So the winter has begun; well, according to the meteorological calendar, at least. Our weathermen mark the change of seasons on the first day of March, June, September and December – it makes it easier on the statistics than the infinitely variable 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd or 23rd of the month 😀
Our horses (were talking Northern hemisphere here) have long noticed the shortening days and the cooling off and have equipped themselves with all they need for the winter months – a thick coat. Of course, if you brought the winter blankets out early enough, then the winter coat may not be quite so thick, nevertheless, it is there. And to compensate, some people even go so far as to clip this wonderfully adequate coat so that our horse doesn’t sweat too much – and particularly not under that lovely winter blanket.
As you might guess, the idea of a winter blanket is not one much cherished by Sabots Libres: horses are designed with their own blanket – in fact, it’s a sort of All Weather Protection. The hairs lie in such a configuration as to insure good drainage of both rainwater and sweat. The oft heard cry of not putting your horse out to pasture (or into its stall) when it is still wet, is really a nonsense. Horses in the wild will exert themselves and then stand around, sweaty, in the wind, without a care in the world – and they don’t catch cold! And I dare you to try this one – put your horse out to pasture for 24 hours when there is a thick layer of snow on the ground and a cutting wind; make sure there is some shelter for the worst moments, but when you come back the next day, have a look where your horse has been in the past day (should be easy with the footprints in the snow) and the chances are that he has wandered around in the snow a bit and at some stage made a bed in it; chances are the shelter is unused.
And on the subject of cold – when we get to the final stages of hypothermia, we shiver (uncontrollably). A horse does not get that far: it shivers very early on not because it is getting too cold but to keep its temperature up. If it is not successful, then there is a whole barrage of tricks for keeping warm – not least of which, eating. But also by shutting off circulation to the legs, temporarily; closing down the surface capilary-structures for periods of time and simply by erecting the coat and thus trapping a layer of highly insulating air. This last solution is obviously seriously hampered by the use of a winter blanket and it is almost certain that a horse with winter blanket will be colder than one without.
Even if you are not (yet) convinced about blankets, now is a good time to seriously consider removing those horseshoes once and for all. Although the reports of doom are much overplayed (-23˚C could happen but not in the way nor with the certainty that the doommongers will have us believe), the chance of snow is still reasonably high. And snow combines badly with horseshoes.
Being metal (in most cases), the shoe will rapidly take on the temperature of its surroundings – the snow – and will become an ideal surface for ice to form. This ice then conglomerates to eventually become one large chunk of ice within the periphery of the shoe. As the horse continues to move over the snow, this chunk of ice grows even further but now also downwards creating a high unstable and dangerous surface for the horse to walk upon.
Additionally, with shoes, the horse is unable to properly feel and assess the surface upon which he is walking and although under some circumstances, he may appear to be afforded more traction, the net result is one of much increased chance of injury. It is therefore advisable to remove the shoes now, before the winter really sets in, and when the spring comes, leave the shoes off! Your horse really does not need them.
If you wish to know more about barefoot riding, please do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org