A Day in the Life of the Cotswold Horse Whisperers, 16

January 2011

It’ll come as no surprise to anyone that the very cold weather has interfered with any plans we had, unless it was to improve our sledding skills! Where we live, on a private estate, the driveway is about 1/4 mile long and very steep in places. So when it is icy or covered in snow, we can’t use it.  This is quite a problem because with 2 kids aged 1 and 3, asking them to walk to the top of the drive is a big ask, and carrying them is dangerous when it is slippery. The best solution we’ve found was to put them in the trailer of our quad bike and take them up with that, wrapped in sleeping bags.

Basically, we didn’t go anywhere or do anything we didn’t have to, not least with our horses, who live out. Our outdoor school means that working horses in frozen weather is either very difficult or impossible. Being at the top of the Cotswolds, at nearly 1000 ft altitude, it is often frozen here with snow all over the place while just 5 miles away in Cirencester, at the bottom of a big hill, it’s frost-free. So for several weeks we’ve had a virtual shutdown, with very little income from any source other than our few liveries. We had Christmas at home the 4 of us, running the yard without almost no help after helpers went home for the holidays.

However, we have found ways to make winter a lot easier. Two years ago we were keeping the herd in the yard and feeding haylage. All the taps froze, of course, so we were carrying buckets out to the 13 horses across the slippery drive from the house. It seemed as though we were continuously mucking out, feeding, watering or thawing out ready for the next time. As the muck would freeze to the snow after a couple of hours, we’d have to muck out the yard many times a day. I found myself one night at 2 AM mucking out and lost it so badly I screamed at the sky, “CAN WE JUST HAVE ONE DAY WHEN IT DOESN’T SNOW????” The next day it thawed and it didn’t snow again, which made me wonder sheepishly why I hadn’t tried that before! In the end, however, I decided a more rational approach and as much efficiency as possible might be more likely to make the next winter easier.

We knew we had a lot of assets to make winter more bearable even if buying a 4×4 wasn’t going to be possible. So, over the last two winters we have put our minds to it and made such improvements that instead of the previous many hours a day, now it only takes a total of 40 mins to “do” the horses. So far they look just as happy and healthy as ever.

One thing we’ve done is solve the feeding problem.  We made hay for the first time this year, and had it put into a large, stone field shelter right next to the corner of the field they are in. So feeding (a total of 2-3 bales of hay a day) has involved nothing more than chucking bales through a gate, and dispersing it into many piles. Not only that, but we don’t muck out their winter field- instead we keep them off it for long enough that the worms on it will die (9 months).

The other big problem was water. Carrying over buckets was never going to be the best way, and eventually last year we worked out that even when the indoor tap works in the yard, carrying buckets on ice is never ideal. Running a hosepipe from the house worked better, especially since there is virually no traffic on the ice-run we call the driveway that the pipe has to cross.  Our intrepid landlord is about the only person who ventures out in his four-wheel drive. But even so, the fact that there is running water available from the stream made us re-think our fencing strategy.

Because we subdivide the fields with electric tape, the stream water is not always available. Since the water troughs are fed by natural spring water, that isn’t really an issue, except of course in winter when the troughs freeze. We usually have a runway running across the middle of our spring-summer-autumn fields (called Cow Ground), taking the shortest route to our winter grazing, Bank Field. Nicole had often thought that another runway running to the lower watering spot, from Bank Field through a gate and into Cow Ground, would be a good idea, but it was never going to be electrified. Also, this lower drinking hole does sometimes freeze. The other place the stream enters the field is a considerable distance away.

So, more of our very favourite activity: fencing. A lot more. But the runway that travels around the bottom edge of Cow Ground and out into Bank Field has saved us ours of back-breaking work. No more water buckets. Haylage from the yard can be tipped safely over the fence. Hay from the stone shelter can be put into Bank Field. The horses move like their meant to, miles every day. No more icy water down the inside of wellies. No more breaking ice on troughs. You know what they say about Mother, Necessity and Invention!

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