While bemoaning the cold weather in New England, I came across the blog post, Horses and Riding in Cold Weather, written by a woman who lives in Norway. She writes that on January 6th it was -15 degrees and falling. She has been riding.
It’s a great post and worth reading as there are some interesting tips about riding in cold weather. The author also references studies made by the Swedish Agricultural University on how horses handle the cold. Here are a few highlights:
- Horses can handle low temperature much better than humans. They have seven times more body mass than us, but only 2.5 times more skin. Extra fat is more important than the coat. The fat isolates three times more than other types of tissue.
- An unclipped horse in medium work (up to intermediate level) normally does not need a blanket during winter time if the temperature is over -10C(14F). If the temperature is around -10 or below, you might either add extra hay (1-3 kg depending on temperature) or add a blanket.
- When it is cold, the horse raises the hair to get extra insulation. If he is very cold, he shivers. You can confident that your horse is not cold as long as the hairs in the coat lie flat against the body.
- Horses have a long way from the nostrils to the lungs, and again, their respiration system works much better in low temperatures than the human equivalent does. The air is warm before it reaches the lungs, so you can work your horse as normal even if it is cold outside.
- In a study conducted by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, five standardbred horses were subjected to a treadmill exercise in a climate chamber, first in +17C (63F) and then in -25C (-13F). Conclusion was that the cold exposure (-25C) did not seem to have any untoward effects on near maximal exercise tolerance.
On the contrary the cold environment seemed to be beneficial for heat dissipation during exercise. Further, no evidence of tissue damage in the respiratory tract was observed.
My personal cutoff point for riding outside is about 20F. If it’s really sunny and there’s no wind, I might venture out when it’s a bit lower, but not much. I’m not sure if these findings will inspire me to ride when it’s colder but at least I’ll know that the cold temperatures aren’t doing my horse any harm.