A Horse in Winter: Uniquely Suited to Outdoor Fun
Dec 31, 2014 03:39AM
● By Jennifer McDermott
Here in the Northeast, winter winds keep us close to the hearth. It is a time of dormancy for most, and, in its most poetic form an introspective time needed for the regrowth that comes in the spring. Like most domesticated animals, horses follow our lead without much of a choice. With the best of intentions, we blanket them, keep them in heated barns, limit their activity, feed to keep extra weight on. Should we be doing so? Can the horse inspire us to have a healthier and happier time this winter both mentally and physically? Is it possible for us to follow their lead and see winter as a time of active exploration and discovery?
Horses are migratory animals well suited for all seasons. Winter is no exception and most would argue the colder weather suits them just fine. Nature provided a complex outer shell that takes them in and out of any climate. Their coat is incredibly adaptable, efficiently cooling them in the summer and trapping heat in the winter. Each tiny hair follicle is engaged in a muscle system that lifts it up and down for warmth and shifts it back and forth to aid in wicking away moisture. The only time a healthy horse may need assistance with the elements is when frigid, sleeting rain and snow beat down. Shelter, plenty of forage to stoke their internal furnace and water is all a horse needs. If one chooses to allow the horse’s coat to function in this natural way after a time of blanketing, the first season should be monitored because the coat system needs to adjust to full functioning after a period of dormancy.
The natural “barefoot” hoof is another marvel of function in the snow. The proper balance of frog and bulb allows suction to form and the bars give traction in the snow thus making them far more sure-footed than a shod horse. If one chooses to keep shoes on in the winter, a special, cleated “snowshoe” should be put on to insure safety in the snow.
As with humans, the functioning of the outer can’t happen without the functioning of the inner. The coat and hoof can’t happen without the functioning of the gut, the source of the immune system. Winter brings on its own stresses with shifting weather patterns, stall confinement, loss of pasture or a poorly ventilated barn. This all affects the horse’s gut health and, therefore, their immune system. Good forage, elimination of fortified feeds, the addition of probiotics and prebiotics and fresh water is the best you can do at a minimum inside the barn. However, nothing can replace getting them outside and active for brain and body. The same could be said for us. The indoor arena is a good substitute but you will see energy and curiosity go up when they venture out. The horseman will find the challenge in learning how to assess their horse’s adaptability and how best to keep their equine friend in the thinking side of his brain while everyone remains safe.
There is only one thing better than looking up into a clear, blue, winter sky and inhaling the crisp air and, that is doing from atop a healthy horse. Or, better yet, doing it at a gallop across a field with newly fallen snow. Some have likened it to skiing powder. The success of your first venture out depends on your preparation. Set yourself up for success and you will open a whole new awareness. Rider, layer as a skier would. Horse, you are perfect.
Jennifer McDermott’s exploration of horse energy began while rehabilitating horses in Fairfield County over 12 years ago. With her equine Reiki practice and passion for preventative health, she has embraced the three-pronged approach of foundational rehabilitation: nutrition, bodywork and positive reinforcement teaching. She now lives in Guilford and devotes herself to the rehabilitation of the Off the Track Thoroughbred.