I was recently woken up very early on a cold rainy morning by a frantic client whose horse was acting very strange.
He was shivering, hanging his head low and as she described seemed like he was trying to vomit.
Of course, I sat straight up in bed with concern. I could explain the first two symptoms but not the last.
This horse was exhibiting signs of being cold. It had been very windy and raining for the past 12 or so hours and he had been standing outside of his shelter.
The first two symptoms she described were due to his being wet and cold. The third symptom was most likely due to having ulcers.
He was spending so much energy shivering and trying to raise his body temperature. That the stress and tension, most likely created more acid production in his gut and was causing discomfort there as well.
I told her to immediately bring him in and offer him a 5gallon bucket of luke warm water with molasses in it, to encourage him to drink it.
Then towel dry him the very best she could and get a blanket on him. You must get them as dry as possible before putting a blanket on.
I instructed her to lock him in his shelter, if possible, if not put plenty of hay in the shelter for him to eat and that will get him out of the weather.
Hay is fuel for producing the energy needed to bring his body temperature back up to normal. The hay will also help with his gastric upset from his ulcers and too much acid without anything to absorb them.
She did all of the above and within two hours he was feeling much better.
Before moving to the Carson Valley in Nevada, we lived in Truckee for 16 years. Truckee, at times, has been reported to be the coldest place in the USA. It gets pretty darn cold.
I was one of the very few horse owners in Truckee who would keep their horses on the mountain all year long. The winters can be very cold and the snow fall can be crazy. The winter of 2011, we got 8 feet of snow in 36 hours.
I very rarely blanketed my horses. The only time I would blanket them was when we were having lots of wind, wet snow and/or the temps were predicted to be below 10 degrees.
If I blanketed them, I would do it at 11:00 pm and remove them at 6:00 am. I did not want my horses to be too hot under the blankets nor did I want to interfere with their natural abilities to grow the coats they needed to get through winter.
Since moving to the Carson Valley in 2014, I have only had to put a blanket on a horse once. This happened to be the very same morning my client called me in a panic about her horse.
I went out to feed and Indiana Joan, a kill pen rescue, was wet, shivering and very cranky. Her pasture buddy Troubadour, another kill pen rescue apparently made her stand out in the weather all night long.
Now I have had them both for 2 years and she has been exposed to rain, wind and cold before. But this particular night had been unusually cold and was enough to make her struggle to maintain a healthy body temperature.
I did exactly what I told my client to do and within two hours she was happy and comfortable. I did leave the blanket on her for 24 hours because it continued to rain and was windy and cold.
So, lets talk a little bit about horse’s winter coats, weather and the need for blankets.
Horses will begin to grow their winter coats around September when daylight is getting shorter. It triggers the hair growth in the horses by increasing the production of melatonin. In spring when the days begin to get longer the production of melatonin decreases and the hair growth slows back down.
Some think it has to do with the change in temperature. Pointing out that horses in the Southern regions put on less of a winter coat then the Northern areas. This has to do with the Southern regions being closer to the equator and are more regular in their seasonal lengths of the day. Therefore, the horses produce less amounts of melatonin resulting in less of a winter coat.
Have you noticed that when it is cold out your horse’s hair will be standing up? Making him look fuzzier, softer, and “woolier” than normal.
This is because the individual hairs in your horse’s winter coat actually spring up in cold weather, creating air pockets that provide extra insulation and therefore keep your horse’s natural body heat from escaping.
When horses get wet for an extended period of time this flattens the hair against the body, trapping in the moisture making them cold and unable to maintain their body temperature.
Here is what I do with my herd of 14 and I advise my clients to do as well.
If your horse has been in the same location for at least a year and has been allowed to go through the changing of the seasons. They are healthy and have no hormonal conditions that would prohibit them from releasing an adequate amount of melatonin.
They are not geriatric, very young or have medical issues.
There is no reason they should not be able to produce the perfect amount of winter coat needed for their environment.
As long as they have adequate shelter, access to fresh water, and plenty of good quality hay. I prefer to feed orchard grass hay, feeding 2 flakes twice daily.
If we are in the dead of winter and experiencing very cold temperatures (in the low teens), I will feed them a mixed hay of 80% grass/20% alfalfa for their night time feeding.
I have waterproof blankets of varying sizes in case I have one who is not feeling well or just happens to struggle with wet cold windy nights. Indiana Joan is now on my list of one who may potentially need to be blanketed during those kinds of nights.
I do not have heated waterers, so every morning we break the ice off the water. If the temperature will not be in the upper 40s or above that day, I will scoop the ice off so that the water has a chance to warm up as much as possible by the sun.
I try to keep my troughs as full as possible and fill them as soon as the morning has warmed up a bit so the new water has a chance to warm up too.
If any of my horses appear to be cold, lethargic or dehydrated I will offer them a 5gallon bucket of luke warm water with molasses in it, usually they will drink it all.
If this doesn’t work, I give them horse quencher mixed in warm water, they love it because of the yummy flavors and will slurp it all down.
Horses are by nature pretty darn hardy and if we can allow them to change with the seasons. Provide shelter, clean fresh water and ample supply of good quality hay, most do very well even during those cold stormy days and nights.
Knowing your horses and by keeping a close eye on them, they will let you know when they need you to help them through the winter months.
Cindy Hartzell ©2020
Heart Soul Confidence-Based Horsemanship®