How do you know if a horse is warm enough?

So I have made it all the way to December without freaking out about my pony being blanketless. I am proud of myself that I made it this long…especially with how muddy my Gen has been as of late. I went to the barn tonight though and now I am not so sure I am doing the right thing. I was always taught that a horse is not cold as long as their ears and nose are warm. Tonight Gen only had half of that. His ears were chilly! His nose though was okay. He was standing in his field when I got there today and he didn’t seem to be freezing, but high winds and snow flurries had me worried even before I got out of the car. I brought him in and checked his face for warmness and got really worried that he was chilly. It was almost time to come in so I put him in his stall and comforted myself with the thought that Gen’s blankets are all at the barn if he needs them. I left him naked because once you put a blanket on your horses natural protection is compromised. The blankets push the hair down and right now he has a really great fuzzy layer of protection that I don’t want to mess with. So tell me though…how do you know if a horse is cold? I know shivering, but he wasn’t even close to that. My old thinking was ears and nose, but tonight proved that they can be different so that doesn’t help anymore. I need advice…how do you tell if a horse is comfortable?


13 thoughts on “How do you know if a horse is warm enough?

  1. I wish I knew! We went from 63 degrees two days ago to 27 degrees today. My horses are fuzzy, but I swear they’re cold. Or, I just think they’re cold. I figure I’ll re-evaluate tomorrow and decide. I think they’ll be ok tonight.

  2. I never heard that about ears and nose. I always just felt his flank and looked at his tail. If his tail was tucked tight to his butt, he was cold.

  3. I have never heard of the ears and nose thing either. Living in frosty, windy Iowa, I feel your pain. My new pony is a thoroughbred, and she has not grown much of a coat in my opinion, but of course I am comparing her to my old draft cross that looked like a wooly mammoth (sp?). As long as they have shelter to get away from the wind, they should be fine. When I bring her into the heated barn (about 45-50 degrees) to groom and tack up, she gets warm and almost sweating, I have to trust that she knows how much hair she needs to grow to stay warm. She lives outside 24-7. And as for shivering, that is the bodies way of warming itself. It is hard, but hold out, your pony will be happier and healthier for it!

  4. Ears and nose are a good indicator. So is hair standing up, tail tucked under, shivering, or stomach tucked up tightly like he’s holding his breath. I don’t think there would be any harm in putting a rain sheet on him when it’s cold and wet. The hair getting matted down theory, as far as I know, really only applies when you are putting heavy blankets on the horse that are going to weight his coat down flat and keep it from growing in as thickly. I know plenty of horses that are naked all winter except for cold wet days, when they wear a sheet. Nothing wrong with that, IMO.

  5. I had never heard ears and nose, but that seems silly to me. I can be plenty warm in my jacket, but still have cold toes and ears. I would imagine the same goes for horses. Remember, horses are more comfortable at lower temperatures. We like between 60 and 80 degrees. They prefer 30-60*F. A horse left to its own devices will more likely overheat than get too chilly. Gen’s at a good weight and has a good immune system (as far as I know) so he should hold his own if it’s not sleeting or super de dooper cold. If he’s eating, drinking, and rolling in the mud as usual, I wouldn’t worry. I don’t know a steadfast rule, but I’d be more inclined to go with flanks or chest than ears or nose 🙂

  6. ETA-
    It always bugs me when people put a sheet on a furry horse. If you’re going to blanket, put a heavy weight on. A horse doesn’t keep warm with fur alone. He keeps warm by heating up the air TRAPPED in his coat. If you flatten the coat, and yes, a sheet counts, you are taking away that pocket of warm air. A horse with just a sheet on a cold day is going to actually be COLDER than a horse with nothing at all. If you’re going to blanket on the truly cold days, make sure you compensate for both the cold weather AND the natural defense that you are taking away from your horse.

  7. Hmmm..I’ve heard the same about the ears/nose. Also the same about the tail being held tight,etc. What is now causing me wonder is the fact that I’ve let Laz’s fur grow and didn’t throw on his turnout sheet until recently for added wind and water protection. I would wonder too if he’s more cold than without but when I went to visit him today and he’s running around and bucking and playing in windy 20’s (felt like 15) I’m assured his warm enough and doesn’t yet need his heavier coat.
    For Gen, I would just watch to see if he shivers OR is not drinking his water the same….my vet told me that a cold horse won’t drink.
    You have to go with your gut too.
    I’d rather my horse be a little cold with shelter to get out of wind, than hot and not able to cool down.

