A blanket of fresh snow can turn your farm into a winter wonderland, but a layer of ice turns it into a hazardous zone for your horse.
Slick ice can bring a horse down in a single stride, particularly if he’s wearing shoes. And the force of a fall can break bones. Even if a horse manages to stay on his feet, the effort required can pull deep muscles in his shoulder, back or groin, leading to long-term lameness.
That’s why it’s essential to treat all the iced-over areas around the barn before taking horses out of their stalls. Road salt may seem like a logical choice, but some people avoid it because it can burn the paws of small animals and kill vegetation. Alternatives include sand, ash or nonclumping kitty litter. In a pinch you can even use old bedding.
Unlike salt, these materials won’t melt the ice but will provide needed traction. But keep in mind that they may act as an insulator when the weather warms, slowing the melting process.
Horses who are outdoors when frozen precipitation falls will naturally seek shelter. When the storm breaks, you’ll most likely find your herd congregating safely in a run-in shed or under the thick cover of trees. If you make sure they have access to water and hay and that no horses are bullied out of the protected area, they can remain there until the ice melts on its own.
If you must remove a horse from a frozen-over field, break a path into the ice first. You can do this by hand with a pick or shovel, or if the ice is thin enough, driving a heavy tractor along the intended path.
Don’t walk a horse over ground that you couldn’t confidently navigate yourself. When it’s time to lead the horse out, use a longe line so you can keep a safe distance. Also have at least one other person standing by in case trouble arises.