Whether you live in the balmy south or the shivery north, winter will arrive on your doorstep sooner or later.
Horses stay warm very naturally on their own: their coats turn fluffy on the coldest, windiest days because they quite literally turn their hair up to block the chill. When the hair follicles stand on end, a warm jacket of insulating air is kept close to the skin. It’s kind of like goose bumps in humans, except that getting goosebumps, for us, just tells us to find our jackets.
But what if your horse doesn’t have his own fluffy coat? You might have your horse clipped or under lights in order to keep a sleek show coat all winter. And some horses never seem to get a winter coat, especially if they’ve lived their lives in warm climates. A cold front with a dramatic temperature drop can be a real shock for these horses.
When a cold snap is threatening your horse’s sensitive system, consider these three steps to keep them warm and comfortable:
Fix it with food: Ah, food fixes everything, doesn’t it? And just like you want an extra helping of mashed potatoes after you’ve had a chilly day in the barn, your horse could use some extra rations to deal with the cold. Horses burn more energy keeping warm, so gradually raising grain rations for the cold season will help him stay in condition.
High-protein hay, like alfalfa or alfalfa cubes or pellets, is another way to warm up your horse: what he doesn’t need for energy will go into his fat stores and speed his metabolism, which produces more body-heat. But whatever kind of hay you feed, feed it often: keeping his mouth full and his digestive system busy will help him stay warm.
Have the right clothes: Just one heavy-weight blanket or light-weight sheet is rarely enough for your horse’s wardrobe. Check the tags when you’re shopping for horse blankets: they’ll tell you what temperature they’re appropriate for. And watch the weather closely: if a frosty morning is going to warm up significantly later in the day, don’t turn your horse out and head off to work for the day wearing a rug that will turn into a furnace under a warm sun. Let him warm himself up with some running and sunning (and lots of eating) instead.
Coolers for proper cool-downs: Yes, more clothes for your horse. A hot horse on a cold day is a horse just waiting to catch a chill. After work-outs, the cool-down is more important than ever when the temperature drops. Have a cooler ready to throw over your horse to wick away moisture from sweat and to keep the cold air away from hot muscles. It’s perfect for the long walk you’re going to take to help him cool down! You can use the cooler until the horse is dry and it’s safe to put his regular blanket back on.
No matter what climate you’re working with, keep a close eye on the weather and how it’s affecting your horse. With these three tips, you’ll all get through the cold season in one piece!