Mythbuster Monday: Horses Are Not Losing Body Heat if Snow is Accumulating on Their Backs
On Mythbuster Monday, we tackle a variety of equestrian myths to either bust or confirm. Today’s discussion: Is your horse cold if the snow is sitting on his back?
It’s Mythbuster Monday, where Horse Nation dives into different equestrian myths and provides research-based evidence to either bust or confirm those myths. Today’s topic: Is your horse cold if the snow isn’t melting off his back? Is the horse losing body heat? Should he be blanketed? Read further to find out!
Myth: Horses are not losing body heat if snow is accumulating on their backs
Myth or Fact: Fact
During the winter months many equestrians question if their pasture kept horses are warm outside.
Most of us are aware that horses generate heat by eating. A horse’s hindgut produces significant heat when digesting hay. When the temperatures drop, horse owners should increase the amount of hay available to their equines to help them maintain their body temperatures.
But how do you know if your horse is keeping in the heat from the extra forage? Some say that if the snow sits on the horse’s back and doesn’t melt, the horse isn’t loosing heat.
An article by the Kentucky Equine Research Staff discusses the horse’s winter coat. A horse’s winter coat is thick and dense. Natural oils in the fur prohibit precipitation from penetrating deep into the coat.
The article states that if the snow is building up on top of your horse, this is proof that your horse is not losing body heat. The heat is not escaping through the fur to melt the snow on the horse’s back.
In another article by SRH Veterinary Services, Michael Foss, DVM, states that a horse’s hair is a great insulator. He goes on to say that the heat rising from the body does not go anywhere because the hairs trap it to keep the horse warm.
Dr. Foss further contends that frigid temperatures and snowfall are not particularly chilling to horses with an adequate coat. Snow that accumulates on top of the horse’s coat provides an insulated blanket over the coat that does not penetrate the skin or draw away body heat.
Bruce Connally, DVM, makes his statements in an article by The Horse. He states that the best blanket we can give a horse is a little fat under a good hair coat. He said with these two things they don’t lose much body heat, allowing the snow to accumulate on top of their backs and rumps. Dr. Connally also that the hair’s natural oil has a waterproofing effect.
The New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station put out another article on the matter. In this article they stated that a horse with an adequate winter coat should be accumulating snow on its back. They go on to explain that if the snow is melting, the horse is losing heat. Also, if the snow is melting off of the horse’s back, he is getting wet, allowing for further heat reduction.
After diving into the research, it appears that a horse is retaining heat if the snow accumulates on his back. Research shows that a horse’s winter coat is dense and holds the body heat in so that it does not reach the surface to melt the snow. One of the ways the coat keeps moisture from getting to the skin is by secreting oils that sloth the precipitation off rather than absorb it. If snow is accumulating on your horse’s rump in the winter time, you horse is holding heat.
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