Ponies in winter
Updated: Feb 2
We are having an unprecedentedly wet winter (on top of everything else) and our ponies are not coming in for work (due to the centre being closed during the lockdown) as a result our ponies are certainly not looking their best!
However, we still ensure that they are healthy (coats and hooves are our top priority), receive any extra feed / supplements and treatments they need and are kept well fed with hay (which is the main element of a horses diet).
We are also doing our best to remove waste (droppings/ discarded hay etc) although we know we will need a big clean up in the spring, when everything hopefully dries up.
I often meet people talking to the ponies over the fence; they frequently have questions. I thought it might be helpful to answer some of them here!
"Aren't they cold?"
Horses who are in good health are very well insulated, they have excellent ways of keeping warm. As an owner I must ensure my horse has ample hay as eating is a primary way a horse keeps warm, as is huddling with other horses, lying down and running around.
You will see snow settle on a well insulated pony - it means he is not losing heat (just like you can see a poorly insulated horse has as the snow is melted).
“wouldn’t they be happier in a stable?”
The short answer is NO! You may notice that the herd has changed, this is because the ponies who prefer the additional support of living in are already on the yard. We also bring them in as and when needed to give them respite - they are breaking the door down to get back to their buddies after a few hours!
“why don’t they have more field shelters?”
Because they don’t use them. Some shelter is important (natural shelter is more than adequate) although most likely used in the summer to avoid heat and flies.
“it’s cold why don’t they have rugs on”
Rugs are important for some horses, you only have to come to the yard to see some of the horses dressed up! However rugs can interfere with the ponies natural ability to keep warm. The weight of the rug can squash the hairs and prevent them trapping air ( which is designed to warm the pony).
rugs can interfere with the ponies natural ability to keep warm
Rugs do not cover the underside and legs, which can give the horse a challenge - half of him is unnaturally warmed and the other half is chilled - as a result he can waste a lot of energy trying to balance his needs. It is generally better to support the horse to stay warm in other ways.
Rugs also prevent mutual grooming which is so important to horses.
“they look wet and miserable”
Horses don’t like the rain, especially when it’s windy. So they do generally look miserable. However this doesn’t mean they want to come in, they just want it to stop raining!
Feral horses and domestic horses react the same, they all stand with their backs to the wind/ rain, they tuck their tails under and wait for the rain to pass. Their coats are designed to repel water, I don’t think I have ever seen a healthy pony soaked to the skin. The coats forms rivulets that direct the water off their bodies keeping their tummies dry.
“they must hate the mud?”
If they don’t we certainly do! We have some form of hard standing for both herds as we don’t want them standing in deep mud ( some mud is inevitable as we have smallish paddocks and are on clay). We all wish we had large chalky, paddocks that drained well.
Each year we learn from the year before are are constantly striving to reduce the mud.
We bring them in regularly to wash and dry their legs. We then treat them if necessary to prevent any problems with their skin.
“can I feed them?”
The short answer is no! Feeding over a fence can cause injury to you and the horses. Furthermore horses will eat anything but seldom should. Kind hearted passers-by have been known to kill horses by giving the wrong foods or incorrectly prepared feed ( even grass can kill if feed as cuttings off your lawn)
passers-by have been known to kill horses by giving the wrong foods
Please continue to enjoy our ponies, they enjoy seeing you. Please make sure your dogs don’t get in with them ( they can get injured if chased).
If you are worried please speak to us - you might prevent a problem or we can explain what we do and why.
About the author:
Fiona Tothill, BA Educational Studies, UKCC level 2 coach (equestrian). Equine Assisted Facilitator.
Fiona is an experienced speaker and trainer who is able to engage her audience and empower them to explore challenging issues.
Fiona is the co-owner vision behind Kingsmead Equestrian Centre in Surrey.
Fiona is available for public speaking engagements, workshops and events.