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Managing a full coat on working horses living out full time

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  • Managing a full coat on working horses living out full time

    I'm hoping someone might have some ideas for me.
    The situation:
    We're using some horses fairly hard right now. We are bringing cows in from the pasture, and the horses are getting some hard work. The horses all have a full coat. I would really, really like to leave it that way. I haven't run into a problem where the temperature is dreadfully cold, when I have to put a wet horse away, but I am expecting it to happen one of these days. I'm wondering, mostly, if there is a breathable turnout blanket that I can put on a wet horse if it is getting really cold, and take off later once the horse is dry.

    I REALLY do not want to clip and have to blanket; the regular hard work is going to end soon, when the cows are on a different pasture. (In the new pasture, the cows will come in at feeding time, so horse work will pretty much consist of walking through the herd. With the cows in the new pasture, I don't expect horses to even get sweaty.) Right now, we walk through the herd to check them, and bring in any cow that is in heat and needs to be AI bred. So currently, the horses get some galloping (and sweating) while moving a cow, and then a nice long walk, and then maybe another cow, etc. So the horses are well cooled out when we're done, from all the walking (and they stand saddled and tied with a haynet for 20 minutes or so while we breed cows). But, the horses are usually still at least a little bit wet when I put them out. They're dry in an hour, and it hasn't yet been below 25 or so when I put them away. If I can, I go currycomb their dry coat so their hair is fluffy and useful as an insulator. They've been fine, bright eyed and bushy tailed, so far. They come right to us to go to work every day, no sore backs, galls, or grumpy attitudes, their coats are shiny under the veneer of dirt...so I'm happy with this so far. But I am worried about turning a wet horse out if it is really cold.

    I'd really like to be able to throw a blanket on them if they're wet, and it is below 25 degrees, and go take it off later. Does this work with the new breathable, waterproof turnouts? I know the older style blankets would just get wet and sodden and keep the horse cold.

    Again, I don't want to clip, or blanket except to dry off a horse without chilling him.

    I have no constraints on appearance/turnout besides what is comfortable and healthy for the horse and rider. So no worries about manure stains, fuzzy hats covering troxel schooling helmets, and the like. (Sorry, Hunting Etiquette and Turnout Masters.) But I'm sure there are plenty of folk here who have used excellent horsemanship and management skills in working horses hard in cold weather!

  • #2
    Could you stick them in a stall for awhile with a cooler on? Or put a cooler underneath a sheet? (Not sure about that one...but it must be better than putting a turnout on...)
    Charlie Brown (1994 bay TB X gelding)
    White Star (2004 grey TB gelding)

    Mystical Moment, 1977-2010.


    • #3
      You can safely put a blanket-lined canvas cover (possibly what you guys call a New Zealand rug) on a damp horse. Canvas is a natural fibre and really does breathe. We do it all the time here.


      • Original Poster

        No stalls here, though if I absolutely had to have one we could rearrange the tractors and put portable panels up in a haybarn. The horses are great with standing tied for several hours, with or without a haynet. But I think they're happier, and possibly warmer, out grazing and moving around.

        There aren't too many New Zealand rugs around here, though they do show up on Craigslist sometimes. Good to hear that works!


        • #5
          I have a cooler lined with Coolmax fabric and it works really well at wicking away moisture quickly, even when the air is damp. And my Coolmax saddle pad wicks water so well that it gets damp just hanging on the rail during damp weather.
          So I found this turnout that's lined with Coolmax:


          A couple of times I've needed to throw a blanket onto my horse when she's wet, and she seems to be able to dry herself out, using her own body heat, under the blanket. But I try to avoid doing that, it can't be good to trap the moisture and heat below the blankets.


          • #6
            Back on track cooler

            Is it possible to throw on a cooler while they are standing at the haynet?

            You could try the Back on Track fleece coolers:

            I don't have one yet, but my coach and her daughter use them and said they really do dry the horse much faster than a regular cooler, so perhaps they'd be dry enough to just turn out in a shorter period of time.


            • #7
              I have put cooler under blanket and come back 5-6 hours later and removed.

