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Many horse owners don’t realise just how well horses and ponies can regulate their own body temperature. A lot of people will feel the horses skin to feel if they are warm enough, which isn’t an accurate way of measuring their warmth and often leads to over rugging, which is extremely dangerous.
Horses can control and regulate their core body temperature when the environmental temperature is between around -5 and 25 degrees Celsius. In winter this can be as low as -15.
The digestive system of the horse produces a large amount of heat, which means that humans will feel the cold when a horse will not.
The core temperature of a healthy horse is around 37-38 degrees Celsius and when the temperature changes drastically, the horse can change things like their metabolism and behavior to maintain this. In the wild this can range from -40 to 50 degrees Celsius and more.
Many people will check their horses body temperature by a few things.
1 – The weather
2 – If they are hot or cold themselves
3 – Feeling the horses skin
None of these are the correct way to determine your horses temperature.
Horses can warm themselves up a lot easier than they can cool themselves down. There is a few ways they can do this;
1 – Eating more forage
2 – Moving around more
3 – Piloerection (raising their hairs)
4 – Shivering and muscle tension
5 – Sheltering and grouping with other horses
6 – Changing their metabolism
What happens when a horse is over rugged?
Over rugging can cause multiple health problems with horses, including heat stress and in some cases even death. Some serious issues that are caused by over rugging include;
- Rapid breathing
- Increased heart rate
- Body cells and tissue damage
- Disease immunity
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Thyroid gland function problems
- Fungal and bacterial infections
- Vitamin D deficiency (lack of UV light)
- Heat rash
Some horses do need to be rugged up when the temperature drops in winter and especially when they have been clipped, however the issue of over rugging is a serious one and can cause severe health problems for the horse. some cases have been reported in the UK of horses having as many as 6 rugs on! In England!
So be aware, you know your horse and how they respond in different temperatures and keep an eye out for people over rugging their horses. Don’t be afraid to give them some friendly advice and maybe point them in the way of this article.