It’s cold in Minnesota! The last four days - with Farenheit temperature readings of 35 below zero, 22 below, 32 below and today of 37 below zero - have been bitterly cold. I went out to check on the horses, expecting to see them miserable and shivering to try and stay warm. As I was heading out I was wondering if I should put their turnout rugs on them even though I don’t usually like to blanket my horses in winter.
I was pleasantly surprised to find all three equines standing in a sunny spot with back feet cocked, soaking up the sun, and not a shiver among them. I ran my hands along their sides - rubbing, petting, scratching and just generally giving attention - and their heavy winter coats were warm, especially on the dark bay, Will.
Horses do shiver, just like humans, to keep warm. Energy and warmth is created with all those muscles shivering, which isn’t a bad thing if it’s just for a short length of time. But if a horse is shivering to stay warm for days at a time, then all his food value will get used up. He’ll be trying to draw on reserves that he just won’t have and will quickly start to lose weight. Then it’s a downhill spiral as the horse gets thinner and colder and shivers more.
Horses generate warmth from within from the process of digesting hay so the best way to help your horse stay warm in the winter is to ensure that she has a plentiful supply of hay to eat. It is the digestion of roughage, rather than high amounts of grain, that keeps her warmest.
Our horses, with their thick coats, adequate shelter to get out of the wind, plenty of water kept warmed by the automatic waterer and most of all, free-choice hay with the round bales are staying cozy in this cold snap.