Today felt like the first day of winter. Which means that I need to turn my attention to the Christmas Countdown to get me through until the shortest day and then once Christmas memories have faded into the background the increasing evening lights will keep me going until Easter and spring.
But enough about my motivational techniques. I dread the first time you feel the damp drizzle and dark of the mornings. It was like that this morning, and I stumbled down the field in half light to find two damp horses looking at me reproachfully. Otis is clipped and has had a thin stable rug and lightweight turnout with a neck on for the last couple of days, but I decided to put his thicker turnout on with the integral neck piece so that his neck isn’t colder than his body – this is for my peace of mind as much as anything. Plus I don’t want a horse with a hairier neck than body! Llani is currently unclipped but has a lightweight rug on for cosmetic reasons mainly – he is clean and dry for when I want to ride and I don’t need to worry about him getting a chill if he’s still damp when I’ve brushed him off. He doesn’t have a neck on this rug though.
I had to steel myself and remember that horses are waterproof. A little bit of rain on their thick coat won’t hurt them, and they won’t get too cold. It doesn’t help when you’re wet and cold, you assume the horse is freezing as well as yourself so you put an extra rug on. My aim is to keep Llani in the lightweight until he is clipped (when I psych myself up to have him sedated) and then he can wear a thicker rug with a neck. But only then!
Let’s face it though, if the dreary drizzle continues I will pity his neck and swap rugs! Hopefully the rain will ease for the next couple of weeks and let us acclimatise to the cold without the wet!
I read a really interesting article not long ago which described how unrugged horses keep warm by letting their hair stand on end and pockets of air getting trapped close to the skin and maintaining their body temperature. For this reason, putting a lightweight rug on inhibits this natural reaction so does not allow the horse to keep warm as efficiently. This article promoted horse owners letting the thick winter coat grow and not rugging horses during the colder months.
This is all very well if you don’t intend to ride very often during the winter, as you can guarantee the horse will come in filthy dirty each day! The breed and hardiness of the horse will also come into play, as well as their age and condition. You should also consider how long the horse has been rugged and stabled during his life, as a horse who is used to being well rugged and stabled will find it harder to adjust to wintering out than a young horse who has never been rugged. The article I read had thoroughbreds wintering out in the arctic temperatures of America, which proves that horses can adapt well.
During the winter you should still monitor the horse to make sure he’s coping with the climate and has grown enough coat. They will probably also eat more as they are trying to keep warm.
I think the article I read was useful in reminding us that horses are animals and we shouldn’t humanise them too much; having said that I probably won’t be leaving my working horses unrugged! I would definitely turn a youngster out naked and encourage him to be a real horse until he grows up and has to work, and an older horse wintering out would probably have a rug on standby. I don’t mind the cold, and am happy to see naked horses playing in the snow, but as soon as the rain comes I pity them and want to Molly coddle them so that they get rid of the drowned rat look. Which is highly fashionable at the moment, I may add.
So yes, I will endeavour to be tough and keep Llani’s rug off until he has a hair cut, and then I will make sure they are warm and dry under their rugs whilst not being too warm.
Which brings me onto an important factor in rugging horses – horses find it easier to warm themselves up than to cool themselves down, which means that whilst we may be frozen to the bone and wearing four coats after having stood in the arena teaching all day, our horses won’t really appreciate the same treatment!