Winter is definitely upon us this year (once again) and the herd at Back of Beyond is loving it. No bugs, no hot sweaty days and no mud. All the horses, even Baby Tilly, are really well adapted to the cold. In fact their bodies are best suited for a temperature ranging from minus 9 to plus 15 – the energy neutral range. However, as the temperature drops below minus 9, they have several adaptations to keep warm and healthy.
The horse’s first adjustment for cold weather is their ability to grow a thick, fluffy hair coat. This coat has an outer layer that sheds the snow and an under layer of fluffy down. They can raise and lower the hair coat as necessary to provide maximum warmth and excellent thermoregulation. So, for most of the horses, they have their own natural perfect blanketing system. Little Muffin is especially cute and completely toasty on a cold winter day, covered in a thick blanket of snow that never melts.
Another important adaptation is their ability to generate huge amounts of heat as they digest hay. So, when the temperature starts to drop the horses at Back of Beyond get lots of extra hay so they can keep eating all the time – which they certainly do.
Horses almost never get cold feet and legs. They have very little muscle proportionately in their legs so they need less blood flow and have no problem with cold feet. They have thick chunky bodies that retain heat for a long time and lose it slowly. Even their square muzzles, have a huge blood supply that allows them to withstand freezing temperatures and long nasal passages that warm the cold air before it reaches their lungs and cools their big bodies.
So, all things considered, the horses are extremely happy in the winter as long as they have plenty of hay to eat, lots of fresh warm water to drink, some shelter from the wind and good friends to hang out with. The occasional carrot from a human friend is appreciated too.