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How Horses Stay Warm in Winter
 By Winniefield Park   •   9th Nov 2013   •   2,749 views   •   0 comments
How Horses Stay Warm in Winter

Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are headed for the coldest months of the year. The further north you go, the colder it gets— it stays cold for much longer, with fewer daylight hours. Here's how horses stay warm during the dark, cold winter months.

In response to the shorter days and longer nights, horses begin to grow a thicker coat, and depending on where you live, you might see evidence of this as early as late August. The change is subtle and not quite as obvious as the spring shed-out. As the daylight hours decrease, horses drop their sleek summer coats and begin to grow a longer winter coat that will help to protect them in the wet cold winter months to come. Not all horses grow a very long coat. A lot depends on the breed, condition and age of the horse. Older horses, or those with health problems may actually grow a longer coat. Foals born during the cold winter months may actually be born with a slightly thicker coat than those born in the warm spring months. Some horses naturally grow rather sparse winter coats, while others look like bear skin rugs. (Coats that stay long, and don't shed out may be a sign of a problem like Cushings Disease.) But growing a longer coat isn't the only defense horses have against the cold.

Related: How Not to Freeze to Your Horse
Related: To Blanket or Not to Blanket

In addition to growing a wooly winter coat, horses can depend on their long digestive system to act as an internal furnace. The fodder horses eat, mainly grass and hay, contains a lot of fibre. As the fibre is processed in the horse's digestive system, there are two by-products; heat and gas. As every horse owner knows, the gas usually passes harmlessly. The heat is useful in cold weather to keep your horse warm. One of the best ways to help your horse stay warm in the cold is to amply provide it with good-quality hay. Many people make sure their horses have hay available 24X7. And, many people add a little extra to their diets, like a mixed concentrate, or some soaked beet pulp, which also adds moisture.

To make sure your horse is digesting its food efficiently, it must also have water. Horses will sometimes balk at drinking freezing cold water. It's important to provide water that isn't too chilly. A half bucket with hot water mixed in with the cold water will take the chill off, and there are many bucket and trough heaters available. An extra helping of salt may also encourage your horse to drink. By making sure your horse is drinking, you'll also be preventing another common cold-weather problem—impaction colic.

Wet weather can defeat the purpose of a nice thick winter coat. While horse's coats are waterproof, horses can become chilled if they get soaked to the skin. If driving rain and snow deprive your horse of the natural loft of a fluffy coat, you'll need to stable your horse, blanket it, or encourage it to stay in a run-in shelter. Horses are equipped to deal with 'temperate' climates, but many areas of North America, howling winds from the North Pole, freezing rain and snow take things well below 'temperate'. So, we need to make sure our horses have shelter and a bit of extra protection. With a bit of extra attention, horses can quite happily weather the cold winter months. How do you help your horse stay warm in winter?

Image Credit: © Msam | Dreamstime.com
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