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Winter problems - overheating and dehydration of the horse

Published: 2017-01-13 18:05:49 Categories: Health Rss feed

Zimowe problemy - jak zapobiec odwodnieniu konia background source:

Can the problem of dehydration or overheating apply to horses during winter season? Well, YES, it can! Both these problems result from particular factors, which can be not so obvious when we're dealing with winter weather, namely low temperatures. It is good to know what may contribute to such imbalance in the horse's organism and how to control it.

Preventing overheating

Horse, unlike smaller mammals, such as dog, or even human, has a great mass in proportion to his body surface. That makes horses huge "heat generator" - their bodies need a lot of time to warm up, but also to cool down. It is analogous to a huge furnace, which needs time to warm up, but it can keep its temperature for a really long time before it cools off completely.

Horses' thermal tolerance depends on the season and the conditions they are used to. If your horse rarely goes outside, you should not take him out for a long lasting graze, regardless of the temperature. When you're dealing with a sudden drop of temperature during night, you should also be careful and gradually accustom your horse to the freeze (even those, who spend a lot of time on a pasture), letting them out every day for a bit longer than the day before. It's also worth considering, when the temperature outside  reaches, for example, -20 putting a rug on your horse, even an unshaved one. Naturally, horses are 24/7 outside, so they have time and opportunity to adapt to varying weather conditions. Nowadays, even those horses who graze on pastures for hours spend their nights in boxes, where the temperature is higher than outside. Thus, while dealing with severe frost, especially when you keep your horse in a heated stable, either resign from letting your horse outside during very low temperatures, or lower the temperature in the stable gradually, so your horse won't get thermal shock.

przegrzanie odwodnienie konia source:

Even during a bit colder days, if your training has some exercises that would properly engage the horse's body, increasing its temperature, your horse will still need a properly long period of time to cool down so his organism would come back to its standard parameters. Thus, you should never shorten the time of walking your horse out after a training. Winter will force you to use a rug. When you finish training, you shouldn't allow your horse's body to lose the temperature too quickly, when there are minus temperatures outside. Which is why you should put a rug not only on the horse's croup after the training, but also put it on the saddle so you can properly cover all the crucial parts, including flank.

Remember not to put the rug too early or too late. The best moment is after the last trot, after at least a few or a dozen or so minutes of walk. Why? Even if your horse's skin seems cool when you touch it, his body temperature may still be high. A rug put on too early might trap his body: it will keep the excess of heat and won't allow the sweat to vaporise. When you put the rug on too early your horse might warm up again and start sweating instead of cooling and calming down.

After you finish your training, it's good to put the rug not only on your horse's croup, but even on your saddle so the horse's crucial parts, including his flank, would be hidden; source:, phot. Julia Świętochowska

You should also keep in minds that the aim of cooling down is not only coming back to the initial body temperature, but also restoring normal functioning of the muscles. The horse's circulatory system needs time to get rid of metabolites from the muscles and restore the standard pH level. The required time depends on how tired the horse's muscles are after training. The longer and more intense the training, the more tired they will be. 

After taking the saddle off your horse's back in the stable, put a rug on him so it covers all of him and fasten it, so it won't fall. You should take off the rug when your horse's body temperature is back to natural, when his sweat is gone, as the rug should absorb all the water from his body surface (which is why it is so important to choose an appropriate rug, depending on its intended use). However, you cannot allow your horse to wear the rug for too long, because, as we've already mentioned, your "protection" will be beside the point and might have the opposite result to your desired one.  Of course, we are not speaking about horses that are being shaved for winter, because it is obvious that these horses, which are deprived of their natural winter protection need an "artificial" protection provided by the use of rugs. What is more, if your horse is not shaved and there is not so cold outside, it is good to resign from leaving your horse in a rug and take it off right after you two come back to the stable. Even more so if your stable is heated!

derka w boksie After taking the saddle off your horse, it's good to put a rug on his whole body and leave him like that for a moment in his stall; source:, phot. Julia Świętochowska

Preventing dehydration

Horses susceptibility to dehydration is dependent mainly on their diet and how advanced his training is. The horse's water requirements might increase not only during summer, but also during winter. During colder months many horses eat more hay due to lack of fresh grass. Hay requires digestion in the large intestine, which requires much liquids for this process. If the horse doesn't have enough water in his organism to digest the fibre contained in hay, it may cause colic.

Your horse also needs liquids to cool his body down after effort. Having a thick layer of hair during winter, he sweats more. Bowels movements also increase while performing exercises, which lowers the possibility of colic. Thus, more effort during winter time will encourage your horse's body to better manage its water supplies.

It turns out that many horses don't like drinking very cold water, so try to provide your horse with constant access to cool, but not freezing water. It's worth placing a block of mineral salts which your horse could lick. It will allow to not only fulfill deficiencies in his organism that he has sweated out during training, but it also should stimulate his thirst, at the same time causing him to drink more. You can also consider administering electrolytes, which will help increasing the water use. His kidneys will naturally eliminate the excess of electrolytes, so there is nothing wrong in offering them even all year long (but in right amounts!).

odwodnienie konia zimą source:

If you regularly monitor how much water your horse uses, it can help you notice various changes. Unfortunately, it will be difficult for you to check how much your horse drinks if, for example, he spends a lot of time on a pasture, where all the animals have one source of water, or if he has an automatic waterhole without flowmeter in his stall.

So the easiest way to check on your horse's hydration will be testing his skin elasticity. How? Nip a piece of the skin on his neck with your thumb and index finger, pulling it slightly. When you let the skin go, it should quickly come back to its natural place. The longer it takes to come back, the more your horse is dehydrated. If it doesn't come back at all it means that your horse might be severely dehydrated! In such case you should immediately contact a veterinarian.

Keeping your horse well hydrated, cooling him down properly after each training, you will definitely help him safely and happily survive the whole winter :)

On the basis of: How do I keep my horse hydrated during the winter?,, author: vet. Harry W. Werner, accessed: 12.01.2016