Cover up my horse yes or no?
Like every year in autumn: the light changes, the days get shorter and the temperatures drop. Our horses are slowly getting a thicker coat.
As every year, horse owners ask us the following questions:
Cover up my horse yes or no? Is my horse already cold? From when do horses stock up? Cover at what temperatures? Does my horse even need a blanket or does nature ensure that it doesn't freeze in winter? What is best for my horse?
Cover up my horse yes or no?
First things first: There are no general answers to the questions “My horse should be bedded, yes or no?” and “From what point should horses be bedded?”. Whether your horse needs a blanket or not depends on many different circumstances :
- his fur
- the age of your horse
- his state of health
- its posture
- the weather conditions to which it is exposed
- the movement of your horse in winter (how much training, ...)
For each horse we have to decide individually whether it needs a blanket in winter and if so, which one it should be.
So what is best for my horse now: cover up, yes or no? In order to decide this and find a sensible solution that is appropriate for your horse, you should
- know some facts about your horse's natural thermoregulation
- definitely take into account the housing conditions of your horse.
thermoregulation of the horse
The term "thermoregulation" refers to the horse's ability to keep its body temperature at a constant, warm level and to be able to regulate it within narrow limits. In adult horses, the body temperature is around 38 degrees Celsius.
Our horses are naturally much better adapted to cope with different temperatures down to below zero than we humans are. This means that if you start to freeze, your horse will still feel great.
The comfortable temperature of horses is between 5 and 15 degrees Celsius.
In comparison: We need (without clothes) 25 - 30 degrees to feel comfortable and to maintain our own body temperature. Even if we feel cold and freezing in the stable (dressed according to the temperatures), on the pasture or when riding out, our horse is usually still in its comfort zone. But since we have to decide whether or when our horses should be covered up, our personal feeling of cold often answers the question: "cover up my horse, yes or no?". However, this is not the right approach.
But how does this temperature regulation work in our horses?
Playing an important role in this:
- the skin
- the fur
- the blood vessels
- the sweat glands
The skin of our horses is relatively thick and serves as an insulating layer in colder temperatures.
Our four-legged friends change their fur twice a year. And it's not just the changing outside temperatures that fur growth responds to, but also the shorter lengths of daylight. Sensors in the horse's skin react to the decreasing daylight. The fur becomes thicker and longer. If it gets really cold, the horse can provide an insulating air cushion by raising its hair through fine muscles. A horse with a winter coat can even withstand temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees. The greasy layer on the body hair helps the horse shed moisture.
When it's cold, the blood vessels on the skin's surface constrict . The warm blood circulates in deeper layers. The muscles are supplied with more blood and "the heating starts up."
Our horses use their sweat glands to cool down. Fluid is produced in the sweat glands, which evaporates on the horse's skin, thereby cooling the blood vessels and the skin's surface.
These factors of temperature regulation are of course different depending on the breed of horse. For example, it is assumed that Nordic races have thicker skin, which protects them better against the cold. The density of the coat also varies depending on the breed – whereas all horse breeds have their hair standing up as a protection against the cold.
In order to make use of this ability of natural temperature regulation and to keep it functional, horses need living conditions that come as close as possible to their natural living conditions.
If you clip or cover your horse, you take away these natural opportunities.
Studies have shown that covering up has a major impact on the thermoregulation of horses. The horse's surface temperature can rise if the blanket is too thick and lead to overheating. This can make the immune system more susceptible to disease. Sweating and extra friction from the blanket makes the skin more susceptible to damage and infection.
If you want to learn more about this topic, we recommend the article "Thermoregulation - the frequently misunderstood topic" ( https://www.vet-tcm.de , Category: Horses) and the English-language study "To rug or to rug" by Kim Hodgess ( https://equitationscience.com/media/to-rug-or-not-to-rug ).
The posture of the horse:
Whether you cover your horse or not, of course, also depends very much on how your horse is kept. Does your horse get enough exercise? Does it live in a herd? Is there a dry shelter or is your horse exposed to the weather day and night in the pasture?
The biggest differences are mainly in the box or open stable attitude.
