Light Coats: Do’s and Don’ts for Keeping Horses Show-Ready Under Lights

by Matt

The fuzzy days of fall are upon us, when horses lose their show-ring sheen and begin to puff into mastodon models. If you’re showing this winter, or just plain don’t want to deal with all that hair, you might be tempted to leave the barn lights on late. Horses do grow their winter coats based upon the shortening of winter days, not the crisp chill in the air, but take a minute to review these do’s and don’ts of keeping your horse under lights. It would be a shame to pay that extra-large electric bill for nothing.

Do: Use timers to keep lights on late, and turn on early. You’re looking for about sixteen hours of daylight to mimic summer sunshine — many horsemen add three hours to the morning and three hours to the night with lights. Timers will save you from schlepping to the barn late at night and early in the morning to flip the lights off and on. You’re trying to save time with short coats, not lose sleep.

Don’t: Rely on heat lamps for light. You’ll need clear or frosted light bulbs to mimic daylight. Colored heat lamps are great for keeping your short-coated horse comfortable in an uninsulated stall, but they won’t stop hair growth.

Do: Be sure your lighting is strong enough. One rule of thumb is to make sure there’s enough light in the stall to read a newspaper — and not a backlit tablet, either, but real newsprint with real tiny letters! To be technical, you’ll need ten light candles for a twelve-by-twelve stall. Generally speaking, a pair of 8” fluorescent tubes, or a 200 watt incandescent bulb installed 10 feet above the stall floor, will provide that amount.

Don’t: Let your horse get cold! You’ll need a collection of horse clothing to make up for your horse’s summer hair-do, even in warmer climates. Have light, medium, and heavy blankets on hand, know what temperatures they’re rated for, and check your horses frequently for chills or sweating. If you live in a particularly cold, climate, be sure your barn is insulated against arctic drafts and plunging temperatures, so a sudden extreme won’t set your horses to shivering.

Do: Groom your horse frequently. Long hairs have probably already begun to grow in by the time you put your horse under lights, and you’re still going to have to help your horse shed. A nice strong session with a curry comb will stimulate a beautiful coat (bonus points if you have a horse who loves a good curry comb massage).

Don’t: Get impatient and give up. It takes about 60 days to fully implement an artificial daylight program. Like most things in the horse world, you’re going to need dedication and determination to see this thing through (especially if you decide to skip the timers this year).

Good luck to you this winter! Keeping a horse’s coat short can have many benefits for the hard-working horse, as well as horses moving from a cold climate to a warm one. Follow the steps, make yourself a solid plan, and stick with it — you’ll have a shiny pony all winter long!

4 responses on “Light Coats: Do’s and Don’ts for Keeping Horses Show-Ready Under Lights

  1. Christie says:

    Will LED lights provide the right type of light for this? Thanks in advance.

    • Matt Johnson says:

      Great question. Since LED light bulbs produce some light on the UV spectrum, mimicking natural light, it is considered as effective as incandescent or fluorescent bulbs. As long as you can read a newspaper in the stall, you have enough light to effect a response on your horse’s hair growth.

  2. Sally says:

    What if you leave the lights on all night, every night?

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