooves becomes more difficult to remove, and builds up. These areas become iced quickly, requiring sand or salt (but don’t use both at the same time), or an ice blade to remove. As soon as it snows, and before horses are turned out, take a minute, grab a shovel and remove the snow at the entrance. You can always go back and shovel more or snow blow, but reducing compaction reduces chances of buildup, and icing.

Need some traction? Fine gravel (5/8”) works better than sand. It has more grip. Salt works great if already iced up, but be sure to start chipping at it and remove it as soon as possible. In a pinch, wood ashes work as well as used bedding (spent shavings). And don’t overlook “sticky” snow as having good traction: but careful judgment and assessment is needed if you are going to leave the snow for a day or two.

Always maintain the entrances for people (yourself, vet, farrier) and emergency vehicles (ambulance, fire trucks) too. Keep these areas clean of snow as much as possible and sand/salt as needed. Also, keep these areas free of clutter so that equipment, feed, and hay can be brought into the barn with ease.

2. Protect entrances and turnout barns with appropriate materials:

If the base of the entrances are weak or compromised, it often gets worse with winter and even more difficult to manage. This is something that should be fixed once the snow is gone. If you are struggling with a footing issue at the entrance, consider the following even during the winter but first clear as much snow as possible. A load of gravel (5/8”) or many buckets worth, “ribbed” stall mat/s, concrete pads, a wood deck that is low to the ground – using rough cut lumber, 4x8 OSB chip board in a pinch (doubled if necessary). I have used all with success for either long term or temporary use.

But I found the best, is layering some of the solutions. For example, lay a stall mat on even ground but put a good layer of gravel on top to avoid slipping (even if you have to add a bucket full of gravel as needed).

You can do the same with the gravel over concrete pads, wood deck and OSB chip board. Several years ago, the back entrance which the horses use, I put down a good base of gravel, with concrete pads over, and then rubber ribbed stall mats on top. From the paddock the horses will track some sand and gravel on top so there is always traction. It is easy to maintain all year round.

Turnout barns need equal attention for the base and top materials, depending on the size. The one that the horses use is quite large and offers protection from the elements all year round. It also offers protection and relief from footing conditions caused by bad weather. The turnout barn entrance is protected by a stall mat, which always has a thin layer of sand/gravel on it which the horses track. The turnout barn also has a good base of 5/8” gravel which is topped up every 3 years.

There is another rubber mat in there to which the loose hay is placed as a feeding station. The area in there where the horses mostly stand has a good layer of shavings, and is cleaned of manure regularly. This ‘dry’ area away from mud, rain, and snow, and ice, provides relief for hooves and lower legs, keeping them dry. Further, I find this is the space where the icing and snow build up on the bottom of hooves pop off. It’s a hard working zone for the horses and well worth the maintenance of having such a large shelter in the winter.

3. Keep fencing secure, especially electric/rope fencing:

Heavy snow and wind are notorious for wrecking fencing, especially if they are electric fencing. I found the larger tape ones more at risk than the rope for accumulating snow on them. Each day do a check on your fencing especially after a storm or high wind day. I do this each morning and evening by just scanning fence lines. Keeping supplies on hand makes any repairs quick and easy for the most part and hardly any delay to turning horses in or out. I find where ever possible, especially during the winter, having a top wood rail goes a long way if electric fencing is not working or is compromised. I also recommend having a few of these on hand too. I use rough cut lumber as it provides better strength.

4. Provide multiple hay stations: Even if you just have 2 horses having multiple hay stations helps to keep horses calm, and less chance of any arguments happening. They also provide opportunities for movement as horses will often want to check out all the feed stations to get the nibbles on the ground! Consider 1 to 2 extra feed stations (or more) based on the number of horses in one paddock.

5. Keep water troughs filled, clean and warm:

This is a must of course. Never consider that snow alone provides the needed amount of water per day for horses. This often leads to impaction colic. Check water supplies at least 2 or more times a day, breaking and removing ice. Sometimes the water heaters don’t work – having a spare one is very handy. But to be sure, check the outlet in case it has tripped for any reason. Using a GFIC receptacle is highly recommended as a plug in for water tanks.

Cover the water tanks when not in use: For mine, half the tank is covered with plywood and secured with screws. The other half, I cover at night with another piece of plywood, then covered all with a blanket of insulation and a fabric tarp. This works really well without having to heat it all night. The outside of the tank also has a blanket of insulation around it.