              However, I have found for the type of use you describe that just going ahead with a trace clip enables work to get done and horses to be happy w/o blankets. This applies if they have turnout w/shelter, and even darned cold weather.


              • #8
                FWIW, my 2 cents:

                I live in Montana. I hunt 1 horse twice a week and do a 3rd conditioning set sometimes. The other horse I work 5 days a week in dressage with the occasional conditioning set thrown in. In the past I have used my cowhorse in winter fairly hard. They all have thick coats and get fairly sweaty. I do not clip at all. They live in outside pens with shelters. On every cattle ranch around here (many with more than a thousand mother cows), the horses are used hard all day, especially during calving (and some folks calve in Jan-Feb) saddles pulled when done, turn out into their pens and given hay. I do the same. I don't do any "walk till dry". They get hay when finished. Never a problem. There are still a few ranches that feed all day with teams. They get steaming wet and they live in even colder country. Same routine.

                The most important things are: shelter from wind and access to hay. Remember the horse has a wonderful internal combustion engine/furnace...aka the hay digesting gut. Plus their nice coat. If I really feel like it I can brush out their coat when it is dry to fluff it up.

                I personally think stalls can be colder than He*l......horses just standing around without being able to move around a lot.

                If I'm trailering a horse home some distance and it is still sweaty AND in an open stock trailer, then I will blanket *for the ride* because that is a pretty good wind chill.

                Here, it is normal for it to get in the low teens/single digets at night with the occasional cold front blowing in with 30 below temps.

                The only times I have clipped is when I've been in a warmer climate for a few weeks and then the heavy coat is a hinderance. But I avoid clipping if I'm coming back to Montana for the whole winter (versus coming back in April) as I feel blankets can never be the equal of a good natural coat.

                The more you blanket a horse, the more they'll need it. AND blanketing flattens out the hair, decreasing the loft and insulation (once the hair is dry).


                • #9
                  One other consideration is your humidity level and ability for the coat to dry. Here, with the low humidity, coats dry without a problem. I have no idea what it would be like in a very humid climate.

                  The other thing to watch for is skin fungal infections if the coat does not dry well. Not life threatening but rather not deal with! One reason I wash my saddle pads frequently.


                  • #10
                    I use an antisweat sheet under a regular sheet. If you blanket a horse with a full coat, they may sweat more under the blanket and end up even wetter. I usually throw them in a stall with a flake of hay, go inside and warm up and in an hour or so they are dry. I don't like coolers because they tend to slip off.


                    • #11
                      I belonged to a college polo team where winter temps were regularly 10 to 20F, the horses (mainly TBs) all lived outside, and were not clipped or blanketed. The horses would work pretty hard for about 4 hours, 4x a week.

                      What we did was to walk them out until they stopped blowing, then rub them down thoroughly (against the hair) with a dry towel. Then toss on a cooler and let them nibble some hay inside, out of the wind, while we cleaned the tack. Occasionally they'd still be a bit damp around the edges when we turned them out, but none of them ever acted cold or uncomfortable. The only issue we ever had was making sure they dried quickly and completely under that haircoat so as not to encourage rainrot.

                      I'm following pretty much the same routine with the horses I foxhunt since they, too, live out in a big enough pasture, with varied enough terrain, that blankets would be a real PITA.


                      • #12
                        Here is a link to some New Zealand Rugs......



                        • #13
                          here's an example of one of the best canvas covers we have here. The fit beautfully, last for many years (I'm still using one we got 2nd-hand 7 years ago!) and they're 100% waterproof. The cotton/jute mix ones in the ebay link above are much cheaper as they're not nearly as good - or waterproof!


                          • Original Poster

                            So, Mountainbells, what you are saying, is, I have no problem.

                            I like that!

                            No, it's not humid here, it's a high elevation desert climate. Makes for great hay. If it's windy when we ride, the horses are generally 75% or more dry by the time we put them away. In the summer, it's been so dry that I've unsaddled a horse (wet under saddle blanket) and gone into the tack room for a currycomb; when I am back with the currycomb the horse is dry.

