Wednesday 10 February 2021

Obligatory Horses can Survive the Cold Post

 So a lot of North America is cold right now or will be soon. Of course, how cold is cold varies quite a bit place to place. I've seen a few posts about people worrying about their horses so I figured I would do a quick PSA from Canada.

I'm glad I don't live in Saskatchewan

First, healthy horses can survive the cold. A horse's age, condition, amount of hair and what they are acclimatized to will all have an impact, sometimes a substantial one, but horses as a species are suited for winter weather. 

Key things to look after your horse in the cold

1. Make sure they have constant access to unfrozen water. Up here heated livestock waterers are pretty much a necessity, but if you have them, make sure they are working, and if you don't then regularly chip ice or do other things to ensure water supply. 

2. Provide extra forage, 24/7 if possible. A horse's metabolism will generate a lot of heat so keep it well fed. They don't need hot bran mashes or anything fancy, just lots of good quality hay. 

3. Monitor for signs of cold. Check for shivering by laying a hand on their stifle area. See if they are moving around like normal or are huddled in one spot. Horse's do naturally stand together with their tails to the wind if needed so it is not necessarily cause for concern but this behavior shows that a thicker blanket might not go amiss. Put your hand next to the horse's skin to check temperature (either under the blanket or under their hair. See how fluffed out their coat is - horses will fluff out their winter hair to provide a layer insulation when they need it and will flatten it down when they don't. 

This photo was taken when it was only -5C/23F but notice how her coat is flat and shiny, not fuzzy looking, that shows she wasn't cold

4. Don't let your horse get wet. This means two things: First, avoid hard work that will make them sweaty unless you have a heated place to fully dry them off. Second, if there is rain or wet snow provide them with a waterproof blanket or shelter. Also, do not blanket them so heavily that they start to sweat.  

5. Protect them from the wind. Provide them with either a blanket or windbreak to give them protection from the wind. The good news is that wind is typically worse in transitioning weather, it is frequently more still on the coldest days. 

Note the shelters and round bale

If you do all these things then horses can be fine outside in very cold temperatures. I know this might seem shocking to some readers from warmer locations but my horse Naia has repeatedly shown me that she is comfortable in only a rainsheet (no insulation, just protection from wind and wet) down to a temperature of -15C/5F. I let her go naked when the temperature gets close to freezing (0C/32F), as long as it is dry. The thickest blanket I have for her is 300gm. She is wearing that now at -28C/-18F but she seems comfortable and hasn't shown the need for adding a layer underneath or a hood (both of which I have if required). Naia is outside 24/7 but has a shelter, a heated waterer, and a round bale of hay, she is not clipped. Kachina was a horse who naturally ran colder so I would use thicker blankets for her at the same temps, but let your horse tell you what they need. Places North and East of us are currently colder and there are many happy horses there as well, and also horses who never get blanketed (though it is crucial that they are never clipped and have shelter available). 

Old photo, I don't take my gloves off to take photos in -30!

Regardless of how the horses are, this weather is definitely cold for humans so stay warm!