As the temperature (and humidity) drops, you may have noticed your horse looking a little fluffier than usual. Even though our South Florida winters are mild, the horses start to hold weight by fall in preparation for winter and we see hair coat development triggered by shorter day length and lower temperatures.
During chilly days, our horses’ hair stands up to trap and retain body heat as a clever built-in insulation. Unfortunately in Vero Beach, it is pretty common to have large swings in both the temperature and humidity within a single 24 hour period. A 20° temperature swing between day and night is typical. We find, particularly in October, that the horses have a hard time with the moody weather. ‘Chilly’ one day, back to humid and 90° the next. Not funny, Florida.
The swing in humidity in particular can really affect their ability to sweat and thermoregulate. Especially for an unclipped horse, this can mean that they’re comfortable overnight but can overheat during the day. For that reason, we recommend clipping as soon as your horse seems to be struggling with the weather or has bloomed a coat, and continuing to clip throughout the winter as necessary. Of course if he or she isn’t in work and can stay out of the peak sun, your furry friend might sail through this awkward season for Floridians.
If you have a dark horse or non-sweater, we’ve probably chatted with you and your vet team about supplementations that can help them acclimate to the humidity (One AC, Sweat More, Platinum Refresh, electrolytes), which we start in April and continue through October for horses with sweating issues.
When real winter hits, our horses smartly thermoregulate. The thermoneutral zone is the temperature range at which a horse maintains its body temperature with little to no energy expenditure. The lower critical temperature (LCT) for each horse is influenced by their hair coat, body condition, location, age, wetness and wind chill. Once the temperature drops below that LCT, their hair coat and normal calorie intake alone aren’t enough to keep them warm. The temperatures a horse is used to can impact his LCT, which is why horses in warmer climates often get blanketed at milder temps than horses in colder areas – we’re not just wimps! The LCT for most Floridian horses ranges between 30° and 50° Fahrenheit.
To help a horse maintain warmth in the winter you can do three main things;
- Feed more // Good nutrition is key and it is important that your horse gets enough hay. The fermentation of hay in the horse’s hindgut produces an incredible amount of heat. Basically, they have a built in furnace that is fueled by hay.
- Blanket // Help them insulate, stay dry and block wind
- Don’t clip // Let them self-insulate
The below chart is the general blanketing guidelines we use for our seaside pones. Keep in mind that each horse is unique and you need to modify for their individual comfort (and owner preferences), which we do here at the farm. Fritzy, for example, runs warm. He is a big bodied warmblood and prefers to be mostly naked until it’s about 45-50° and then he’ll let us put his PJs on. Conversely, we’ll make sure an older Thoroughbred mare who is a harder keeper is bundled up sooner than later so she doesn’t burn calories trying to self heat. If you’re not sure to blanket or not on a particular night because there is a big fluctuation in weather, keep this rule of thumb in mind; I find it generally healthier for horses to be a little chilly than to overheat preceding a temperature drop which then makes them get a chill from their damp coats.
We all seem to accumulate mountains of blankets but we really only request everyone to have two necessities – a turnout sheet (0g weight) and a turnout blanket (in a 100-250g range). The third recommendation in line of use is a stable sheet which can be worn on nights that require slight warmth or under the blanket to layer.
You are welcome to keep a more broad range of blankets here at the farm but with these two suggested blankies at a minimum, your horse will stay pretty cozy. As a note, I personally prefer turnouts so that they are multi-purpose and can be used in stall and also in when the horses are outside. For those that aren’t familiar; a turnout sheet or blanket is made with some level of waterproofing, whereas a stable sheet or blanket is not waterproof. Stable sheets are generally cotton and stable blankets are squishy snuggly fellows. Stablewear is easier to layer, but they retain moisture if they get wet and don’t block the wind as well. Their turnout counterparts are a touch heavier in the lightest ‘sheet’ version but the blankets are generally comparable in weight. There are a million blanket variations, layering options and other styles that I’m not covering here, so if you want to talk blankets don’t hesitate to reach out!
OTHER COZY DETAILS
In addition to blanketing on chilly nights, we also make sure every horse in the barn is well hayed. Remember that the hay fermenting in their guts is a prime source of heating.
We generally don’t believe in closing the stall windows against the air, ventilation is paramount to equine respiratory health, but we will close the barn doors if it’s going to be frosty.
If we’re experiencing one of our big temperature fluctuations, we might also either wet grain meals or make a meal into mash (regular grain + bran + oil + water) to encourage hydration and gut motility. Year round, our horses have access to salt so they are encouraged to drink.
We also keep our horses more hydrated with the use of steamed hay from our beloved Haygain hay steamer. Feeding steamed hay can increase water intake up to three times – that’s major! Read about Haygain here: https://www.haygain.us/ (not an ad, we just love them!)
If you’re a boarder and have questions, never hesitate to ask!
and also… if you’re not a boarder and have questions, never hesitate to ask!
We are happy to share our experiences and collective research with anyone who wants to dive into it. As with most things with horses, there are a million different opinions and approaches. Ours have been developed from experience and with the input of trusted veterinarians and professionals. But remember what works for us might need to be tweaked for your own horse. Cheers to a cozy season for all!