Because of their size, horses are better equipped to cope with low temperatures than we are. In fact, what we call cold, might not even feel cold to a horse. In winter, a horse’s coat will stick straight up, with their long winter hair coat trapping air next to the skin, which helps insulate them against cold weather. They may also stand together in groups or keep their backs to the wind to try and stay warm.
So how do I know if my horse is cold?
- They are shivering. Shivering is a natural response to the cold. Horses, like people, shiver when they are cold. If your horse is shivering, it is clearly uncomfortable, and this is an obvious and definitive sign that your horse is cold.
- Their temperature is below 37.4°C (99.32°F). To measure your horse’s temperature, use a rectal thermometer. A normal temperature range is 37.4-38.5°C (99-101°F). It is good practice to get to know your horse’s normal temperature, This is just a guide and knowing what your horses temperature normally is helps you to know if they are outside that normal range and maybe getting cold.
- They are huddling together with other horses. Horses if uncomfortable may seek shelter from the cold and wind by huddling together. Horses will stand with their heads away from the wind, their tails set low and into the wind. If housed on their own, they may stand with a tightly tucked tail trying to keep warm.
- Direct touch. Place your hand up under the horse’s rug and feel his shoulders and chest area where you can get an indication of body warmth. Or feel around the horse’s kidneys. A horse’s kidneys are on either side of their back, behind where a saddle would be placed. Check these areas regularly as you add and remove layers if your horse is rugged.
- They are losing weight. Some horses that struggle with keeping weight on or lose weight during winter, may be getting cold at night. Older horses are usually affected more by the cold weather than their younger companions, and horses in poor body condition are usually more susceptible to feeling the cold.
The ambient temperature that feels comfortable for most people is between 19-22°C. Whereas most weathered horses, on the other hand usually only feel uncomfortable when the temperature dips below 0°C or rises above 25°C. Although, horses that are well adjusted to colder climate temperatures may still feel comfortable between -8 to 15°C. Whereas horses adjusted to warmer climates may start to become uncomfortable when the temperature drops below 10°C. Typically, horses require 10 – 21 days to adapt to the cold. If you are moving horses between areas of different climates or ceasing to rug previously rugged horses it is important to monitor them.