First of all, we prefer not to put on winter blankets at our barn until it’s cold enough to leave them on all the time. If you put blankets on too early, then you have to put them on and take them off, and I think this is harder on them than if you wait until it’s cold enough to put the blanket on and leave it on. Just think how hard it is on you when you are warm and comfy, and then you’re thrown out in the cold—yuck!
I have also learned that horses have a tendency not to drink as much water during the cold months, which can result in colic. We are lucky enough to have hot water in our barn, so during the cold months, we treat our horses to warm water while they’re stalled. Believe it or not, they drink it up like it is candy, which usually means they drink about twice as much as they would normally.
Another thing we try to keep in mind while the horses are stalled is that they need lots of clean, fresh air. As it gets colder, our horses are stalled more, so we really work hard on keeping the stalls clean and make sure they have good ventilation, no ammonia odors, etc.
When exercising/practicing at home, I try to time my workouts in a way so that I can warm up my horse, practice and cool my horse down all during the warmest part of the day. I also try to keep my workouts short and low impact so that my horses don’t have to breathe hard. I don’t want them to inhale a lot of cold air into their lungs.
Also, when it comes time to travel to a show, we make sure the horses have clean air and good ventilation in the trailer. We leave some of the vents and windows open because we don’t want them to get hot and sweaty under their blankets while in the trailer and then have to step out into the cold while they are sweaty. The same principle applies after warming up and running your horses. Make sure you cool them down and let them dry off before putting their blankets back on. I use a cooler sheet sometimes, or if the facility has room for you to hang out inside while your horse cools down/dries off, that works great too.
Most of all I figure, if I am cold so is my horse, so I try to care for them as I would myself—or as my grandmother would say, “If you’re cold, put on a coat (blanket). Don’t go out in the cold with a wet head (sweaty), and warm up your insides with hot chocolate (warm water).”
So friends, share a cup of hot chocolate with your favorite horse and stay warm.