Winter is coming – and with winter the thick winter coat that most riders hate. The primary reason that determines, when the horse changes from summer coat to winter coat, seems to be the changing length of daylight. Summer coat normally lasts from June to August with increased hair growth in the fall, both in terms of hair length and density. The winter coat typically lasts from September to May.
Most horses start to shed by start/mid-august and prepping for the winter ahead – and that is also when you should start prepping and encourage for a healthy coat with b-vitamins and e.g. dried herbal blends and oils to provide shine and condition from within.
The change to winter coat is not only due to lower temperatures. Even in Florida and Dubai during the winter season, the horses are clipped on a monthly basis – despite the heat. Light receptors in the horse’s eyes capture the changes in day length and direct signals biochemically to the pineal gland, hypothalamus and pituitary gland, which control, among other things, the hormones that affect the production of melatonin, which is responsible for hair growth. In the spring months, the production of prolactin, which has a slowing effect on the production of melatonin, is affected so that the winter coat is precipitated, and new summer coat is produced.
A cold, wet spring can delay the shedding process, and the exact start time can vary from horse to horse within the same year, as well as from year to year for the same horse. Summer months with limited sunlight also have a huge impact on the production of melatonin and, consequently, coat growth. For example, summer 2017 has been very gray, which is why the rug season, which usually starts in October and November, was postponed until early September and October. The problem was that certain days had low temperatures, followed by days with high temperatures.
Horses grow their coat very differently. Factors such as sunlight, breed, age, health status and feeding has a big saying. For many riders, it is troublesome and time consuming to have a horse with long coat.
During daily training, the horse will sweat and be affected by this during the workouts as they do not have the ability to temperature regulate in the same way. Horses are able to regulate its internal temperature by means of arteries running through the muscles. By widening the arteries so that more blood can pass from the hot spots to the body surface, the blood can return to the horse’s internal organs and quickly cool the horse’s core temperature down again. An uncut horse usually has a harder time getting down to heart rate after training as it does not have the same ability to temperature regulate and get rid of the heat it has generated during training due to the thick fur on the body surface.
A sweaty horse also gets cold quickly after training during the winter season and therefore takes longer to dry, which can result in an over-cooled horse with illness. It can be extremely difficult to get the horse properly dry if the horse is taken sweaty to the stable. This is because the air in the barn is quickly saturated by the moisture from the horse, since naturally there is often less air circulation in the barn than outside. When the air becomes heavy with moisture, the horse cannot dry and therefore gets more difficult by temperature regulating and cooling itself sensibly. It can take hours for a heavy winter coat to dry properly.
Most riders find that the horse will seriously benefit from being clipped. This is because the horse’s ability to regulate its heat after a training session and a sweat outbreak improves significantly, the more the horse is clipped. It is most often seen that the horse gets more energy and therefore perform better when it is newly clipped. It is appropriate to choose the type of clip in relation to the weekly training sessions and their intensity – whether it is a performance or leisure horse. Some types of clips are most suitable for your horse than others, and personal preferences may also come in play.
A short-clipped, sweaty horse dries faster, so it is also possible to rinse the horse over with water and use a solarium without it getting cold before it gets dry from the solarium. And then there is also no doubt that a short-clipped horse is easier to groom and keep clean despite the often wet paddocks during the winter season.
One of the disadvantages of clipping the horse is, that the horse becomes more vulnerable to temperature fluctuations. It is therefore important to make sure that you have the right blankets and rugs to match the temperature when the horse is clipped so that the horse does not become vulnerable to cold and wind and incurs any respiratory tract infections, clic or influenza.
Personally my boys was clipped mid July followed by their first winter clip start October. Personally I prefer clipping a couple of times during the year rather than for them to overheat or lacking energy when training. Im very aware of the fluctuations the temperature and have invested in a very of different rugs for every season change to prevent them from being vulnerable to cold, wind or illness. I prefer a short 1.4mm coat which are easy to groom and keep healthy. Im lucky we have easy asses to hot water, solarium and isolated stable which are luxury standard. They make the everyday a bit easier when it comes to the equestrian sport as I am able to wash the boys after training and dry them fast by using the solarium. I was able to postpone the clipping of my boys two weeks and concentrate on/prioritize my clipping clients a bit. Most of my clipping clients are being clipped two or three times during the “winter” season spreading from mid September to mid March.