You may think you understand caring for your horse and the daily watering, turnouts, and brushing techniques until you hit the winter. And then everything you knew about caring for your horse changes. You have to partake in specific regiments daily to care for your hose if you are in equestrian sports.
However, for the rest of the common horse owners, there are still new steps you will have to take to insure your animals will stay cozy. Even though horse hair naturally insulates body temperature on its own, a wet, snowy, or windy day can stop that ability. We have some tips you should keep in mind across all winter situations to assist your horse when he cannot keep himself warm.
Thankfully, you won’t have to worry as winter approaches if this is your first time with a horse. These tips will help you rest easy and not have to worry about the cold. You can add these preventative measures to your equine routine rather than take your horse to the veterinarian for sickness.
Change Your Horse’s Diet
What most people don’t know about horse anatomy is that they produce tremendous body heat when they consume high-fiber feeds. This food goes through their bodies into the cecum and large colon. In these places, microbes in the gut digest the food, releasing heat that horses use to keep themselves warm. Most equine professionals, such as Carrie Hammer from North Dakota State University, will tell you to feed horses hay since it is high in fiber.
In contrast, you want to stay away from corn and barley that are low in fiber and not fuel your horse will enough food to break down. Carrie also suggests that once it hits in increments of 10 below 30 degrees, or “the critical temperature”, you need to add an extra 2 pounds or more of hay to their diets. This assumes that their high-fiber feed has an energy density of 1 megacalorie per pound, as most do.
Do or Do Not Use a Horse Blanket
If you’ve had a horse and gone through several winters, then you’ve heard the debate on blanketing horses from your equine friends. Some riders are opposed because blankets will make horse hairs stop standing up (piloerection), which is their main line of insulation. In effect, a horse blanket can make your horse colder instead of warmer.
We believe blankets are an excellent tool to help your horse bear the cold winter, especially if they are young, old, or thin horses. However, there are some guidelines you need to be aware of when opting for horse blankets after the temperature drops. The process is not as easy as buying one from the store and throwing it on your animal.
First, you must purchase the correct size blanket depending upon your horse. One of the main considerations is the proper weight since a light blanket will cause your horse to get chilled. The general rule of thumb is to pick up a heavyweight blanket with at least 400 grams or more of insulation. Also, you have to constantly watch for the blanket size and even purchase a few different sizes. As the cold weather changes, your horse will need more to less weight, so you will need to adjust as you go for the perfect fitting blanket.
The last thing to remember is to purchase at least one or two backups and to purchase body clips if necessary. A horse blanket is not impenetrable and can rip or tear outside. It might get muddy and you need to clean it up, so you can put on the extra to wash the dirty one. Most healthy horses will not require a horse blanket since their full winter weather coats do the job just fine.
How does a stall cleanup item translate over to keeping your horse warm during the winter? Bedding is probably the last item you and other riders were thinking of when it comes to this topic since most consider shelters and blankets first. But if you choose the right type of horse bedding, it can be a great addition to your other horse routines, even when they have a summer coat.
For example, hemp bedding has natural insulation within its fluffy surface that traps heat rather than letting it escape. This property allows your horse to curl up in its material and stay warm rather than shiver in ineffective bedding. Also, hemp bedding is extremely comfortable, so it also makes them cozy in addition to being warm.
Build an Accessible Shelter
Unbelievably, horses with a full coat of hair can withstand outside temperatures of zero degrees and lower. The downside is that their hair’s insulation goes away when it gets soaked from wet weather or snowy weather conditions. As a result, they will become vulnerable to conditions they could most of the time withstand. For these reasons, you need to provide some kind of shelter your horses can take cover in.
The thing with shelters is that your horse will need 24/7 access to an open exit so they can roam as they please. Horses understand their body temperatures better than we can and know when they need to curl up inside versus stand outside. It is warmer outside than in their stall in some cases, such as when the sun is out. They can take advantage of these times and bask in the heat while taking the hassle out of you having to micromanage them.
Don’t Forget Bedding with Insulation
These are some tips you can take advantage of to help your horse withstand the winter time. Any horse owner can add these to their current routine, even equestrian competitors when it applies to their sport. But these will help the average rider or serious rider get started with preventing horse sickness and keeping them healthy for riding and training sessions.
Again, bedding is often left behind while the equine community stresses techniques like blankets and shelter. While it should not be your method for keeping them warm, it is a great companion to your other strategies. Our team can help answer your questions about bedding with a high thermal rating if you call us at (866).322.5989.