Caring for a team of 70 beautiful horses is a labor of love at The Ranch at Rock Creek. Horses are photoperiodic, like most animals in Montana. As the days get shorter, they develop winter coats, starting as early as August. By the time the snow arrives, they have donned a double layer that is both insulating and weather proof. Behind that herd is another herd of dedicated people, led by Barn Manager Sam Dopp, who shared five ways that she and her team prepare and care for the herd in the cooler months.

1. We prepare well ahead of time

We make sure to purchase all of our additional winter feed and gear well before the first snow flies, which means September. We make sure that all of our water tank heaters are in good working order, our 500 tons of alfalfa hay is ready to go in our hay lot, and that bulk hand warmers have been ordered to be readily available.

2. We transition the herd into winter shoes

Photo courtesy of Brian Bowen Smith

We continue to operate horseback rides during the winter, and it is vital that we ensure our horses’ and guests’ safety in icy, snowy conditions. To do this, we switch out of summer horseshoes into winter horseshoes. These winter shoes have bohrium, or studs welded to the bottom of the shoe to give our horses more traction when traveling over ice and snow. Along with their “cleats,” we also put a rimmed snow pad underneath the shoe to ensure that no snowballs build up under their hooves, which could cause serious injury to the horse.

3. We make sure that the horses have more than enough feed to keep warm

When temperatures plummet,  we always make sure to keep hay out for the horses to keep their bellies warm. We feed a very high protein alfalfa grass mix hay all winter long. It helps to keep their energy up, hair coats long, and a warm fire in their bellies to withstand the subzero temperatures that visit with southwest Montana.

4. We don’t ride below 10 degrees

Our horses health and welfare is paramount to our operation. Riding in unsafe conditions can do harm to our horses lungs when the weather gets to cold. As a ranch, we’ve determined that the best way to do this is to not allow riding when the temperature drops below 10 degrees. This restriction allows us to keep our herd happy and healthy for a much longer time, while guests enjoy over 27 other included activities that are perfect for these temperatures.

5. We take care of our people herd

Photo courtesy of Jose Villa

Its so important that we make sure that our wranglers are outfitted well enough to care for our herd of 70 horses in cold conditions – no different than we take such good care of the horses. Our wranglers are outfitted in their warmest gear, providing hand warmers, wild rags, coveralls, etc. Its not an easy job trekking through the snow daily and breaking ice multiple times a day, but we know that the warm cuddles from the herd at the end of the day are so rewarding!

About Barn Manager Sam Dopp

Sam Dopp has been a part of the equine program at The Ranch at Rock Creek since May 2019. Originally from Michigan, Sam is no stranger to riding in the cold! Sam grew up traveling and showing quarter horses all over the country, winning many youth titles competing in English and Western all-around events. After graduating high school, she went on to work for some of the most notable quarter horse breeding and training programs in the country. Once she was done cutting her teeth in the show horse world, Sam went on to work for the Home Ranch, a historic guest ranch in Clark, Colorado, where she fell in love with the hospitality and ranching industry, and has not looked back since. She loves to share her passion for all things equine with our guests and wranglers and still competes regularly in National Reined Cow Horse Association events.