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Dwindling hours of daylight may leave you feeling rushed and glum, but the shorter days of winter can have a different effect on your horse. Here’s what they mean to him:
• ! tHicKER coat Winter hair coat growth is triggered as the number of daylight hours decline, a process that started way back in midsummer. By the time the sun is setting in late afternoon, your horse is probably plenty fuzzy. As days begin to lengthen again in mid-December, his body will begin receiving hormonal signals to shed his winter coat and new summer growth will begin, long before you’re thinking of spring.
• NiGHt Vision Although a horse’s eyesight doesn’t change in the winter per se, the shorter days allow him to put his superior night vision to use. Horses
with healthy eyes can see far better in the dark than we can. In fact, a moonlit night is similar to full sunshine in terms of how well he can see. Do be mindful, however, that horses need longer to adjust when moving from brightly lit to darker areas than we do. When leading your horse out of a bright barn, stand with him for a minute or two before negotiating tricky terrain or the pasture gate.
• (oRMonaL cHanGEs Shorter periods of daylight affect melatonin production, which shuts down the production of reproductive hormones, but other endocrine changes aren’t fully understood yet. There is ongoing research into how short days may affect metabolic conditions such as pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID) and insulin regulation, so we may know more in the coming years. Until then, keep an eye on susceptible horses as the days shorten, watching for signs that their condition may be worsening.