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Managing Icy Pens

by Laurie Cerny

Published: Friday, January 8, 2021

Good Horsekeeping

Most horse owners hate ice in their horse's pens. And if your horse wears shoes in the winter, you probably hate it even more.

The worst winters are the ones with mild stretches—where we get heavy rain followed by a hard freeze. Even if you're on sand, like we are, ice forming in the low spots is inevitable.

Our barn sets on a rise—which means the ground slopes down from the barn and its attached run-ins. So, when it gets icy it can be a challenge to keep the horses on safe footing.

Fortunately, I have not yet had a horse fall on ice. But the previous owners of our farm lost a horse after it fell and injured itself.

Although I don't ever work our horses when the footing is bad, they are turned out daily.

Over the years I have tried numerous things to deal with ice. This is especially true with my mare's run-in pen because it has some of the steepest grades and she is shod year-round. She's set with snow pads, which helps to keep snow and ice from balling up in the shoes, and Borium tacked onto her shoes does offer some extra traction.

Still, I work hard at trying to prevent ice. We faithfully rake the traffic areas of our pens before a rain, which helps keep water from pooling in deep hoofprints. If we get a lot of rain and have standing water in low spots, I sometimes am able to bail it out and dump it over the fence into the nearby pasture.

What's left, and after it freezes, I do my best to make it less treacherous. I've been successful at roughing up slippery areas by using either a shovel, metal pitchfork or an ice spud. Pulling snow over these spots also provides some extra traction.

If these practices don't work, I have a couple of buckets filled with dirt on standby, which I can use to sand the ice. I have also used cat litter, although I have found that barn lime works just as well and breaks down better into the dirt afterward.

Other horse owners I know will spread sawdust on their ice. Although it does help with traction, it eventually mixes into the dirt—causing mud.

I'm also not fond of using salt, or even pet-friendly ice-melt, as these ice preventers are hard on hooves.

Despite my best efforts we usually have at least one or two days during the winter when the pens are too slick for turnout. Our horses, instead, stay in and are hand-walked inside of our barn every couple of hours.

My last resort would be to turn our horses out on the pastures. So far, I haven't had to ever do this. And to be honest, I really don't want to because of the damage horses can do to fields this time of year.

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