Monday, January 9, 2023

Winter Western Horses by Jan Scarbrough

In 2016 when my husband and I visited The Covered Wagon Ranch in Gallatin Gateway, Montana, near Yellowstone, I was given my own horse for the two-day stay. He was a six-year-old Tennessee walking horse named Mr. Black. He didn’t trot but racked. We never got up enough speed to go that fast because we were climbing up the sides of mountains! The view from the top looking down over the ranch property was scary. Believe me!

During my stay, I learned the horses were driving to a nighttime pasture. Wranglers drove them back in the morning for their job as trail horses for us dudes. I was surprised to find out “The Covered Wagon Ranch and Performance horses spend the off season at lower elevation with less snow and typically warmer weather…” This is not unusual for other ranches in the area. They live outdoors in the snow!

Coming from “back East,” I take riding lessons at an American Saddlebred barn. These horses usually spend most of their time in stalls. Sometimes, they’re turned-out part of the day to graze and be horses. Show horses are sometimes “let down” during the winter and spend some time outdoors. However, other horses “shown year-round usually must be kept inside. Plus, a combination of blankets and stall lights keeps coats short and slick for upcoming competitions.”

The life of Triple Crown Winner American Pharoah consists of time outside, even during breeding season. “As for his daily routine, it’s not complicated. Breeding in the morning, out in the paddock afterward, then lunch. Back to the breeding shed, to the paddock, dinner, and then they are bedded down for the night. However, if a horse is “particularly busy,” the stallion manager said, there’s an evening breeding session.”

All this is to say, I never realized resilience of horses and their ability to remain outside in winter pasture. In her article, The Hardy Horse: How Horses Handle Winter, Heather Smith Thomas gives good insight into the way horses handle chilly months. “Our horses handle winter much better than we do, and my ranch horses in Idaho have managed nicely outdoors, even at 40 below zero. They have several unique ways to stay comfortable in severe weather and do well if allowed to adapt to colder temperatures gradually.” Check out the article for the ways a horse is built to handle the winter.

That’s not to say ranch owners are not concerned about their stock. During that horrible cold snap before Christmas, I spotted this message on the Covered Wagon Ranch Facebook page: “Praying for our horses in these cold temps.”

Of course, I used this knowledge of winter horses in my Western books. You'll find three of my books in the Ghost Mountain Ranch series in a new anthology. You'll be able to read the three romances and discover why the secrets of the past still haunt the living… 

Ghost Mountain Ranch is available at many eBook retailers.


Julie Lence said...

Interesting how they can gradually adapt to the cold (and frigid) temps. When I see horses outside during the winter, I always want to toss a blanket over them and put them in a barn, hopefully one that is heated, so they can be warm. Thanks for such an interesting topic, Jan!

Liz Flaherty said...

When I was a kid, we had milk cows and a pair of horses my dad had farmed with. Our barn was more down than up, so the shelter it offered was minimal at best. I was an adult before I realized not all farm animals lived that way!