Warming Up In Winter

Here’s what you need to know about the stresses of cold weather and how it affects a horse’s metabolic demands.
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Before the summer Olympic Games were held in Atlanta, Ga., considerable research effort went into studying how the horse is affected by heat and humidity. As a result of this research, veterinarians at the Olympics were well prepared to help the competing horses cope with heat stress. As I searched the research literature in preparation to write this column, I found that very little work has been done on the effects of cold weather on horses. If we are to help our horses withstand the stresses of cold weather, we must understand the metabolic demands brought on by exposure to low temperatures, dampness, and wind. We must know how to adjust the horse’s diet and exercise to meet those demands. This column will present what science has to tell us about helping our horses warm up in winter.

Diet And Cold Weather

Much has been learned in recent years about the nutritional requirements of horses. There is a consensus of opinion about the most appropriate diet for the horse when exposed to cold temperatures.

The horse’s energy requirements increase as the temperature drops, and a higher caloric intake is needed to meet the increased metabolic needs. Because corn metabolism produces more calories than oat metabolism, it is often thought that one should increase the amount of corn fed during winter. This is something of a myth, according to Joe Pagan, PhD, of Kentucky Equine Research, a nutrition research center in Lexington, Ky. Pagan states that corn produces very little "waste heat," or heat that the body can use to maintain body temperature

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Mimi Porter lives in Lexington, Ky., where she has practiced equine therapy since 1982. Prior to that, she spent 10 years as an athletic trainer at the University of Kentucky. Porter authored The New Equine Sports Therapy

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