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10 Winter Mistakes Your Mules Want You to Avoid – Dec 2014

WMdec201410 Winter Mistakes Your Mules Want You to Avoid – As published in the December 2014 issue of Western Mule Magazine

Batten down the hatches – Old Man Winter is on his way and that means the daily chores and taking care of our animals is going to become a little less pleasant. Between the ice, the snow, the wind, and the mud you and your mule are both going to have a bit more to contend with.

That being said it is possible to make winter a less painful experience for all concerned. To do that let’s take a minute and have a heart to heart with our animals and try to better understand their concerns. I recently had a conversation with Gus about what he wanted told about winter care. These are his thoughts.

Please don’t let my water freeze. Failing to provide me with ice free water will greatly increase my chances of colic so please invest in a water tank heater for me. Horses and mules won’t stay hydrated if their water is frozen over. If a water heater isn’t in the cards this winter there’s still a lot that you can do. Options range from simply putting your water trough in a sunny spot to making an insulated cover that keeps the heat in.

Not Changing My Rations When the Temperatures Dip. When the mercury drops I burn a lot more calories to stay warm. If I’m not on a diet increasing my hay ration will help me stay toasty. The process of digesting the fibrous material is a big heat producer for equines of all types and will help to keep them warmer during the upcoming cold winter nights.

Don’t Forget About Exercise Over Winter. If the conditions make riding completely out of the question I still need a daily turn out where I can stretch my legs. Even though it’s cold outside, mules, and horses still need exercise during the winter months. So do humans for that matter.

gus comes home 014 (1)Don’t Make Me Work Harder Than I Can Handle. Winter usually means a reduced workload during most of the season. The sporadic nice days offer a huge temptation to saddle up and ride hard. Out of shape mules and horses are more prone to injury if taken out and ridden hard after lounging about. It’s the same as human couch potatoes deciding to run a marathon on the spur of the moment and regretting it afterwards. Start slowly and work up as our fitness level increases.

Don’t Park Me in a Closed Barn. Cool and fresh are the key words for winter stabling. When barns are closed up to be snug and warm they an easily turn into a noxious environment full of mold, ammonia, and dust is harmful for my respiratory health.

Don’t Blanket Me Unless I Need it. Equines are remarkably well adapted to cold conditions. In fact we suffer more from the heat than we do freezing temperatures. Our natural winter coat traps an insulating layer of warm air next to the skin and is extremely good at retaining our body heat as long as you give us reasonable shelter from the elements especially wind and rain. So don’t feel guilty when you’re sitting by a warm fire and your mule is outside covered in fallen snow. Your mule is most likely feeling fine. If you have concerns about my comfort talk to the vet first before you start piling on the blankets.

WMdec20141My Hoofs Still Need Attention. Whether I’m barefoot, shod, worked or not, my hooves are still growing (albeit slowly) and need regular farrier care regardless of the season. Slowed hoof growth combined with a lack of regular riding often results in hooves that aren’t looked at, picked out or trimmed as often as they would be during the summer months. This inattention can cause a wide variety of problems as well as really annoy your farrier.

Don’t Forget About Me. You may not be riding as much, and the weather may be atrocious, but I still need your care. Please make a point to spend time with me during the winter months. Handling me on at least a daily basis will give you a heads up on any weight loss, hoof problems or other issues I may be experiencing. Besides, I like to be brushed, so please don’t throw me out to pasture and forget about me.

I Need You Healthy as Well. Those nickers you hear when I see you in the morning mean that I like you and that I need you to stay healthy too! Don’t neglect your own health over the winter and please stay active so we can both enjoy the coming summer rides and camp trips.

Well there you have it from the mules mouth so to speak. I for one intend on following Gus’s advice and am sure that we’ll both make it through winter in fine shape for spring and summer trips into the backcountry.

As always for more information on this and other topics of interest to the trail riding mule owner visit the nation’s largest equine trail and camping directory. Merry Christmas!