Ever Wonder How Horses Stay Warm?
Benbrook Stables uses all different types of strategies to keep their horses warm in the ever-changing Texas weather. We like to keep a horse as close to nature as possible. Using all of their natural defenses along with blanketing, shelter, wind blocks, and keeping them dry, we try to do everything we can to keep them as comfortable and happy as possible.
Texas presents a special set of circumstances when it comes to keeping our horses warm during the winter months. It’s important to understand the inner mechanics of a horse's system, and how nature has prepared them for life outdoors.
Sunlight is one of the biggest factors when it comes to how horses regulate their body temperature. In the Spring and Summer months when there is more sunlight, a horse's body will reduce the amount of the hormone melatonin. This leads to a decrease in hair growth causing your horse to shed and prepare for the warmer months. In the winter months, the opposite occurs. As our days get shorter, their hair grows longer. In the fall, when there is less sunlight, melatonin increases, and horses start to get their winter coats in preparation for the cold weather. However, this is not the only natural defense to cold their body has in its arsenal to fight off the cold
The horse's fur also stores fat, making the combo between increased hair growth and the fat crucial to the horse successfully staying warm. It’s important that you don’t wash your horse with soap during the winter months so that the fat on the fur can stay in place.
Another natural protection a horse has against the cold is that they have muscle fibers that are attached at the root of each hair follicle. This allows them to naturally raise or lower the hair at different angles to produce an insulated barrier for their skin.
Another natural defense to the cold that a horse's body will use is the expanding and contracting of the arteries in their skin. When the arteries contract, it prevents heat loss.
All of these natural defenses provide horses with the ability to live happily outside. Does this mean they don't get cold and need no help from us from time to time? Definitely not.
We help by providing shelter, barns, blanketing, etc... In most cases, we have taken the horse out of their natural habitat and must help them when needed.
There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to keeping horses warm during the winter months. The most common one we see is the use of blankets. When used properly, it is a great way to help block wind and protect from rain, snow, or the horse from getting cold due to damp conditions. However, if not done correctly, blanketing can actually hinder how their natural abilities to keep themselves warm. A lot of times we see people blanketing horses while it is still too warm out, which can impact how their coats regulate body heat and have no effect on them keeping warm.
Proper blanketing and plenty of extra calories and forage are essential to keeping horses happy and warm.
Like humans, when our bodies are cold, we naturally burn more calories to stay warm. Horses are no different. Adding extra calories to your horse's diet may be very beneficial, not only to stay warm but to make sure he is not losing weight in the process.
Horses have arteries in their skin that contract/expand. When the arteries contract, it prevents heat loss.