It’s that time of year again, when the crisp fall air and brisk wind start to turn our minds to the upcoming winter. How cold will it get and how much snow will fall are just two questions we consider. But with climate change taking no prisoners, what was once a fairly dependable season is anyone’s guess.

Farm owners and barn managers need to prep their stables, paddocks and horses for the season ahead, taking into account that the weather, and therefore your horse’s needs, could change with little warning. Here are some tips and tricks to ensure you make the most out of winter.

A frozen water tap.

Water lines should be kept wrapped and heated or turned off and flushed out to prevent damage to pipes and flooding. (Lisa Baird/Pixabay)

Do an Inspection

This is part fall clean-up as much as winter prep. Take a thorough walk around your stable and paddocks and fix any loose or broken wood and fencing. Check the stalls for the same issues.

Now is also a good time to clear out your eavestroughs of leaves and other debris to ensure your drainage systems aren’t backed up. Check and replace light bulbs, put weatherstripping on door jambs and seal up any cracks and crevices to make sure everything is working optimally.

Water Freezing Issues

It’s true that a barn full of horses will generate heat and it can be quite toasty. But that’s not a guarantee your pipes will reap the benefit. Most barns have running water to either fill buckets or automatic waterers, but pipes can freeze and burst, wreaking havoc in your stable.

Depending on what part of the country you live in, you may find it easier to shut off water to places you won’t use during the winter such as wash stalls. And of course, another inspection is due! Take a good look to make sure there aren’t any leaks already started and patch where necessary. Other tips include leaving a trickle of water running on those especially cold nights, say in the tack room or feed room, will also help prevent frozen pipes. Use foam and silver reflective blankets to wrap all exposed pipes will also help prevent freezing. Or consider installing a barn-safe heating source such as wall or ceiling mounted fan-forced heaters or an infrared radiant heater are both safe solutions. There are also many heated troughs that you can install for your animals that live outside and have a run-in shed for shelter.

Snow Removal

Ensure you and your team (or family) have an agreed plan of where snow will be moved to. Tip: don’t pile up against the walls of your barn! A spring melt could cause flooded stalls inside. It’s also important that doorways are kept clear of snow at all times. You should also decide on a method for managing ice on footpaths. Paths that run from barn to paddock, or barn to unattached indoor arena, can become slippery and dangerous. Sand, salt, and even manure can keep paths safe for horses and humans.

Hay bales piled in a barn.

You should always have at least two weeks’ worth of hay and grain on hand in case of lengthy road closures after storms. (nazarovsergey –

Seal Doors and Windows

If you happen to have a door or doors that you don’t tend to you as often, choose to seal it off to conserve heat and protect those water pipes. A plastic film adhered to the outside of stall windows will also help with this by preventing drafts.

Stockpile Hay and Feed

Climate change can bring historic snow falls to Canada, even in areas where that was once a rarity. It’s wise to keep extra hay and feed on hand during the winter should the worst happen and you become snowed in for days or even weeks.



If you ride outside in a ring or on a trail, be very aware of the footing. If the ground is frozen solid there may be deep hoof prints or other crevices made during mud season that become dangerous tripping hazards. Ice under innocent-looking snow can become an impromptu skating rink. Always check footing before you head out on your horse to avoid an accident.


Snow pads and corks can really help your horse with traction in the snow and ice and prevent snow balling up under the hoof. There are also boots made for winter for horses who go barefoot. Discuss options with your farrier as to what is best for your horse.

Dress Accordingly

Humans will feel the cold before the horse. So protect your fingers, nose, and ears from frostbite by wearing the right clothing. There are lots of winter technical gear options for riders online, from insulated breeches, or earmuffs and heating pads for gloves and pockets. But don’t forget your horse! Things like quarter sheets can go a long way to keeping your mount as comfy as you are.

Make a Riding Plan

It’s true that our motivation to ride can be adversely affected by a cold snap. However, there is no hard and fast rule as to when it’s too cold for a ride. It is important that you do ride and keep your horse moving during the winter. It’s good for muscles, fitness, and mental health, all three are equally important to both equine and human athletes. How often you ride will depend on your comfort level in the cold, if you have a show season to prep for, or if you’re busy with school or work.

But don’t be too hard on yourself; if you can ride three times a week and be consistent, that’s better than riding five days in a row, then not riding for two weeks because you’re hiding under a fleece throw watching Netflix.


Related reading

Tips on Surviving Winter from Northern Ontario

Keeping Your Horse Safe and Motivated in Winter

Winter Survival Guide ‒ The Canadian Equestrian Edition

Winter Blues Busters for You and Your Horse