Lockdown weight gain has hit many of us hard. More time indoors, reduced exercise and comfort eating. Many of our horses have not been exempt from this pandemic. My boy is certainly sporting an out of shape belly due to time constraints of the latest lockdown.
There is some good news though, there is a really simple way to help shed some extra pounds before the spring grass hits, which will cost you no time at all from your busy schedule. Lose the rug!
Did you know your horse has more than 10 mechanisms to help it cope with living outdoors in cold temperatures?
Did you also know that your horse can easily regulate its own body temperature between the range of 5C and 25C?
Here are just a few:
Piloerection – What’s that? We would call it goose bumps and for us it doesn’t really make us much warmer but for a horse it traps a cosy, warm layer of air between the coat and the skin reducing the amount of body heat lost to the environment. Granted, if your horse has a full hunter clip this is going to be somewhat compromised. But, as that winter clip starts to grow out it can start to play its part again.
Body fat – Horses naturally gain weight through the spring and summer due to the availability of food. In the wild these fat stores are laid down as reserves to carry them through the winter months when food is more scarce. Not only does the layer of fat keep them warm but their body can mobilise these fat reserves to sustain them through months of hunger.
Digestion – Did you know horses have an in-built central heating system? Talk about comfort eating! Their diet mainly consist of tough fibrous foods which are difficult to digests. As horses generally eat little and often for around 18 hours a day this system is constantly working. The by-product of their specially designed digestive system is heat. Therefore, as long as our horses have food throughout the day they have a way of keeping their core body temperature up.
Horses will also, seek shelter, position themselves out of harsh weather conditions, huddle together, move for warmth, roll, adjust their breathing and shiver. Yes, shivering is actually a muscular activity which will generate heat and burn fat as a result of the activity.
And here’s the bonus, by initiating these mechanisms your horses metabolic rate will be increased thereby burning some of that “lockdown weight”.
I am not saying that everyone should immediately whip the rug off their fully clipped, elderly thoroughbred. No, no, no!
However, if your horse is carrying a little more weight than you are happy with then now is the time to use the environment to your advantage! Get your horses in-built thermoregulatory system working, shed some pounds and set them up for a great start this year. Without it costing you a penny! Win Win!
Please do not immediately pack away your rugs. Like anything, if you don’t use it, you lose it.
So, start slowly. If your horse has access to food and shelter in the field, begin with a rug free day when the temperature is above say, 5C if they are unclipped, 8-10C if they are clipped depending on clip and coat length.
I would also note that if your horse is elderly, in poor health or has an active musculoskeletal condition and may be experiencing pain then perhaps now is not the time to disrupt their current living conditions.
You all know your horses best and know how to do what is right for them!
Wishing you all a healthy start to 2021 and a successful year to come