                            Thanks for the links to the good New Zealand rugs.

                            So far, the horses have not acted uncomfortable or cold. I HAVE seen them too cold: in late August or early September, it can be 25 or 30 degrees F in the mornings, when the horses still have their short summer coats. They often run around to warm themselves up, I can sometimes hear them gallop around at 3 am. You can tell they are too cold in the morning when you go get them to ride, because they sort of hunch themselves up and generally LOOK uncomfortable. Putting the saddle on and getting the horse moving works great.


                            • #15
                              I have a wooly Arab that I don't clip. I ride hard, he gets sweaty and I just walk until his chest isn't hot to the touch and he isn't breathing hard, but he's definitely still wet. I put a wool cooler on him after I untack and leave him in his stall for about a half hour while he eats his grain and some hay. He'll still be a little wet around the edges, but he's mostly dry. He seems happy enough to go back outside at that point. He's a weenie about cold too being designed to live in a desert and all, but he seems to be okay with that system. In years past I've had to blanket him, but this year he's finally not growing (he's coming 7) and seems to have put his energy into growing a nice coat and he hasn't worn a blanket yet this year.


                              • #16
                                Just emphasizing one point in Mountainbells' excellent advice: Hay, hay, hay. Not grain. When I had horses that needed grain (and that hasn't been for a good while), when nasty winter weather caused a shutdown of riding activity, I followed the wise practice of reducing, sometimes even eliminating the grain, and upping the hay- you get warmer but not crazed from inactivity horses when you go that route.

                                My ideal for winter is out 24/7 but with access to shelter, a lovely stream that doesn't ice up for water access, and a nice big round bale of good grass hay that can be munched on free choice.


                                • #17

                                  Hope it works for you, but as always, your horses will tell you what the *real deal* is. also, I don't have any pure TBs. Others with experience with them might feel that pure TBs don't handle the cold like others do...I really can not speak to that.

                                  A very big ditto to Beverley. Some studies done back east and reported in the QH journal a few years back talked about keeping weight on during winter and lots of hay (and not very good quality either), not grain, did the best job as that required the most digestion/fermentation which had heat as the by product.

                                  And Beverley, doesn't it seem like the "lovely stream that doesn't ice up" is the best part...no chopping ice at 30 below!!!!

                                  Happy hunting!


                                  • Original Poster

                                    Well, the only grain-eaters around here are young bulls on performance test (growth evaluation, not rideability, jump and movement!) and the milk cow.

                                    I have a high-fat senior 'complete' feed that the horses get when I catch and saddle them, or pellet/cubes for pack horses that are also a complete ration. But I always 'heat supplement' the horses with hay, if it is going to be below zero, I'll feed extra at night, so they almost but not quite cleaning up the hay, and of course have access to non-frozen water. Last winter, the 'new' mare who had run 'wild' her first four years (on a ranch) taught the TB to eat snow, they consumed a whole lot less water, and they did just fine. But I made sure that they did have water, of course.

                                    I was explaining to the nurse, last year, that she shouldn't feel sorry for those horses with snow on their backs: first, they are so well insulated from that thick hair that the snow doesn't melt. Second, they have their own furnace stoked with hay- the bacteria break down the 'undigestible' fiber to create heat, just like wood in the woodstove. She felt better after that.

                                    I'm sure a TB that's a nervous, hard keeper might have trouble in the cold, but mine has a lovely thick coat, and he does just fine. In fact, the cold and uncomfortable horses in late summer (with a short coat) have been the chestnut mares, two straight AQHA and a QH/TB mare.


                                    • #19
                                      Heck, Fillabeana, sounds like you're doing a great job...figures..most ranching folks are pretty practical!!


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by Beverley View Post
                                        My ideal for winter is out 24/7 but with access to shelter, a lovely stream that doesn't ice up for water access, and a nice big round bale of good grass hay that can be munched on free choice.
                                        Agreed. The horses who have arrived here in the winter (all TBs) gained weight despite the cold because they were able to keep their furnaces well-stoked.