Dressing Horses for Work - Using Coolers to Promote Soundness

Dressing Horses for Work
Using Coolers to Promote Soundness

Clothing Your Horse

Part 1: Working in the Cold

By Ruthann Smith
© 2011, Ruthann Smith, All rights reserved.
Originally Published in Equine Journal

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You know the feeling. Cold and wet. What is worse than being chilled to the bone?

Riding horses sweat. When cold, they can't go in for hot cocoa and to change their clothes. So, we need to tune in and think ahead to avert problems. It is not only easier to do things correctly the first time. It also saves us money. Soundness experts say 85% of lameness could be averted by warming up and cooling down properly. Cold weather only exasperates the potential for injury. Cold muscles get stiff and prone to injury. Plus, how can you ask your horse to bend if he is frozen? Let's make it easy for him to be a willing partner.

You want to warm up and cool down very slowly. Walk and trot lots to loosen up. After work, keep walking until the horse's breathing is relaxed and sweating has subsided. When the horse is damp and hot, don't let him get a chill. If it is cool, be prepared to throw a cooler over the horse's back as he comes out of the show ring or walks to cool down. Keeping the kidneys warm is most important.

To best assess the horse's comfort, feel the kidneys. If the ears are cold, the horse is already very cold. If the kidneys are cooler than his shoulder, you would do well to adjust the clothes and/or conditions. At the very least, cover the loins. Cold backs get injured. On the flip side, if your horse is sweaty from the clothes, he may colic. So, pay mind.

Drafts can be trouble, but you also want to keep the air fresh. Ammonia, an off gas of urine, is a poison. Old school masters opt for extra layers and plenty of air circulation.

Horse Blanket

The Irish knit cooler offers a pivotal layer of air pockets that act as insulation under a heavier cooler to help horses stay warm and dry.

Dress for the Job

If you have a horse in work, it is important to have proper clothes. One need not be a fashion plate, but keeping your horse warm and dry is crucial to good health. Your horse deserves quality care. Appropriate articles of clothing are readily available at consignment and tack shops. A friend may even have some that are not being used. For sure, if you make it your mission, you can take good care without spending a lot of money. In fact, it will help you avoid vet bills.

The Wardrobe

Here are layers that will serve your horse well:

Wool or High Tech Cooler.  Needing to keep an athlete's muscles and organs warm is a given. Otherwise they'll break. More than a cover, you want a fabric that will wick away moisture. On extra cold days or right after being clipped, you may want to use two wool coolers while you work on the aisle or walk outside.

Horse Blanket

To avert injury, always leave the end out of the keeper. If the cooler slides, instead of the horse stepping on it and flipping out as it pulls on his neck, just pull the tab. The cooler releases and a mishap is avoided.

Holey Cooler or Irish Knit. This prized thick cover with big holes in it creates a layer of insulation. If the horse is wet, put the holey cooler under the wool one(s). The air pockets create a toasty insulation that also lets the steam rise and get wicked away, keeping the horse warmer as it dries.

Holey coolers and Irish knits are not to be confused with the lighter scrims or fly sheets. These are designed to keep the sun and bugs off a horse's back. They are not thick enough to create insulating air pockets.

Surcingle. Walking with a cooler on can be tricky. A surcingle around the heartgirth or saddle will keep it from sliding off and getting caught under a hoof. That will allow the horse to stay quiet, focused and confident. If the horse is wet, he'll dry faster if walking. A surcingle will let him stay warm all the while. A damp horse is very apt to roll in a stall. So, the syrcingle not only keeps your horse comfortable and safe. It saves you from needing to buy a new cooler(s).

Rain Sheet. When in need, you'll be very glad to have a rain sheet.

Quarter Sheet. This wool cover for the kidneys very conveniently keeps the horse warm and dry (wicking) before, during and after work. Using a quarter sheet on cold days is great care.

What is Cold for Your Horse?

It depends on your horse's norm and whether he is clipped. Remember that shortly after being clipped, your horse likely needs an extra layer. Regardless of amount of hair, unless it is hot, I'd cover a wet horse's back. When I am reaching for a sweater or jacket, I am sure not to let the kidneys get a draft. Remember they are especially vulnerable when damp.

When grooming, before and after work, keep the horse warm. By folding the cooler(s) back to work on the front end, and forward to work on the back end, you can keep your mount from stiffening up. Certainly, be sure the horse is dry before putting his sheet or blanket on. Towel dry if need be. You never want to put a horse to bed in damp clothes. It would surely get sore and likely sick.

Properly clothing your horse is paramount to his ability to perform well and stay healthy. Top trainers are very fussy about keeping horses comfortable. Routines for cooling out horses have everything to do with how successful our relationship with horses can be, as well as how many bills we pay. So, I suggest you at least be equipped with two wool coolers and a holey cooler. They will allow you to effectively adjust order to promote your horse's comfort and soundness.


Horse Sheen

It is most important to keep the loins warm.

Protect the kidneys. They are very sensitive and vulnerable. Keeping the horse's back warm, especially behind the saddle and over the flank, where the barrel meets the hip, is most important. If cool, be consistent about keeping the back covered. Riding in a quarter sheet, which is essentially a wool cooler that extends from under the saddle to cover the rump, can make it easy. Or, be sure to throw a wool cooler behind the saddle when walking. Tuck the cooler under your legs to help keep it from sliding off and keep an eye on it.

Bio Pic

Ruthann Smith has spent a lifetime studying sound horsemanship- both as a groom for top international horses and as a renowned braider. Quietly twisting manes atop a ladder, she watched and learned in some of the best stables in the world.

As her passion for great grooming grew, Ruthann became focused on researching, collecting and sharing the best practices of the world’s keenest horsemen. Ultimately, Ruthann used her vast experience to develop exceptional equine grooming products to help raise the bar of horsemanship.

The knowledge she dispenses and the products Ruthann developed solve age-old grooming issues. Making quality horse care easier, they have received the highest honors in the equine industry*. Her Lucky Braids for Top Turnout coat care and braiding products are the best, most versatile, cost-effective and easiest solutions available on the market today.

Now Ruthann offers her LOVE, LOVE Guarantee. If not totally thrilled with a product she developed, Ruthann will refund you in full, regardless of where you purchased it.

It’s her life’s mission to empower horses by educating, motivating and equipping their people to be true horsemen. You can access Ruthann’s tips at: The Grooming Resource on LuckyBraids.com, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and her Horsemanship Clinics.

*After testing 350 products, Lucky Braids All-In-One Horse Shampoo was named product of the year by Horse Journal, the “Consumer Reports” of the industry. They also named Lucky Braids Shampoo and Top Pick for greys and whites. Lucky Braids specialized braiding yarn also got stellar reviews.