Equestrian column (December): In The Saddle with Anita Marsh:

Anita Marsh (Photo: Tracey Lambert)
Anita Marsh (Photo: Tracey Lambert)

As winter fast approaches and the temperatures begin to drop, keeping horses through the coldest season of the year can suddenly feel like hard work.

Looking after outdoor animals is not for the faint-hearted or, in horsey terms, it’s certainly not for the fair-weather rider!

Our wonderful British weather seems to be bringing even longer cold snaps and to equine enthusiasts the mere mention of winter brings out dreaded thoughts of less riding, frost bitten hands and fighting the wonderful continuous battle with mud.

Friends ask me why would I want to keep a horse over winter? And yes, I can see why they ask.

But horses are not like a convertible car, which you can just enjoy for a spin in summer and park up over winter. We still have to maintain our horses and ride, despite the weather, and so for us spring marks the start of our payback.

Many horses spend longer in their stable which means owners need to spend more time mucking out (cleaning) stables and more money on bedding and hay. Top this off with forever cleaning clay-based mud off horses coats and legs, and you can begin to see the hard work of horse ownership.

There are plenty of things you can do to make things easier and to help save time and a little money, of course. A top tip to help relieve stable boredom when snowed in for example; is to hang treats or toys up in the stable. You can either make your own from apples and baler twine, or buy them ready made.

I’ve also found leaving an apple in the water trough to stop ice from forming was a definite no-no after my horse went apple bobbing!

However, she happily leaves a ball floating which at least leaves me a hole to pull out the ice more easily.

Keeping the weight on horses can be a problem over winter too - don’t be afraid to ask your local feed merchant or horse nutritionist for advice. Horses use up their energy from food to keep warm, and a good rug can not only save time in grooming but helps to keep them extra snug as a bug.

My horse has various rugs, with different weights, depending on the season - no doubt if I dared to count them up she would easily beat me in the wardrobe department! And yes, believe it or not, a horse has a stable rug (PJs) and an outdoor rug (waterproof coat).

In the bad weather I forgo the rug change, I keep her in her outdoor rug all night. This helps to keep her warm and any wetness is dried overnight through her body temperature.

It saves placing a cold, damp outdoor rug on her in the morning. Or you can buy an ‘under-rug’, which stays on the horse constantly whilst top rugs are swapped about.

For me, owning a coloured horse, means a lot of work in winter. I have even seen horse ‘onesies’ come onto the equine market recently, which essentially leave only their eyes and mouths uncovered!

One of the best Christmas presents anyone can buy me is a good quality coat shine product, it really helps keep the mud from sticking to the hair. And of course they smell good too.

Be mindful of mud fever, a painful condition usually caused by bacteria which lives on your horses skin.

It usually effects horses which are pink skinned (those with white hair on their legs, but not always) but you can help protect the skin by using good antibacterial creams and washes, in addition to limiting the exposure to wet and muddy conditions.

Once you have managed to beat the mud and get riding, don’t forget to give your horse more time to cool down. It’s a good idea is to ensure they are clipped appropriately for their workload. Invest in a fleece-style rug which wicks away moisture and you can be cracking on with stable duties whilst the rug does the hard work.

Finally, if all else fails and you wonder how you’ll get through the winter - pin up a lovely summery photo of you and your horse in the tack room. This will remind you it won’t be long before the grass is growing, the mud has dried up and you can enjoy the wonderful warm weather again. Just think ‘payback!’

Have a very Merry Christmas from April and I.

* Anita Marsh