The Dangers of Ice
 By Winniefield Park   •   20th Jan 2016   •   1,164 views   •   0 comments
The Dangers of Ice

My daughter sent me a picture of a horseís heels, quite bloody. The culprit was ice. We enjoyed a very prolonged autumn, but winter has finally set in, bringing the nastiest of weather and very frigid temperatures. Any mud in the pastures and paddocks instantly has turned into frozen jagged lumps and a layer of ice over top of a few inches of snow from freezing rain has made the footing treacherous.

The ice on top of the snow is strong enough that you can walk on top of it, but the horses are heavy enough to break through. As they step, the ice scrapes against their coronet bands and heels, causing abrasions that bleed. The best we can hope for is milder weather that softens the ice layer.

Ice has recently taken a life of a horse in Washington state. The mare slipped on ice approaching a pond and remained in the frigid water for about an hour. Rescuers pulled her from the water, but veterinarians found her body temperature below 90F. At that temperature, internal organs become damaged. The mare regained her feet after being warmed with a propane heater, blankets and heat packs. Despite every effort to save her life, a day later, the mare died.

Ice is a danger in many ways. Just slipping on ice can cause strains and even fractures. A woman I met through Pony Club told me they lost several horses to fractured legs after freezing rain turned their property, which was built on the side of a hill into a tilted skating rink. Her son was so traumatized by the event, he refused to have another horse.

So, how do you minimize the potential danger of ice? Obviously, keeping horses stabled will help. but this isnít practical or healthy all of the time. If you have a tractor, you can drive it around where the horses stand and walk to break up any ice crust. A snowmobile can also be used, although these arenít as heavy as a tractor and may skim over the top. I used to have my son break a path with his snowmobile around the field where I could ride.

Pay attention to drainage and where ice may build up. This includes right outside stable doors. When you clean up, donít just sweep chaff and dirt out the door. This will hold the water which can freeze. It also adds to the mud during a wet spell. A piece of eavestroughs over the entrance door can help. And keep snow cleared away, so you donít end up with a frozen lump right at the entrance.

If your horse is shod, talk to your farrier about the best solution for icy conditions. If you ride, hoof boots can provide some extra traction. Keep hooves trimmed if your horse is barefoot. This also prevents hoof cracks and splitting due to hard ground and ice.

Be careful not to overflow troughs or buckets. This creates icy spots. And, if your horses normally drinks from a pond, consider blocking access to it and providing water with a safer approach. Use shavings, dirt or even manure to make paths and patches of ice less slippery. Donít use salt though. That will dry your horseís hooves out.

On really bad days, keep horses as safe as possible and keep in mind that itís really only a few more weeks until spring.
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