WHEN HORSES COME IN FROM THE COLD

EQUUS - - Eq Perspectiv­e -

How a horse re­sponds to win­ter weather may have more to do with his in­di­vid­ual makeup than his breed or body type, ac­cord­ing to new re­search from Nor­way.

For a study con­ducted over two win­ters, re­searchers at the Nor­we­gian In­sti­tute for Agri­cul­ture and En­vi­ron­men­tal Re­search chose 22 horses of var­i­ous breeds---about half were cold­blooded na­tive Nordic horses and the rest came from warm-blooded blood­lines. The horses, who ranged from 3.0 to 6.5 on the body con­di­tion score (BCS) scale, were all ac­cli­mated to the lo­cal weather. Be­fore the start of the study, sam­ples of each horse’s coat were clipped and weighed to quan­tify their thick­ness.

Dur­ing the three-month study pe­ri­ods, each horse was ob­served turned out with­out a blan­ket in a spe­cially de­signed pad­dock that of­fered three op­tions: stay­ing out­doors, go­ing into a small run-in shed and go­ing into an iden­ti­cal run-in space that con­tained a small over­head, in­frared heater.

The re­searchers are quick to point out that the use of heaters in the study does not sug­gest that this amenity needs to be pro­vided for horses. “We wanted to cre­ate a third choice,” ex­plains Grete H. M. Jør­gensen, PhD. “If the horse would rather go into a heated shel­ter com­part­ment in­stead of the non-heated com­part­ment, this might sug­gest that the weather con­di­tions were chal­leng­ing his ther­moreg­u­la­tion strate­gies so much that the horse needed [more pro­tec­tion than the un­heated shel­ter could pro­vide].”

The study horses were ex­posed to a va­ri­ety of weather con­di­tions in dif­fer­ent set­tings. First, they were turned out for two-hour in­cre­ments in their home pad­docks with­out blan­kets; then they were al­lowed into the ex­per­i­men­tal pen for an hour, and their shel­ter choices were noted ev­ery minute. Any signs that they were hav­ing trou­ble reg­u­lat­ing their body tem­per­a­ture, in­clud­ing shiv­er­ing or stand­ing tensely against the

Ref­er­ence:

Equine Ve­teri­nary Jour­nal, cold, were also doc­u­mented.

As might be ex­pected, the data showed that wet, windy weather drove horses to seek shel­ter sig­nif­i­cantly more of­ten than cold, dry con­di­tions. How­ever, the re­searchers re­port that each horse’s in­di­vid­ual char­ac­ter­is­tics seemed to in­flu­ence his pref­er­ences more than gen­eral fac­tors: For ex­am­ple, horses with thicker coats, re­gard­less of breed or body con­di­tion, were more likely to spend time out­doors.

In cold, dry weather, only about 50 per­cent of the horses sought shel­ter in the heated com­part­ment, in­di­cat­ing that over­all, the horses had no need for the ex­tra warmth it pro­vided. How­ever, when the weather turned wet or windy, horses were drawn to the ar­ti­fi­cial heat source.

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