How can I cool out my horse after exercise in the cold, winter weather?
Winter can pose several dilemmas for equine care - one of which is cooling out after exercise. We want to keep our horses fit, motivated, and healthy through exercise, but afterwards we have a sweaty horse that may or may not take hours to dry and cool off. The TWO reasons to cool out are:
- Return your horse's body temperature to normal.
- Dry him off.
Sweaty horses that have winter coats are more likely to overheat during exercise, and take a long time to cool out and dry!
Cooling off is a great way to unwind after an exercise session with your horse. Muscles can relax, his breathing can return to normal, and the heat generated during exercise can slowly dissipate, and his body temperature can return to normal. (This is the key element in cooling off, learn more about TPR here) In the winter, the cold outside air can make his time after exercise fairly uncomfortable unless we intervene. Think about going for a run in shorts and tank top while it’s chilly, working up a sweat, and then standing outside in the cold. Not fun.
There are a few things to consider cooling off a horse in winter.
- One is his hair coat - clipped or unclipped or partially clipped?
- Two is his level of sweatiness - very sweaty or not at all or somewhere in between?
- Three is the climate you live in - is it sub-zero at high noon, or are you in short sleeves during the day?
- Four - do you need to put his blankets back on him when you are done with exercise?
I’m a big fan of having a clip job that is appropriate for a horse’s activity level and climate. If you live in south Florida and your horse is a wooly unclipped beast and you train hard, your cool out time is going to be years longer than a clipped horse in the same environment.
This short hair coat will not take long to dry.
One easy way to do this is to use coolers - wool or fleece - to help him dry and keep him warmer as his muscles cool off. There are many styles, thicknesses, and colors to choose from. A cooler on a clipped horse will help keep him warm as he acclimates to the “room temperature” and a cooler on an unclipped horse will help him dry, although remember that the sweat starts at the skin and moves outward, so this drying time will be crazy long. At some point, you should be able to remove a cooler on a fuzzy horse and let him dry (in the sun is best, unless of course it’s crazy cold and the sweat that remains starts to look like baby icicles.)
Using a quarter sheet during cold weather can help your horse cool down, and makes for a happy and comfortable hack out after exercise.
I’m always an advocate of removing tack, throwing on an appropriate cooler, and going for a long hand walk. This is great for bonding, cooling out, and stretching the muscles. You can also help the process along by using a solarium (if Santa is listening, I want one!) or doing some muscle massage with towels and/or coolers.
Wool and fleece coolers are awesome. For help deciding which to buy and use, read this gem.
If you need to put his pajamas or day sheets back on after you exercise your horse, please be sure he is totally dry and his body temperature has retuned to normal. Sheets on a damp horse = still damp horse and now also damp sheet. Plan accordingly. I am not opposed to putting on a cooler (or two) with leg straps and checking them every 20 minutes as your horse is turned out or in a stall. I am not a fan of doing this unsupervised or without many, many checks on how he is drying. Putting a blanket over a cooler will result in a damp cooler sitting on his body until the cooler is removed. I have seen owners do this, and several hours later the cooler is still there and still wet. (Think about putting on wet long john underwear and then your clothes over that and standing in the cold.) Remember the purpose - keep your horse dry and help his temperature go from post exercise to normal again.