  8. I’m not too sure about the ears/nose thing either. I think their ears tend to get cold when it’s cold outside because they’re cartilaginous and don’t have a good blood supply. I’ve thought about the blanketing thing a lot since getting Mosco 5 years ago, especially since we live in a very cold climate (lived in Minnesota until moving to Iowa last year).

    Like ellmagcoop, I have a TB & he really doesn’t get much of a winter coat, despite growing up near the Canadian border in ND & always living in cold climates with no blanketing. Remember that they are cold weather animals & more tolerant of it than we are. Our horses have run-in sheds & don’t use them even in blizzard or below zero conditions. I usually go with my gut in deciding if they’re cold. Generally, cold horses look unhappy/miserable. If their coat isn’t doing it’s job, the snow will soak through rather than sitting on top & then they will get chilled. My barometer with my TB is generally that if he is maintaining his weight, I don’t blanket & just let his fur do the trick.

  9. I go by shivering. I don’t blanket my broodmares when they’re pregnant because I want them to get all the hair they can to get them through the winter. Taking a blanket off for foaling leaves them at a disadvantage because they haven’t gotten the hair they would have without being blanketed at all.

    That being said, we’ve had winters that got pretty cold and one of my mares needs a blanket to get through those times. If I see her shivering, I break out the blanket. She’s done just fine with that and never gotten sick or anything because she wasn’t warm enough. At least with her shivering has been a more than adequate guage for health purposes.

    I might add, I am a worrier about my horses. I want them to be as comfortable as possible so I don’t take shortcuts just because it’s easy. I believe shivering is a valid guage for a horse needing intervention from the cold.

  10. Update: I did decide to blanket Casey today. Our high was 33 degrees. He was being bratty, didn’t want to stand still, etc until a few minutes after I got the blanket on him. Then, he was back to his usual calm, placid self. So, my horse gets naughty when he’s cold. Since he was a starved throwaway in the past, perhaps he can’t regulate his body temperature as well.

  11. We have three horses – a draft cross who is the sweetest horse ever unless you try to put a blanket on her, which makes her cranky (she’ll stand out in a blizzard with her back to the wind if you’d let her). Of course she looks like a wooly mammoth. A warmblood who is completely indifferent to whether he has a blanket or not (he’s easy either way), and an appaloosa / quarter horse cross who gets really cranky without a blanket in the cold weather.
    My previous theory, based on my reading, was that it would be better not to blanket. I tried that, but Dan, the appaloosa, let me know that just wasn’t working for him. I’m not sure if it would work for other horses, but he tells me what he wants. Normally cheerful and affectionate, he gets cranky when it gets cold (ears pinned, shaking his head, etc.). When I put his blanket on he goes right back to happy, cheerful Dan. he just acts happy with it and unhappy without it.
    So, I blanket him when it gets cold, but I don’t blanket the other two.
    Good luck figuring it out. I think most horses are fine without a blanket, but s few horses like / need them.

  12. Last year I left Reveille without a blanket, and she grew a huge wooly coat that kept her warm through even the week of subzero temperatures we had. But when I worked her, she got SO sweaty, and it took SO long to cool her out! So this year I did a minimal trace clip on her — just the neck and shoulders, leaving the chest and girth hair on. Because she’s clipped even that much, I did blanket her this year, and she seems happy and comfortable outside 24/7 with the blanket and the clip. Plus, working her is so much easier now that she doesn’t get nearly so sweaty. Just that little bit of clip made a huge difference.

    So if you’re not working Gen and he doesn’t seem unhappy in his body language, I’d say he’s probably fine. Especially because he comes in at night. You’ll know if he’s cold — it’ll show in every line of his body! Rev got cold once last year, when we had a day of cold rain, so I brought her in, put a wool cooler on her, and let her warm up. She was fine after that. Point being that she just radiated misery, and I could see that immediately when I pulled up to the barn, without even being able to see her shiver. You’ll know. 🙂

  13. Pingback: Brrrrrrrr…. « Training My Off Track Thoroughbred

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