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For most of us, winter is the most expensive time of year for horse ownership. Because of the horrible weather and lack of grass we end often have to supplement this with hay and when the weather is particularly bad, we end up keeping them in longer than normal, resulting in using more bedding. Once we start including bigger feeds, clipping and rug repairs, it really is no wonder winter can cost horse owners a small fortune!
- Section off grass for later
Not all yards have the facilities to have separate winter and summer grazing. This makes it hard to give the grass a rest and you will quickly run out of grass over the winter once it stops growing. Find a way to section off areas of your field to save some grass and allow some more to grow. When the field is starting to look bare, start opening up these sections and maybe fence more off to grow.
- Hay before the grass has gone
Chances are you are going to be putting hay out in the field. Once all the lush summer grass has gone, many horses will choose to eat hay rather than the grass. So starting to put a section or two of hay out before the field is bare will help your grass last that bit longer.
If you don’t already have your own clippers, you don’t need to go and spend hundreds of pounds on them. While it will probably work out cheaper in the long run, this is a big early investment you simply may not have the money for.
If you are a dab hand at clipping, as friends if you could borrow their clippers for a small fee to cover sharpening, or a box of chocolates or wine! If your clipping skills remind you of that terrible haircut your mum gave you once, then there are plenty of options out there for someone else to clip your horse. A bigger clip costs more, so have a think about how much hair your horse really needs to have off.
- Bedding Quality
If you know your horse is going to be in more often than they are over the summer, you might want to change how you make their bed to help keep costs down. I’m not saying dig it all up and start with a brand new type of bedding, but could you be doing anything better?
A lot of the time, the most expensive brand is the best. While on shavings I found that I would use more bales per month of a cheap brand than I would of an expensive brand. So using the more expensive brand actually worked out cheaper. But another way to really scrimp without losing quality is to use a mixture of cheap and expensive brands. I tend to use a bale a week and I found that 2 expensive brands then one cheap brand worked really well. Saves about £4 a month, but that quickly builds up over the winter.
- Bed maintenance
Lots of people swear by deep or semi deep littering over the winter. You use less bedding as you aren’t taking out and replacing the wet bedding every day. Your horse also gets a nice deep cosy bed for the winter.
I personally choose to semi deep litter where I remove some of the wet a couple of times a week to keep it under control. Otherwise it is a horrible job cleaning it out at the end!
- Feed Fibre
We understand that horses often need a bit more food over winter to help keep them warm. But what a lot of us fail to remember is that it is largely the fibre in the horses diet which will help keep them warm and stop them dropping weight. So while we are all tempted to up our horses hard feed, they might not need it. You might be better off upping the chaff and making sure they have constant access to grass/hay.
- Check your horse’s body condition
Experts now say that it is actually a good thing to let horses drop some weight over winter, especially if they are good doers who put weight on well over the summer. Unless your horse is already underweight, you may not need to change their feed at all, in fact it could be the perfect time to reassess and potentially decrease their feed, especially if they are going to be in less work over winter.