In contrast to box housing, horses that are kept in an open stable generally live outdoors all the time. With a large, covered barn or a sheltered shelter, they have the opportunity to withdraw as needed and to protect themselves from wind and weather.
In addition to the classic open stable, there are now other variations, such as Paddock Trail and the active or movement stable.
Open stable horses usually do without a blanket as they can move about when needed and will usually develop a thick winter coat - provided they are used to this posture and have unrestricted access to a dry shelter. The winter fur protects them from hypothermia down to temperatures of minus 15 degrees Celsius. If it gets even colder, they need additional food.
Does your horse spend most of its time in the box? How much grazing, paddock and riding time does it have? A box horse that is in a cold stable and develops a natural winter coat is well protected against the cold and may not need a blanket. If the horse is in a warmer box, but may not have had an adequate winter coat and will need to be protected by a blanket in wet or cold weather outdoors. This is of course especially true if it has been sheared.
Covering box horses correctly is a bit more complicated, as they have to compensate for the different temperatures of box and paddock or winter pasture. In some cases it is necessary to change the stable and paddock cover or even remove the cover - even if it involves a lot of work.
Reasons for stocking up:
- Some horse owners cover their horse early so that it gets less winter fur. As a result, even with regular training, it may not need to be clipped.
- W hen a horse has been clipped, it has to be blanketed because the natural thermoregulation no longer works properly and the horse would cool down without a blanket. Choosing the right blanket then depends on the type of clipping and the stable climate.
- If your horse has not got a sufficient winter coat, then a horse blanket can be useful.
- Older horses with little subcutaneous fat tissue, whose metabolism is no longer running optimally and whose heat production is therefore no longer sufficient - also have to be covered - especially if they live in open stables .
- Horses with health problems usually need a blanket: covering them up in the rain or cold weather, for example, can help with arthrosis, back problems or coughing.
From when do horses stock up?
There is no deadline from when we have to cover our horses. This means that there is no fixed date for the question "When should horses be covered up?". The time depends on the horse in question, its life situation and of course the current weather conditions.
With regard to temperatures, scientific studies have come to the following conclusion: Covering up the horses is only really necessary from temperatures of minus 15 degrees Celsius. (Marcia Hathaway, University of Minnesota Research Scientist and Professor, Dr. Nadia Cymbaluk) Of course, this only applies to healthy, adult horses that are used to the cold and have acquired a sufficient winter coat. And even if these conditions are met, it is of course still necessary to take into account which breed of horse it is and what the housing conditions are like.
In any case, you should not cover your horse when the outside temperature is too warm. In general, it is recommended that unshorn horses are not blanketed before nighttime temperatures drop to 5 to 10 degrees Celsius.
There are numerous test reports that prove that blankets are often laid too early, blankets are put on too warm and horses sweat under the blankets - e.g. Cavallo's test: "How warm does it get under horse blankets?" https://www.cavallo .de/premium/test-wie-warm-es-unter-horserugs/?rkm-order-id=61614705227c3b00071d8039&form-data-id=undefined
If you have decided to blanket your horse this year, then of course you have to leave the blanket on all winter, as your horse's thermoregulation is no longer trained and it freezes immediately when the blanket is removed.
But beware! When you blanket your horse, keep a close eye on him and make sure he doesn't sweat under the blanket. This can happen as soon as the sun peeks out for a moment. It's better to reach under the blanket more often to check how cold or warm the horse is underneath.
So there are no general answers to the questions "Does my horse have a blanket, yes or no?"
Every horse owner must keep an eye on his horse, consider the pros and cons of covering and decide in the interest of his horse.
Of course, blankets are a good alternative to allow horses to run around in the pasture or paddock in a way that is appropriate to their species in winter. We just can't decide based on our own cold sensitivity.
When you blanket your horse, you should keep a close eye on him and react to changes in the outside temperature.
Of course, it would be best if horses were kept in natural and species-appropriate living conditions that would allow them to adapt to the weather and eliminate the need for blankets.
https://www.vet-tcm.de : category: horses, entry: thermoregulation - the frequently misunderstood topic