By Stephanie Truhlar
Properly cooling down your horse in the cold weather is so important to keeping him healthy. Even though the temperatures drop, and the thought of sweating seems impossible, horses will continue to sweat during exercise, especially if they have their winter coats. Although it may be a very tedious task, an appropriate cool down is necessary to prevent your horse from getting chilled after exercise.
Always be prepared with your cooler in the arena or wherever you are riding. Have it in a location where you can easily grab it while mounted on your horse to place on his hindquarters after your ride, depending on how sweaty he has gotten. The less time your sweaty horse has to spend in the cold, the less likely he is to get sick.
To ensure that your horse does not catch a chill after an exercise, always end your ride with a 10- to 15-minute walk while still on your horse to get his breathing back to a normal rhythm. Since horses tend to sweat most underneath the saddle and girth, this will also allow the horse to begin to cool off with the saddle still on, allowing for that sweat to start to dry up and therefore, preventing it from being exposed to the chilly air right away. It will also allow for all of the heated-up, tense muscles throughout the horse’s body to start to cool down and relax. You can choose at this time if you’d like to also place a cooler on your horse’s hindquarters to help prevent a chill. If your horse is sweaty in areas other than under his saddle, then placing a cooler right away is recommended.
Once your horse’s respiratory rate has returned to normal and you feel your mounted walk is complete, dismount and loosen the girth, allowing for the sweat to dry up underneath the saddle and girth even more before completely removing the saddle. Now would also be a great time to place a cooler over your horse’s entire body, covering the saddle with it as well. There are many types of coolers out there, so do your research and discover which one is best for your horse, the type of exercise you do and the weather climate where you live. Then continue to walk your horse by hand for another five minutes or so. Again, use your best discretion on the amount of time that is needed to walk him out, depending on the intensity of the workout, the temperature outside, etc. Consulting with your vet and/or trainer with any questions or concerns is always recommended.
After walking him with his saddle on, remove the saddle and replace the cooler, covering his entire body, including the sweaty area under the saddle, and continue to walk him. Be sure to make sure that your horse is drying and cooling properly throughout this process. Feeling the front of his chest to make sure he is not still hot or breathing heavy is a great tip to be able to tell if he is cooling down appropriately. Allowing him to drink some water to rehydrate and cool himself from the inside can also help speed up the process. Depending on how sweaty your horse got, rubbing the sweaty areas with a towel to help dry out the hair can speed it up also.
Only once you feel that your horse has returned to his normal temperature and his coat is completely dry can you then remove the cooler and either place a dry, winter blanket on him (or not if you don’t blanket your horse) and put him away.
Cooling off a horse in the winter is definitely time consuming. Make sure you plan for extra time after a ride to allow your horse to cool and dry before you finish. It is very tedious, but in the end, your horse will be happy and you will be grateful for a healthy horse.