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Are Horses Okay In The Snow

author
Maria Garcia
• Tuesday, 24 November, 2020
• 7 min read

Answer: Horses are much better adapted to the cold weather than we give them credit for. They grow an excellent winter coat that insulates them and keeps them warm and dry down to the skin.

horses horse snow coffee break lake songs through covered trees
(Source: www.thecurrent.org)

Contents

In the fall they put on extra weight, so they have fat reserves to burn to keep warm in the winter. This is the reason our domestic horses (dogs, cats and humans, too) always seem to get fat in the fall.

In winter the main food available is roughage, dead or dormant grasses and weeds. Roughage, and that includes hay, actually helps warm the horses because it releases heat as it is digested.

(Unfortunately, we have fed our domestic horses well during the winter, so they do not need all that spring grass because they can founder or at least get obese.) In nature, horses stay warm by moving around, since they often have to travel to get unfrozen water, and we all know how much exercise keeps us warm--just clean your barn and sweep your aisle to find out.

Most have plenty of hay to keep them warm on a cold day and most have shelter from the wind and rain (either in the woods, shed or barn). It is good to give them more hay on a cold night, or at least the choice to eat more.

But if your horse is in and the barn is closed up and it's 40 degrees inside, he does not need extra hay. His body heat is not escaping; if his fur did not work the snow would melt immediately.

snow horse horses wet sad disasters keep safe during natural brown winter pretty hit
(Source: thehorseaholic.com)

The blanketed horse has the same amount of unrelated snow on his back as the blanketed one. Eventually since the horse is warmer than the frozen ground the snow will melt on both of them.

The problem we humans have when we pat our horses in the winter is that they feel cold to touch, but this is because their fur has insulted them and is keeping all the warmth next to the skin. Horses can have icicles hanging off their fur and be perfectly warm underneath.

In nature those old horses would have been eaten by a mountain lion, so they would not need a blanket. Horses who have been sick, are too thin, have been rescued or have any other health problems may need blankets.

You can stick your hand under the blanket and if it is toasty and warm, it is heavy enough for the weather. Please do not get a great fitting outer blanket and add an old-fashioned design sheet underneath.

The sheet does not add much warmth, and it usually rubs the shoulders and causes a lot of pain. If you choose to blanket and start early in the season you will need to keep it up, since the horse will adapt to wearing it, and his temperature regulation will be accustomed to it.

snow horse sneeuw paard winter pasture vergunning vrije
(Source: www.dreamstime.com)

A vet friend of mine visiting early one December from Vermont remarked that the horses she saw in Virginia had many more layers of blankets on in December than her clients' horses had on in Vermont in January. Vermont's owners are accustomed to the cold, so they expect their horses to be adapted as they are.

Horses who are cold tend to huddle up in a sheltered place and may not be willing to go out into the pasture area even to eat hay to keep warm. Horses really appreciate some sort of shelter on those wet days, so they can dry off a bit and get warm.

Sweat adds moisture from the skin out, which means the dry fluffy fur cannot work. Heavy winter coats do not dry easily, since the fur is very dense and is designed to not let water penetrate (so that the horse can stay warm when it is raining).

Some horses, especially those with a partial clip, will sweat anyway under a blanket if not totally cool and dry. There is no perfect answer, but unclipped horses can end up with rain rot and skin infections when they sweat for hours and do not properly dry out.

There are some weather conditions in the far north where the freezing makes it very uncomfortable for man or beast to go out, but mostly that is because our pastures do not have enough space for natural wind breaks of deep gullies and forest, which would be present out on a 10,000 acre range. Answer: Horses are much better adapted to the cold weather than we give them credit for.

snow horses wild alberta winter most society newsletter december beauty bound
(Source: wildhorsesofalberta.com)

They grow an excellent winter coat that insulates them and keeps them warm and dry down to the skin. Horses are healthier if given plenty of outdoor time which allows them to adjust to the temperatures and helps them breathe fresh air (read my article about fresh air).

In the fall they put on extra weight, so they have fat reserves to burn to keep warm in the winter. This is the reason our domestic horses (dogs, cats and humans, too) always seem to get fat in the fall.

In winter the main food available is roughage, dead or dormant grasses and weeds. Roughage, and that includes hay, actually helps warm the horses because it releases heat as it is digested.

(Unfortunately, we have fed our domestic horses well during the winter, so they do not need all that spring grass because they can founder or at least get obese.) In nature, horses stay warm by moving around, since they often have to travel to get unfrozen water, and we all know how much exercise keeps us warm--just clean your barn and sweep your aisle to find out.

Most have plenty of hay to keep them warm on a cold day and most have shelter from the wind and rain (either in the woods, shed or barn). It is good to give them more hay on a cold night, or at least the choice to eat more.

snow horse horses winter running run through wild animals pretty nieve wildlife imagini photographs
(Source: www.saddleupcolorado.net)

But if your horse is in and the barn is closed up and it's 40 degrees inside, he does not need extra hay. His body heat is not escaping; if his fur did not work the snow would melt immediately.

