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Winter Weigh In: Julie Kenney

Published: 2/18/2015
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Editor's Note: We asked several horse owners to share their pros and cons of this record- breaking winter - one that’s brought more snow and cold temperatures than most can remember. It’s one that brings the horse community together as we celebrate our blessings and commiserate over our challenges.

Many thanks to Robin, Kim, Nina, and Julie! We're sending you gals Darn Tough socks and Stabilicers to help you get through the season!

Julie Kenney lives at Blackberry Farm in Harpswell, Maine. She writes more about Winter Horse Care here.

By Julie Kenney

When you live near the coast of Maine, weather conditions usually are moderate compared to living up-country or in the Maine mountains, in regards to both temperatures and snowfall. 
This winter however, coastal Maine has been hit hard with prolonged cold and wind chills along with huge amounts of snow.  The salt water bays are freezing up and fishing boats are being moved to different locations, including taking up and storing on-shore at local boat yards.  This is nothing new to Mainers who have grown up around here, but it is different than the past few years.

I sit here after doing morning chores contemplating how difficult it can be to care for large animals, such as horses, who live outside with these weather conditions we’ve been experiencing.  This morning’s temperature is zero degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill of about negative 20.  But really, any cold winter conditions can pose difficulties with horse care. It’s just that us caregivers are more susceptible to the extreme cold.

In addition to taking care of the basic needs of our horses (food, water, and shelter), there are a few other things that caregivers need to handle during the winter.

For our barns:  snow removal is an obvious one.  Constant shoveling, either from actual snowfall or blowing and drifting snow, has been top priority this winter.  We’ve already had to shovel the barn roof once and then use a tractor to remove the snow from the barn doors.  Yesterday, a barn roof in Maine collapsed due to the snow load, with all animals making it out safely.   But the danger is there and so your shelter roof must be monitored constantly.

Read about a barn roof collapse in Berwick.

For us humans:  proper clothing layers is a must when going outside.  Also, I also cannot stress enough how essential it is to monitor your fingers and toes when working outside and covering up any exposed skin as these wind chills can freeze skin very quickly.

For our horses:  horses have it easiest in these extremely cold temperatures.  They are well adapted with their coats to protect them.  The one thing I monitor is frozen snowballs and ice on their hooves.  Sometimes when they come in the barn, they look like they are wearing high heels or platform shoes.  I’ve found that the only way to remove those is with a hammer.  I brace their hoof against my leg to lessen vibration and hit the icy snow out with the hammer.  I’m cautious not to bruise the bottom of their feet, but the packed snow is too hard to dig out with a simple hoof pick.


With all this extreme cold and snowfall, it is hard sometimes to find the blessings with horse care.  For me, horse care is simpler in the winter.  No grooming needed (except for checking their feet) and certainly no bugs.

For the horses, the sun on their coat feels comforting.  You can watch them turn their sides to the sun to get the full impact of warmth while they take turns sheltering each other from the wind.  They are content in their herd.  When it is extremely windy, they seem to enjoy chasing each other around just like any other time of year.  Then they’ll huddle up and sun bathe yet again.

Another thing I'm thankful for with my horses is that I have pipe corral fencing for the winter turnout.  Here is a link to an article where two horses got out of their fence and were found today.  The snow is piling up so high that electrical fences aren't working the way they need to in order to contain horses. Read about two horses found after yet another snow storm knocked down their fencing.


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2/20/2015 Steve
Julie, you are certainly a hearty soul and like a true Mainer just face it like it is. But truly, I admire your fortitude.

"The ears never lie" - Don Burt