Horses are known for their hardy nature and ability to withstand tough conditions, but when it comes to extreme cold, can they really handle it? It turns out that horses can handle cold temperatures to some extent, provided they have the proper protection, nutrition, and care. In this article, we’ll discuss how horses can survive in extremely cold conditions, and how to keep them safe and healthy during winter months.
What is Extreme Cold?
The term “extreme cold” is used to describe temperatures below -20°C (-4°F). In certain parts of the world, temperatures can drop below -30°C (-22°F) during the winter months. Such temperatures can cause frostbite, hypothermia, and other conditions that can be dangerous or even fatal for horses.
How do Horses Handle Extreme Cold?
Horses are well adapted to survive in cold temperatures, as they have a thick coat of fur that insulates them against the cold. They also have a layer of fat beneath their skin that helps to keep them warm, and they can increase the amount of fur they grow during the winter months to provide additional protection.
However, horses can only survive in extreme cold if they have access to food, water, and shelter. If they are deprived of these necessities, their bodies will start to shut down, and they can suffer from frostbite, hypothermia, and other serious conditions.
How to Protect Horses in Extreme Cold
To protect horses from extreme cold, owners should provide them with the following:
- Shelter: Horses should have access to a shelter to protect them from wind, snow, and other elements. The shelter should be large enough for the horses to move around in, and should be kept clean and free of drafts.
- Blankets: Horses should be fitted with blankets to keep them warm in cold weather. Blankets should be made of breathable fabric, and should be regularly checked for signs of wear and tear.
- Food: Horses need extra food during the winter months to help them generate body heat and stay warm. Owners should provide their horses with hay, grain, and other nutrient-rich foods to help them stay healthy.
- Water: Horses need access to fresh water throughout the winter months. Owners should check water buckets regularly to make sure the water is not frozen, and should provide warm water during especially cold days.
- Exercise: Horses need regular exercise to keep their bodies warm. Owners should exercise their horses at least once per day during the winter months, even if temperatures are below freezing.
Preventing Frostbite and Hypothermia
Horses can suffer from frostbite and hypothermia if they are exposed to extreme cold for too long. To prevent these conditions, owners should regularly check their horses for signs of cold stress and take immediate action if any are found.
Signs of Frostbite in Horses
Frostbite occurs when the skin and underlying tissues freeze due to prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. Common signs of frostbite in horses include:
- Cold or discolored skin, especially around the ears, muzzle, and legs.
- Pain or discomfort when the affected area is touched.
- Swelling and blistering of the skin.
- Loss of sensation in the affected area.
Signs of Hypothermia in Horses
Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature drops below 35°C (95°F). Common signs of hypothermia in horses include:
- Shivering and trembling.
- Slowed or shallow breathing.
- Lethargy and weakness.
- Confusion and disorientation.
- Loss of consciousness.
Treating Frostbite and Hypothermia
If a horse is suffering from frostbite or hypothermia, owners should take immediate action to treat the condition. For frostbite, owners should gently warm the affected area with warm water or a heated blanket. For hypothermia, owners should move the horse to a warm, sheltered area and provide them with warm food and drinks.
Horses can handle extreme cold temperatures, provided they have the proper protection, nutrition, and care. Owners should provide their horses with shelter, blankets, food, water, and exercise during the winter months to prevent frostbite and hypothermia. If a horse does suffer from frostbite or hypothermia, owners should take immediate action to treat the condition.
- The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care. (2002). Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press.
- Hill, E. (2014). Equine Nutrition and Feeding. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
- Nankervis, K., & Kellon, E. (2004). Equine cold stress. The Horse: Equine Veterinary Education, 16(12), 796-803.