Horses have their own built-in warmth system – a massive ‘internal heater’ called the hind gut – an important part of their digestive system for many reasons, which if fuelled correctly, will keep your horse warm, even on the coldest days.
Tip 5: How to keep your horse warm during winter
The hind gut operates by fermenting fibre in a similar way to how a compost heap ferments as it breaks down vegetation in your garden. If you have a compost heap, you’ll know that it is usually a warm environment – especially after a fresh supply of grass has been added! This is also how it works with your horse – the microbial population in the hind gut generates heat through fermentation of the fibre ingested by your horse. This heat in acts like your horses very internal central heating system. As is often the case with horses, it comes down to fibre and a horse having access to enough of it during winter to be able to keep themselves warm and comfortable.
The rule of providing plenty of fibre applies to all horses however, it is particularly important for horses who live out in the field during winter to have access to a sufficient amount of conserved forage (i.e. hay or haylage). When they are outside they are exposed to the harsh winter elements such as windchill and wet, which can have a pronounced effect on their ability to stay warm.
There has been research done on horses outside in cold weather that have empty stomachs, compared with horses who have full stomachs (supplemented with ad-lib hay alone) – the difference was remarkable. Horses who had a full and functioning digestive tract, in particular the hind gut, could withstand temperatures without shivering, of up to 20 degrees lower than the horses who did not have access to sufficient forage.
This shows that, while we all understand that rugs on horses are important and in many cases necessary, ensuring that your horse has enough conserved forage when out in the field (as well as in the stable) during the winter is one of the most importance factors to keeping them warm, over and above almost anything else.
Tips to remember:
- Horses are designed to withstand fairly cold and in some cases very cold conditions without rugs at all (depending on their breed of course), as long as they have plenty of access to forage (remember that in the wild, horses are able to search for natural shelter from the wind and rain – natural shelter is still important!)
- A healthy functioning hind gut generates heat which acts as a horses own ‘internal central heater’
- Always ensure that your horse has plenty of access to forage – with volume being more important than the quality in this instance (we’re not suggesting you feed mouldy hay!)
- You can enhance a horses hind gut health by feeding Pink Mash, which helps feed the hind gut with antioxidants, prebiotics, probiotics, and highly fermentable fibre.
Following this tip will ensure you are doing all you can to keep your horses warm, healthy and happy this winter.