The Horse

NOV 2018

The Horse:Your Guide To Equine Health Care provides monthly equine health care information to horse owners, breeders, veterinarians, barn/farm managers, trainer/riding instructors, and others involved in the hands-on care of the horse.

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32 November 2018 The Horse | RUNNING HOT AND COLD insulation. With a good hair coat and a layer of fat under the skin, they don't lose much body heat." A thin, undernourished, sick, or stressed horse can't handle sudden cold, especially if he doesn't have or isn't con- suming enough forage; the fermentation of fiber helps him generate body heat. But as for healthy horses, "they know how to regulate their own comfort," Connally says. "When we restrict them and either lock them in or out, we make it harder for them to do their own thermoregulation. They generally prefer to be outside." Kent Allen, DVM, FEI veterinary del- egate and owner of Virginia Equine Imag- ing, in Middleburg, agrees, explaining that horses evolved to handle cold. "You see horses at pasture on a very cold day, with their 2-inch hair coat sticking straight out, and they are happy as clams," he says. "Horse owners tend to anthropomorphize. If we are chilled and uncomfortable, we think the horses are, too." A healthy horse with a good winter coat can handle even a blizzard well. "A spring storm can be worse, at warmer temperatures, because the rain or snow is so wet," Connally says. He explains that hair's natural oil has a waterproofing effect, causing moisture to slide off before it reaches the skin. Prolonged rain or wet snow, however, eventually soaks through, causing the hair to lose its insulating quality. But if your horse is fully clipped, he will need appropriate shelter and blan- kets well into early spring, says Carey Williams, PhD, associate professor and extension specialist in equine manage- ment at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, in New Brunswick. She also recommends riding him with a quarter sheet during warmup and cool-down. Your horse's ability to adapt to cold snaps might depend on his breed. "A Shetland pony or a Norwegian Fjord is more comfortable in cold weather than a Thoroughbred with thinner skin and less hair," Connally says. If you anticipate a temperature swing toward freezing, a few simple diet chang- es can help your horse stay warmer. "He needs as much high-fiber hay as he wants," says Connally. "He also needs plenty of water that's not too cold. If he doesn't drink enough because the water is cold or frozen, he won't eat enough and won't have the calories needed to keep warm." In these cases you might need to fill water buckets more frequently to keep the water from becoming too cold to drink, says Coleman. The temperature below which a horse starts to expend additional energy to warm himself is called critical tempera- ture. "As a general rule, a 1% increase in energy … is needed (to replace what's lost from the cold) for each degree the temperature falls below a horse's critical temperature," says Williams. Critical temperature for individual horses varies based on differences in fat cover, hair thickness, acclimatization to cold, hair coat wetness, and windchill. "Clipped horses have a much higher criti- cal temperature and must be blanketed," she says, adding that shivering can be an indication the horse is too cold and needs shelter or blanketing. To help horses lower their critical tem- perature (so it won't take as much energy to stay warm) and help them adapt to colder temperatures, owners need to pro- vide extra fat for energy and insulation heading into winter. "If seasons are changing you can make slight adjustments, making sure the horse gets a little extra hay as you go into winter," says Coleman. "It's not wise to make major dietary changes just because the temperature changed today. We cre- ate problems for horses when we make changes faster than we should or need to. It helps to plan ahead so we can make some gradual changes." Sudden Heat Stresses During periods of extreme heat horses need shade and airflow to stay cool and promote sweat evaporation, says Coleman. Blanketing Best Practices If your horse is body-clipped or facing a stretch of cold, wet weather, he might benefit from wearing a blanket. Here are some tips to keep in mind: ■ If your horse is low in the pecking order and other horses don't allow him to come into the shelter, you might provide him with a blanket, especially in freezing rain, says Carey Williams, PhD, associate professor and extension specialist in equine manage- ment at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, in New Brunswick. ■ Practice good blanket hygiene. "A wet or dirty blanket isn't healthy," says Bruce Connally, DVM, owner of Wyoming Equine, in Berthoud, Colorado. "You need several, so you can change and wash them, and may need heavy blankets and light blankets for different conditions." ■ Select a blanket appropriate for the conditions the horse is facing. "If the horse is outside in wet weather, the blanket should be at least water-repellent and lined with material that will wick moisture away from the skin," says Williams. "A wet horse that has been blanketed (improperly) will be colder than an unblanketed horse with a thick hair coat that can naturally dry out." ■ If horses are ridden and sweating, let them stand in the barn and dry before putting a blanket on. "If you don't let them dry off first, they won't get dry under the blanket," says Bob Coleman, PhD, PAS, associate professor and equine extension specialist at the University of Kentucky, in Lexington. "Then you have a wet horse and a wet blanket. He is uncomfortable and could chill." ■ Check blanketed horses daily. "If a horse sweats under the blanket, especially if the hair coat is dirty, this can contribute to skin irritation and infections," says Williams. "Make sure the blanket fits the horse. Many horses develop rubs or sores on points of the shoulders, withers, and where straps secure the blanket. The blanket should be removed at least once a day to check for rub marks or infections and monitor for weight gain or loss."—Heather Smith Thomas ISTOCK.COM

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