6. Barn aisle ways are clean, slip resistant and safe: If your horses are going in and out of a barn, footing is really important so they do not slip with the snow on their hooves. Whether you have concrete, rubber mats or wood aisle ways, take steps to sand the surfaces as they all become slippery with wet snowy hooves. I also find that heavy duty 3x4 outdoor mats work extremely well. All surfaces should be easy to keep clean and swept. I must confess however that with the sand on the flooring, I do minimal sweeping on hard surfaces during the week, and rake any hay that lands daily. Else I am wasting the sand. The beauty of the 3x4 outdoor mats is that no sand as they are slip resistant, and can be swept easily daily. By the way my horses are barefoot and the odd time wear hoof boots in the winter.

If horses are excited to get in or out, like mine can get at times, I find placing ground rails across the aisle way a huge help. You can put down 2 or 3 which catches their attention and slows them down to a proper walk. In my barn the horses come in and out without needing to be lead in. Regardless, horses should be mindful and encouraged to “behave” when coming in and out of the barn- walking only!.

Many years ago my one mare fell in the aisle during the winter because of being too anxious to get to her stall. It was the first and last time that happened since I implemented rails, outdoor mats and sand in the aisles (over rubber stall ribbed stall mats). I have heard since though that some horses become very frightened after a fall and resist coming down the aisle. So please pay attention to this potential hazard and avoid slips and falls at all costs.

7. Remove manure piles in outdoor turnout spaces: If you don’t have access to a tractor for this chore, then hand work is your only option here. Daily attention is needed but understandably, time and weather do not always cooperate with this particular chore! But, every bit counts. I find a good shovel, rake and ice chopper work really well. My best time is evenings after the horses come in and when the manure is still somewhat soft and agreeable lol. I have “pile stations” set up so I don’t use a wheelbarrow which is too difficult. Just shovel and pitch into these areas.

Once spring time comes, the four wheeler and dump cart will haul it away out of the paddock. The horses also use their turnout barn, which is really easy to clean with the wheelbarrow, as it is attached to the barn. This area is done sometimes every day or every second day routinely. Cleaning outdoor areas is necessary so that horses can move comfortably around without tripping on piles. A clean area is also needed to put hay on the ground. Given the new track set up for the horses last summer, this is the first winter that I find this job is actually quite easy!

8. Reno tip: have wide entrance and exit doors including aisles:

I have been in many barns and find that a narrow doorway can present a lot of issues and inconveniences. Consider renovating or when building a new barn, incorporate wide doorways. My back entrance, used by the horses to come in and out, has an 8 foot sliding barn door.

My front barn entrance, where I bring in hay and feed, and other big things, the double swing doors fill a 10 foot space. A tractor can come in easily, and if I am going to the back of the barn with the riding lawn mower, slow blower, etc. it is very easy to do so. Having wide doorways, whether sliding or swing doors, is always a great idea! The front side of the barn also has a 36” wide man-door for everyday use.

9. Snow removal on speed dial:

Most of the winter snow removal can be done by one or two people, but having the neighbour over with the tractor and snowblower is a necessity when regular shoveling and snowblowing is not enough.

I don’t own a tractor but if you do then consider yourself lucky! For me it is just convenient to call the neighbour over and pay the fee. My time is limited (and my energy!) so having such a service close at hand is very welcomed! I remember one winter we accumulated 3 feet of snow in a very short period of time. The horses could barely get out of the barn!

Luckily my other neighbour has an excavator and literally dug trenches for the horse to be able to move around (pictured). My other neighbour had to come over with his front end loader to clean the driveway up to the barn! It was a winter I will never forget that winter, and very grateful and blessed to have good neighbours!

10. Remove snow on roofs:

Last but not least, is check the amount of snow on shed and barn roofs. Remove it regularly with a roof rake or other safe methods. It is amazing how much snow can accumulate! I clean mine off 2-3 x a winter. Careful monitoring for rain and wet snow, also can change the frequency of how often roofs get shoveled. Wet snow is far much heavier than the light fluffy snow. It is not unusual that roofs can collapse during winter. Hopefully there are no horses trapped underneath.

One other thing to consider, is that with accumulations on steel roofs, snow can come sliding off at an alarming rate and volume during mild conditions! Take all safety precautions if horses and humans have access to these areas. At my farm those areas on the sides of the barn are fenced off for the winter so that no injuries happen.

The winter continues on here in Northern Ontario, and across most of Canada until the end of March (at least). Hoping this article helps to keep you and your horses safe and healthy!

Interested in taking the next step in your horse's nutrition? Do you need help in determining the best combination? Send an email to and share your story!


Jean Klosowicz, Equine Nutrition Consultant & Educator

Superior Equine Health and Nutrition Inc.

Bruce Mines, ON

fb: @SuperiorEquine


Healthy Horses. Happy Owners. Superior Results!

Superior Equine Health and Nutrition Inc. ~

The articles contained in this column are for the purpose of education and are not intended to take the place of proper veterinary care. They may be used in conjunction with such care to facilitate healing and maintain health of the horse.

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