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November 2011 - Now we are coming into the cold season and the challenges it brings

In general, horses can tolerate cold well and they should preferably be allowed outside as much as possible. "The lower critical temperature" is the external temperature at which a horse needs to increase its heat production in order to maintain body temperature, or "keep  warm". When it gets colder than this temperature outside, horses will increase their feed consumption, and increase their use of body fat stores. For adult horses in normal condition and getting enough food, the "lower critical temperature" is around minus 15 degrees. Thin horses, old horses and young horses can tolerate cold less well and for them the lower critical temperature can range between minus 5 and minus 10 degrees Centigrade. In wind and rain, horses will lose heat more rapidly than in dry, calm weather. If they are out a lot in winter it is important that they receive enough roughage (hay or haylage). These roughages have a long retention time in the hindgut of the horse, and will contribute to heat production in more that 24 hours after being eaten. Ideally our horses should be allowed out daily also in winter, and forage or have other roughage available according to their appetites.

Allowing our horses to be exposed to outside conditions as temperature falls in October and November will promote growth of a winter coat and prepare metabolism for colder winter conditions. A naturally dense and long winter coat will keep horses warm under most conditions. If this coat has been cut for training or competition reasons, however, extra blankets will be needed for outside in cold weather, even at temperatures considered being above the lower critical temperature.
Trained horses are usually sweating after a workout, and should be allowed to rest inside or be covered with a rug until they are dry. As a rule, horses should only wear blankets outside in dry weather.  

A critical factor for horses kept outdoors in winter is water. Take extra care to see that your horses always have free access to water. In winter it is easier for them to develop colic? This is often because they have too little water or that the water is frozen.

With the PC-Horse program, you can easily keep track of how much forage your horse gets. Try therefore to provide as much as possible of the basic ration as roughage during winter, and give grain and other concentrates to match the requirements calculated by PC-Horse for training and other activities.

If horses are kept permanently outside, then stricter requirements for their welfare and environment may apply. Legislation and practical rules will vary from country to country, and it is always important that such requirements are observed. As a minimum, and in general, our horses should always have access to a dry, draft-free place where they can find comfort sheltered from wind and rain. Good shelters will lower the temperature at which horses starts shivering to maintain body temperature (the lower critical temperature), and thus enables them to cope with lower winter temperatures without having to increase feed consumption.

This article was originally written by Dr. Day Austbø.
Copyright: PC-Horse International - Norway 2012.
Feel free to use and publish the material. Please indicate the source and author.