The Central Coast could be in for a heavy winter season. You need to consider preparing your horses for wet weather. The hope of wet weather means the possibility of at least a slackening of the drought state that California has been in for the last few years. Across the state, and especially here on the Central Coast, equestrians seem to be bracing themselves, and their “herds”, for what could be a nail biting few months. Many of us remember the toll that one severe Central Coast storm had on Oceano back in March of 2001, where heavy rainfall caused a levee breach and flooded many properties, forcing a number of human and equine evacuations…whether this year will be a repeat of similar conditions remains to be seen, but we should all keep this in mind in the interest of preparation.
So…what should horse owners be doing to prepare for this season’s weather?
Read on to find out.
Preparing the Property
The first consideration for winter rain preparation should always be the land. This means that we must make sure that our horses have the proper accommodations should a heavy storm – or series of storms – hit. One local equestrian from Arroyo Grande, Dana Bulter, is already preparing her property. “We started last month with the regrading of all 15 of our pens, including the outdoor runs off the barn. We’ve brought in some fill dirt and build up the portions of our stalls that are under cover, and have made sure to slope everything for easy run off,” Dana reports. “The property can take the rain as long as all the water has someplace to go.” Pooling water not only creates a muddy and uncomfortable situation for horses, but it can ruin structures.
Having a safe and dry area for your horse to get on semi dry ground is key when it comes to staving off hoof issues, dietary problems, and coat conditions like rain rot and other things that can live in wet ground. Once your horse’s stall or pen is properly filled and graded, stall mats make an excellent addition to keep mud away from feeding areas and from under covers. It’s also important to make sure that feed storage areas are built up and fortified. Make sure that hay is up off of the ground and either well-tarped or in a building where it can’t get wet; grain should also be kept up and dry.
Several area boarding facilities and ranches are also considering the possibility of heavy wind in conjunction with rain, and are therefore making an effort to cut back any trees with branches that overhang stalls and structures. One large branch falling from an 80 to 100 foot tree can cause fatal damage to a barn, a stall or to a horse than happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
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Preparing the Horses for Wet Weather
Heavy rain also means wet horses, or at least the possibility of wet horses. Many of us, myself included, have made do with aging winter blankets for the past several years, but now is the time to either get those much needed repairs done or simply to purchase something new. Melanie Baker of Nipomo agrees, “It’s definitely the year to purchase new blankets for my two boys. They have nice covered pens at the place where I board, but back when we had our last big storm, the wind was blowing the rain in every direction, so having a good blanket is key. It’s going to be expensive to buy new, but it’s worth it this year.” If your horse is outside (meaning not 100% inside a barn stall), a good, high necked, waterproof blanket can be both a comfort and a precaution. If your current blanket is still in good condition, it may be worth “re-waterproofing” the material, as after several seasons and washing, certain material can lose its waterproof qualities. Long term rains and wet coats can lead to everything from rain rot to other skin conditions.
Another consideration is feed; horses eating off of wet and muddy ground is never a great idea. Just having feeders under a cover sometimes isn’t enough to keep feed out of the mud, and one local horseman is taking this into consideration. “You put the feed into the feeders and a minute later the horses have pulled it out onto the ground,” Bodie Thompson from San Luis Obispo reports. “I’ve decided to go with slow feeder hay nets for all the horses this winter. You put the hay in the bag, and it might get wet, but at least they can’t pull it out into the mud.” So if you can’t keep your horses feed in a hanging feeder, hay nets are a great winter alternative.
Make Plans for Wet Weather
We all know that the best laid plans can still go awry. No matter how much we prepare for any winter season, there is always the possibility that a flood, power outage, downed tree, etc., could force the need for emergency plans. When it comes to horses, the three most important things in any emergency situation are a safe stall, water and feed; if you have these three things, you’re covered. Always make sure that you have a backup source of water and feed to last for at least three days in the event that a power outage causes an interruption in water supply, or a road blockage makes it impossible to get to the feed store.
Take some time to prepare for water runoff from the horse corrals or barn aisle. Strategically placed sand bags can help divert water away from high traffic areas. There are many places to to get sand bags in SLO County. You will need to purchase the bags then find the sand to fill them with. There are several locations where you can fill bags throughout the county.
If the worst happens and a natural disaster forces the need for evacuation, pre-planning is always the key. “We already have evacuation plans in place,” Michelle Gonzales reports. “With 10 show horses here on our property we need to plan for a flood or something creating unsafe conditions on our property. Our plan is to move where we have two barns – one about an hour north of us and one about 2 hours south – who are ready and able to accommodate our animals. We have horse trailer space to be able to load everyone up in one shot and head out if we need to.” It’s always a good idea to check around and figure out where you could take your horses in the event they need to be moved for several days or even weeks. It’s also always a good idea to make sure that you have a horse trailer that is in good working order available if you need to make a “quick getaway”; if you don’t have your own trailer, be sure that you make arrangements with friends who can help you out on short notice.
In the end, all of California is praying for a good rain this year, as our land desperately needs it, but with the blessing of a good winter season also comes the risk and responsibility that is beyond what is normal – so start early, get prepared and stay safe.
If mud becomes an issue consider using “Muck Buster” by Mallard Creek. You can find it at several local feed stores, call ahead for availability.
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