Coming Out of a Northwest Winter
After 16 years living through the transition from Pacific Northwest winter to spring, I think I have the routine down. Beginning in February I start counting the days until daylight savings time, followed by another month or so of waiting for the rain to stop so I can get back to horsing around. Like many of you, I do not have an indoor facility. For years as a competitor I either leased a facility, hauled out, or just toughed it through the winter in my outdoor arena. These days my horse activities blend in with family and business timelines, so I have become a bit of a fair-weather cowgirl; my winters are mostly full of stall cleaning and chores in the dark.
Legging horses back up for summer riding or show season is a task in itself, but I think it is equally important to put forethought into bringing your horse property back from the depths of winter. Here are some things I suggest keeping in mind.
Pasture Inspection. All I can think about with the lengthening days is getting my horses out of the barn. Many people restrict their horses to stalls and turnout, or to a small sacrifice area in the winter months to keep them out of pastures and mud.
Always walk fence lines before releasing your beasts to frolic. Months of snow, wind and rain can take a toll on fences. Electric fences notoriously blow over, and short out. I try and restring new wire each spring. More permanent fences can also take a beating and no one wants their horses trotting across the neighbor's not yet dry lawn! T-posts and wire fences can deteriorate in ways that can leave exposed edges resulting in potential serious injury.
Another important pasture task is to check for debris. I find I am constantly picking up errant grain bags and bailing twine that have migrated, but there could also be dangerous debris that blew into the pasture with some of the big windstorms that occur in the Northwest. The same is true if the pasture is forested. Fallen trees and branches can prove dangerous. Fresh spring horses aren't always as cautious in their first romps around the field so it's always better to be prevention-minded.
Pest and fly control. Somehow when I'm grumbling about the rain and mud and remembering warmer weather, I forget how annoying flies can be. The last couple of years I have gone back to using fly predators, and I am so glad I did. This is a good time to place your order. Winter is also a good time to knock down any wasp or yellow jacket nests. Those suckers sure like to take up residence in the eaves of the barns and on vehicles that sit.
Vehicle maintenance. Better weather often means more fun travel. I try to set an annual schedule to have my truck and trailer serviced. They haul precious cargo and it's important to keep them in excellent operating condition.
Spring cleaning. I generally start to spruce things up come spring. Plan for a weekend when the horses begin to be mostly outside, and scrub buckets, strip stalls, rake and tidy your horse related facility. I always think I will have endless time once stall cleaning and turning horses out is done, only to be met with the onslaught of rapidly growing grass and weeds. Have a plan before spring is sprung for dealing with weed and foliage growth in ditches, fence lines and around your facility. This is also a good time to pressure wash fences, barns and outbuildings to get rid of that lovely north-facing green slime.
Planning for next year. Every year I have a laundry list of things I'm going to improve before next winter. Then the summer comes and goes in a flash and I'm up against another winter having accomplished about three of the things I had intended. This year, I vow to make a list and set aside the appropriate time in June, July and August to do the things my property needs that cannot be done in winter months. New gravel, releveling stalls, getting rid of manure and general barn maintenance top my list. Hopefully finishing these projects will make the winter months much more bearable.
Summer is almost here, and I wish each of you many happy trails!