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Horses and Extreme Cold
 By Saferaphus   •   15th Jan 2018   •   220 views   •   0 comments


Extreme cold has hit many parts of North America. From Canada, south to Florida many of us have been experiencing very cold, and often time blizzard-like conditions. This morning, the thermometer read -13F or -25C outside my window. Add a little breeze and the wind chills drop radically. For those of us with horses, this means we’re making some quick adjustments to our care routine and our riding schedule.

In this type of cold, you can almost depend on something breaking down. A truck won’t start, an automatic waterer freezes up, or a hydrant that is normally dependable in sub-freezing temperature suddenly isn’t. Hoses that are normally drained of water so they don’t freeze between uses become useless rigid circles like oversized Slinky toys. Metal things crack more easily. Plastic things, like buckets, shatter. And, if there is snow, something is going to get lost in it, or stuck in it. Lead rope snaps and door latches freeze shut if the least amount of moisture gets on them.

Feeding horses can become harder as you try to plow through the snow to take out bales. And you might want to feed your horses pelleted feed because you’ll quickly learn that sweet feed or any other supplement with molasses in it freezes into solid blocks. You’ll spend more time chipping than scooping. If you feed beet pulp, there is a chance the bottom of the bucket will freeze before the horse gets a chance to finish it all. Anything liquid will now be solid.

If you bed with shavings, you might find out how much moisture there really is in the wood chips. Bags of shavings, which tend to come out in blocks anyways, now come out in giant woody ice cubes. If you have a pile of shavings, it may take some mining to get down to a layer you can easily shovel. Although, you’ll probably be tempted to skip it since the horse’s stalls are filled with icy bedding and horse buns. It’s a slippery slope to the manure pile, and the first thing you may need to do is shovel a path just to get out the door and then struggle to get the door open. Keep the shovel handy because you may need to dig out gates, or the approach to the feeder.

These are all things that this extreme cold affects just on our own yards. Slippery roads make just getting to the stable tricky. Road salt doesn’t work very well when the temperatures dive below 14F or -10C. Power outages are always a possibility. Systems don’t work as well in extreme temperatures and ice build up or falling branches can take out lines. Just getting dressed and moving can be a challenge. And of course, as soon as you put your coveralls or snow pants on you have to pee. Apparently, there is a scientific reason for that. As blood flow is redirected to your internal organs to keep them from freezing, your blood pressure goes up making your kidneys get busier.

So everything is harder and takes longer. But your reward is that you’ll eventually be able to ride once all the labor is done. Or not. If you have an indoor arena, you’ll probably find the footing is like concrete. Muscles, both yours and your horse take longer to warm up as your bodies have to cope with both the exercise and the temperature. The saying ‘cold makes you dumb’ applies to us, as our bodies pull blood away from non-essential parts to keep our cores warm. So our reaction times might be slower - something that could spell trouble on a horse that hasn’t had much exercise.

And does the extreme cold affect working horses? If you’ve kept up a regular riding schedule into the winter months, a sudden stop isn’t recommended. But in the really severe cold, anything but a light workout might not be a good idea either. Dr. Yates of Yates Veterinary Services looked at existing studies to answer the question on whether we should work our horses in extreme cold. There isn’t a lot of research done on this subject. But, with the little information she found suggested that working in really cold weather could open the door to viral infections and lower airways disease.

Her conclusion was that she would not include cantering or jumping when the temperature was below 20F (-6C). This surprised me as I won’t hesitate to do those things at that temperature. Basically, that means no cantering or jumping all winter for me. She cautions, however, that her conclusion is based only on three studies that didn’t deal directly with winter temperatures and acknowledges that working horses like Amish driving horses and other working horses are routinely subject to extreme cold. Further studies are needed.

So is the extreme cold affecting you and your horse? If you live in Australia, you’ll being enjoying summer of course and possibly a different set of problems. In either case, we just have to hold on, because better weather is coming.
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