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With frigid temperatures bearing down, horse farm owners Jeff and Kathy Doyle take special precautions to care for their 35 horses.

Saddlebrook Farm horses deal with harsh winter

We know winter temperatures can take a toll on us, but did you ever wonder what it’s like for the horses you pass on your way somewhere? Are they counting the days ’til Spring, too?

“Horses do better in the cold than people think,” said Jeff Doyle, trainer at Saddlebrook Farm, Durham, which is home to 35 horses.

Doyle said, “In moderately cold weather, they do better than in the heat, which can bring on heat exhaustion and dehydration. Horses are very similar to people in a lot of ways. Some do better in the cold than others. It’s just common sense. If it’s hot, keep them cool. If it’s cold, keep them warm.

“In winter they don’t want to stay out. Some go out for four to six hours, and others go out for a half-hour and then want to come in. Two to six hours is the norm. If it’s below 20 degrees they don’t go out. Instead, we put them, one at a time, into our indoor ring.”

“We put hay out for them when they go outside in the winter,” said his wife, Kathy, “but they have nothing to graze on, so they get bored.”

Although there are coyotes in the area, this has never been a problem, the Doyles said. Coyotes usually come out at night, when the horses are in.

Winters do require some adjustments in the care of horses. They’re blanketed, both inside the barn and when they are outside; except for one pony.

“Clyde will not wear a blanket,” Doyle said. “He just rips it off. But his coat is so thick that he doesn’t need it.”

The horses need a bit more hay in the winter, to build body heat. When the temperatures are frigid, Doyle puts hot water over their grain at night to warm the meal. “It’s like us having a bowl of oatmeal in the winter,” he said.

Most important is the water. Because they tend to drink less in the winter, Doyle gives the horses salt to make them thirsty. “If they don’t drink, their bowels and their intestinal tract dry out and they get impacted,” he said. “They can’t pass anything and so they get colic, which is a blockage in their intestines. If we have a horse with digestive problems, we put vegetable oil or corn oil in their feed to keep things flowing. If that doesn’t work, we put some probiotics in there, too.

“I like to move them around in the winter, to keep the circulation going. I work them all winter, but not as hard as I usually would. I don’t want to stress them.”

Doyle finds the winters hard. “I can do without winter,” he said. “The hardest part is the ice in the water buckets. I have to break it out, and it’s a lot of work with all these horses. It took me three hours this morning.”

Hard work notwithstanding, the Doyles are right where they want to be. “I love their personalities and the shows,” Kathy said.

“Seeing the finished product is very gratifying,” her husband said. “We’re there from start to finish with these horses. It’s the full cycle. We bring them into the world and we’re with them when they leave it.”

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