The blanketed horse has the same amount of unrelated snow on his back as the blanketed one. Eventually since the horse is warmer than the frozen ground the snow will melt on both of them.

The problem we humans have when we pat our horses in the winter is that they feel cold to touch, but this is because their fur has insulted them and is keeping all the warmth next to the skin. Horses can have icicles hanging off their fur and be perfectly warm underneath.

In nature those old horses would have been eaten by a mountain lion, so they would not need a blanket. Horses who have been sick, are too thin, have been rescued or have any other health problems may need blankets.

You can stick your hand under the blanket and if it is toasty and warm, it is heavy enough for the weather. Please do not get a great fitting outer blanket and add an old-fashioned design sheet underneath.

horses snow wallpapers
(Source: wallpapercave.com)

The sheet does not add much warmth, and it usually rubs the shoulders and causes a lot of pain. If you choose to blanket and start early in the season you will need to keep it up, since the horse will adapt to wearing it, and his temperature regulation will be accustomed to it.

A vet friend of mine visiting early one December from Vermont remarked that the horses she saw in Virginia had many more layers of blankets on in December than her clients' horses had on in Vermont in January. Vermont's owners are accustomed to the cold, so they expect their horses to be adapted as they are.

Horses who are cold tend to huddle up in a sheltered place and may not be willing to go out into the pasture area even to eat hay to keep warm. Horses really appreciate some sort of shelter on those wet days, so they can dry off a bit and get warm.

Sweat adds moisture from the skin out, which means the dry fluffy fur cannot work. Heavy winter coats do not dry easily, since the fur is very dense and is designed to not let water penetrate (so that the horse can stay warm when it is raining).

Since many of our high quality blankets do breathe and allow water vapor to pass through them, it is possible to put a blanket on a horse who is well cooled out but still a bit damp and let him dry underneath it. Some horses, especially those with a partial clip, will sweat anyway under a blanket if not totally cool and dry.

snow horses horse running through clydesdale wild dark
(Source: oggit.wordpress.com)

There is no perfect answer, but unclipped horses can end up with rain rot and skin infections when they sweat for hours and do not properly dry out. There are some weather conditions in the far north where the freezing makes it very uncomfortable for man or beast to go out, but mostly that is because our pastures do not have enough space for natural wind breaks of deep gullies and forest, which would be present out on a 10,000 acre range.

University Park, Pa. -- Seeing horses and other livestock outdoors during frigid winter weather may trigger concerns from the public about the welfare of these animals. What most people don't understand is that most livestock can remain comfortable in low temperatures, say experts in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

Unlike humans, horses acclimate to cold weather by developing fatty tissue that “winterizes” them, according to Ann Sinker, associate professor of equine science. When horses exhibit cold stress, typical comfort-seeking behavior is expressed, such as huddling together and seeking shelter from wind.

Bacterial fermentation of forage in the hind gut of the horse can generate a tremendous amount of heat. Endocrine systems perform other essential physiological functions a horse needs to stay warm.

To conserve central body core temperatures, the thyroid gland produces the hormone thyroid to increase metabolic rate and provide warmth. “A long winter hair coat serves as insulation by reducing the loss of body heat and provides the first line of defense against the cold,” she said.

snow scene winter horses horse scenes running dancer upload beauty
(Source: simplymarvelous.wordpress.com)

This is why it is important to provide regular grooming and windbreaks -- whether man-made or natural, such as tree lines or shrubs.” “Show horses with hair coats that are artificially short should not be turned outside in bitter winter cold without a blanket or windbreak,” Sinker explained.

Although animals may adapt to cold weather, Van San said they may need a little extra daily attention. If horses don't drink water, they can't eat dry food to get the energy needed to produce body heat.

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Sources
1 november.fasigtipton.com - http://november.fasigtipton.com/
2 www.keeneland.com - https://www.keeneland.com/2020-november-breeding-stock-sale
3 www.bloodhorse.com - https://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/thoroughbred-sales/results/2020/9393/keeneland-2020-november-breeding-stock-sale/1
4 www.bloodhorse.com - https://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/thoroughbred-sales/results/2020/9426/fasig-tipton-kentucky-2020-november-sale-of-selected-breeding-stock/1
5 www.drf.com - https://www.drf.com/news/justify-weanlings-spotlight-november-sales
6 www.paulickreport.com - https://www.paulickreport.com/news/bloodstock/keeneland-catalogs-4549-horses-for-november-breeding-stock-sale/
7 november.keeneland.com - http://november.keeneland.com/
8 www.fasigtipton.com - http://www.fasigtipton.com/2020/The-November-Sale
9 www.dreamhorse.com - https://www.dreamhorse.com/bdg/39/116/aqha-quarter-horse/weanling/colt/horses-for-sale.html