Management in Extreme Temperatures

Horses have adapted to being able to adjust to extreme temperatures. As a caretaker, you can aid your horse's transition from one type of climate to another, or from hot weather to cold, and help him to stay comfortable and healthy in extreme temperatures.

Care for Horses in Extreme Heat

Horses have specific needs in very hot temperatures. Protection from the sun and from flies can be accomplished by a run-in shed during turnout and with fans while in the stall. If night turnout is an option, then horses will probably appreciate spending their days in the stall and the cool nights out. The drawbacks of night turnout are that it often leaves them out at the two peak mosquito hours of dusk and dawn. Also, you are less likely to be around or awake at night when they are turned out and most apt to get into trouble. Clipping can ease your horse's burden of heat, as well as hosing your horse down with cold water.

A horse can be tested for dehydration by pinching the skin on his neck. If it does not return to its normal flat position within two seconds, he might be dehydrated. Capillary refill is another way to tell if your horse might be dehydrated. Press your fingers to his gums, then release. Within two seconds, the white spot where your finger was should be replaced by the normal pink color. If it does not, or if his gums aren't pink to begin with, then he might be sick.

Horses’ nutritional needs change as well in extreme heat. They will drink more water than usual and require a higher salt intake. Refresh their water often in the paddock and in the stall so it stays cool and clean. Salt blocks in the stall or in the paddock will help. Electrolytes are a supplement that will incline a horse to drink more water. They can be added to grain or water during the summer and winter months, when horses are more likely to dehydrate.

Cold Weather Management

The best thing you can do for your horse in very cold temperatures is to encourage a thick, clean, oil-rich coat. His natural hair is as good protection from the cold as any blanket. Half a cup of flaxseed or corn oil added to their daily grain will promote a healthy, thick coat.

Contraction of pilorector muscles straighten the long hairs on a horse's body, trapping warm air. This insulating measure is drastically reduced by the wind. So if he is turned out, make sure he has protection from the wind. If you blanket him, you are also hampering his natural defense against the cold; you should make sure his blanket is dry and warm.

A horse with a thick coat of hair might be hiding a winter weight loss problem. If you can feel his ribs protruding from under a thick winter coat, then he is too skinny. If anything, your horse should carry a little extra weight in winter.

To stay warm, horses expend energy; therefore, they will need extra calories and protein. Horses on pasture might need supplemental hay. Horses on hay and grain might need an increase of hay consumption at more regular intervals, and possibly a decrease in grain. Digestion of grain is more taxing on a horse's digestive system, and so requires more energy. A longer and harder digestion process concentrates his blood around the digestive system, taking it from his muscles where he needs it to stay warm.

A cold horse will use precious energy to stay warm, which will cause weight loss. Shivering will also cause weight loss, burning fat and muscle that he desperately needs to stay warm.

Finally, make sure your horse has plenty of water in cold temperatures. Outside water tubs and natural water sources freeze and must be checked daily. If horses are forced to eat snow, their body will use precious energy to process it, not to mention that they could never take in enough snow to keep themselves properly hydrated.

For the Barn

The greatest problem with cold weather management of a barn is frozen water. If the water system of your barn is a series of pipes that lead from a source to a water spigot in each stall, then the system should be drained to the source and then bled. Turning off the water at its source, and then opening each water outlet to let excess air and water out, usually does this. This should be done whenever the water is not being used, and especially at night. The source should itself be designed to drain below the frost line, which is anywhere between one and four feet deep, depending on what region of the country you live in. Insulation and/or heat tape on each individual pipe, as well as on the source, will help. Never use an open flame, such as a blowtorch, or an unsupervised space heater to thaw frozen lines or prevent them from freezing.

Prevention of drafts on a frigid night in the barn is important. Horses can easily catch a chill. This does not mean that fresh air shouldn't be allowed to enter the barn and circulate. Find a balance that seems to suit your horses.

Water buckets come with heating elements built in, which will ensure that your horse's water won't freeze over a cold night. Heating elements are available for use in outdoor water tubs as well, and should be utilized throughout the winter. Horses tend not to drink water that is too warm, but water heated to about 40 degrees will require less energy for consumption than water at just above freezing temperatures.

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