As the nights start to draw in and the temperature drops, our thoughts turn towards winter. But whilst we may soon be thinking about reaching for a thicker duvet, do we really need to be doing the same for our horses? Possibly not!
Previous estimations that horses may use up to 80% of the chemical energy derived from food to keep warm in winter were greatly overestimated. The point at which horses need additional energy (lower critical temperature) varies between individuals and is affected by factors such as wind chill, thickness and length of coat and breed. Horses, particularly natives, are far better at dealing with cold temperatures than we are and can generally withstand temperatures down to as low as -15 degrees C, even without clothes! However in the coldest of weather, the horse’s energy utilisation can increase by up to 25-30%, so making sure that poor-doers kept wrapped up in warm, well-fitting rugs is certainly very sensible management. Research has shown that rugs can reduce heat loss by 18% in cold weather so equally, try to avoid rugging good-doers and overweight horses and encourage them to use some of their own reserves for keeping warm as nature intended!
Allowing natives to lose weight in the winter is both natural and healthy, although too often, good-doers are still carrying too much weight before the spring grass arrives. In fact, a study in 2011 found over 25% of horses and ponies to be overweight (BCS of 7 or above) in February, highlighting the importance of winter weight watching!
Suitable rugging alone (whether this means leaving them on or off!) will not be enough to manage your horse’s weight this winter, but making the right choices will certainly help. Remember, all horses are individuals but are much better at coping with the colder weather than we are. Whilst you may soon need your winter woollies, this is not necessarily the case for your horse!