When winter is upon us, it’s easy to start wondering about your ponies welfare out in the elements. This article will cover how the cold weather may affect your ponies and adult horses, and how to recognize that they’re uncomfortable. Also, we’ll provide some tips on helping your pony manage winter and its icy, slippery conditions. If you are wondering how the winter chill bothers or not bothers your ponies too badly, this article will provide some answers to your questions.
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So, Do Ponies Get Cold?
Absolutely! Ponies are mammals, and mammals are affected by cold weather. The reason you don’t often see ponies exhibiting behavior like they’re cold is because they’re made for colder temperatures than humans can stand. Most horses can take up to -0 below temperatures nearly constantly, as long as they’re provided food, water, and shelter. It’s critical they have all three, though, because they’ll use the food and water for calories to burn to warm themselves, and shelter to protect them from the wind and precipitation.
Ponies Keep Themselves Warm?
It’s not that they’re heating themselves, it’s that they’re burning excessive amounts of calories when it’s brutally cold outside. As those calories are burned off, the ponies become warmer because metabolism acts like an interior over, warming mammals bodies as they process food and water.
Ponies may actually burn up to 25% more calories in a day when it’s below zero outside, and those excess calories are being used to keep the horse from hypothermia.
If ponies can’t graze during the day for grass during below zero temperatures, they may not have enough fuel to burn to keep themselves warm overnight. Since horses don’t particularly like drinking cold water, you should be sure that your ponies have lukewarm water to drink during inclement weather.
The water helps your horse process the extra food they’re eating, and is vital to proper metabolism. If your horse is stall kept, or simply has a lean-to for shelter in a pasture, there should be plenty of tepid temperature water for them to drink.
Do Horses Coats Become Thicker In Winter?
Horses coats become thicker to survive the subzero temperatures, and it’s actually very interesting when you know how it happens. Horse coats start to grow thick for the winter once the sunlight hours in the day decrease.
The decrease in sunlight hours triggers melatonin production, which causes winter coat growth. However, many horse owners shear the thick, winter growth. In that case, it would probably be necessary to blanket the pony at night to ensure it stays warm enough to prevent hypothermia.
How can I tell if my Pony is Cold?
Because horses are mammals, they’ll exhibit many of the same signs as other mammals do when they’re cold. A few of the signs that you should be looking for are:
- Running around for seemingly for no reason. Ponies will run and buck in an effort to get their body temperature up in the subzero weather. If he is running and jumping around more than usual, he’s probably cold.
- Several horses huddled near one another. Horses will huddle together for warmth when it’s cold, just as people do. If you have multiple ponies all crowding one another, chances are they’re cold and trying to warm up using the body heat of the other ponies.
- Yes, ponies really do shiver. They don’t shiver as often or as visibly as humans and other smaller mammals, but if your pony is cold, it is quite possible that you’ll see him shiver.
- Tucked in position. If your pony is standing with his tail tucked down, as though he is trying to pull his extremities into himself, he’s more than likely cold. Touch his ears to gauge if they’re cold to the touch or not. If your pony has cold ears to the touch, he’s cold.
- Take his vitals. If you’re trying to determine if your ponies are cold, you can take their vitals. Check the temperature, pulse, and respiration of your ponies to ensure they aren’t starting to feel the effects of hypothermia. This is especially important in cases where your ponies are wet, or if they seem lethargic or confused.
How can you Help Your Pony Manage Winter Weather and Slippery Conditions?
Horses and ponies are known for being steady on their hooves, but winter weather can be dangerous to your ponies because of the hazardous ground conditions. Although they can handle far worse terrain than humans, without problems, even horses can slip, fall, and be injured once there are ice patches and snow drifts on the ground. There are several ways you can help your ponies stay safe while they’re out in the winter weather.
Ensure There is shelter For Your Pony.
If your ponies aren’t kept in stalls in a barn, they need some level of shelter they can retreat to when the weather is nasty. Even a simple lean to shelter is acceptable as long as it allows your ponies relief from the wind and other elements.
It is important that your ponies be able to step into the shelter out of rain, sleet, or other precipitation that could result in his coat becoming soaked. It can be dangerous for your pony to have a wet coat in sub zero temperatures, and it is certainly dangerous for them to wear a wet blanket.
If you have a blanket on your pony and it becomes wet, you need to immediately remove the blanket, and then dry your ponies coat with towels to remove as much moisture as possible.
Once you’ve dried the ponies coat with towels or a horse cooler, replace the wet blanket with a clean, dry blanket to bring their temperature back to normal more quickly. This is vital if your horse has been clipped, because they aren’t equipped with the heavy winter coat that would protect them from losing their body heat as rapidly as wet coats.
Check the Horse Shoes
Generally, your ponies shoes are perfect for every terrain, and serve as a year round fit. In subzero weather, though, especially blizzard weather, your ponies may need a bit of additional protection to keep them from being injured due to slips and falls.
Ask your farrier about the possibility of adding snow pads fitted to their shoes to stop snow build up from occurring in the shoes. If the snow isn’t allowed to build up under your ponies feet in his shoes, you greatly minimize the risk of slipping in the snow. Snow pads can also lend a little bit of balance in icy conditions.
Don’t Clip the Winter Coat
Although it may appear shaggy when it begins to grow in, the winter coat is necessary for your ponies to stay warm without being blanketed. It also protects your ponies skin during rain, snow, and sleet.
The heavy and dense winter coat serves as not only insulation, but skin protection. Unless it is imperative to clip the winter coat, you should leave it alone until winter has ended.
Your ponies winter coat is made to repel moisture like snow and sleet. Blankets aren’t going to do that, and you’ll need to be on hand to immediately dry and re-blanket your ponies so they don’t fall sick from being in a cold, wet blanket.
Keep Riding to a Bare Minimum
Subzero weather isn’t the time to take leisurely strolls down your favorite paths. Your ponies are having a tough time keeping themselves upright in ice and snow drifts, and to add the weight of a rider is risky behavior.
Not only are you risking your ponies health, but you could just as easily become injured if your horse slips or falls into a hole buried under a snow drift. An accident in -20 below weather could prove fatal for a pony and his rider if they are in remote territory.
If you must ride your ponies regularly in dangerous weather, you should make every effort to sand the usual paths that you take with your ponies. Also, consider having snow pads fitted to your ponies prior to the onset of the harsh winter weather.
Even if you stall your ponies every night, snow caps are beneficial if they’ll be exposed to any heavy snow during the winter.
The Old and Young Horses Need More care During Winter
Ponies require more care during the winter weather than older horses because ponies don’t have the muscle development of older horses, whose metabolism is enough to keep them warm during blizzard weather. The same rule applies to old and sick horses, but for different reasons.
When an old or sick horse is in winter conditions, it can be hard for them to metabolize enough food to stay warm. If your horse isn’t eating normally or has a known condition, he probably won’t be able to fuel his body enough to keep himself warm.
Without making myself hoarse I reiterate: If you have any doubt about your ponies ability to handle the winter weather, take their vital signs to ensure that they are within acceptable range for temperature, pulse, and respiration. If something is off, call your vet immediately.