Do horses really need shelter? I'm sure more than a few of us have asked ourselves this question and the answer is yes! Here are a few things to consider when deciding exactly what type of shelter to use.
Domestic horses need access to shade and shelter. Wild horses can seek these out when necessary but a domestic horse can only make the best of what is provided for them, so it is important that you provide some type of facility for your horse/s.
Why does my horse need shade?
In hot climates horses should always be able to get out of the sun. Horses that do not have access to shade will become stressed if they are not able to find shade.
There are several reasons why shade is especially important for horses:
- Horses that do not have access to shade can suffer from overheating (the large body of a horse takes longer to cool down than that of a smaller bodied animal)
- Horses with areas of pink skin can burn easily in the sun (white facial markings or albinos)
- Horse flies prefer full sun therefore a horse without shade can be plagued by flies.
- The eyes of horses are designed to let in a lot of light so that they can make best use of any available light at dawn and dusk. In very bright weather, especially if the horse does not have an adequate forelock, the horse can be uncomfortable.
- Also some breeds such as Clydesdales and Appaloosas are more susceptible to eye cancers due to having more ‘white’ around the eye.
Why does my horse need shelter?
Domestic horses also require shelter to be provided for them in inclement weather. A healthy horse can cope with low temperatures without any problem but, when it is raining, a horse will usually seek out shelter. Some breeds have been bred to have a fine skin and coat such as Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds, which means that they tend to feel the wet and cold more than tougher, hardier breeds of horses. Even horses with thick winter coats need somewhere to escape from strong wind and rain.
Can horse blankets make up for lack of shade/shelter?
Horse blankets (such as cotton or cotton/mesh) should not be used as a substitute for shade. A horse needs to be able to get out of the sun to a cooler area. In inclement weather, blankets can help to keep the horse warmer and drier but a healthy horse is usually fine with shelter only.
How can I provide shade/shelter?
Large trees can provide adequate shade in the summer time, but for winter months a man made shelter in the paddocks should be considered. It must be large enough for the entire herd to get into without danger of less dominant members of the herd getting trapped. Consider building one very large shade/shelter rather than a small one in each paddock that all of the horses can get to on a daily basis. A simple lean to will do the trick and provide not only shade but protection from the wind and other elements. Barns are also a great option but can be to hot in the summer months due to being so enclosed.
If horses are kept in individual paddocks with shelters, the shelters should be positioned so that horses can see and preferably touch each other while using them. Otherwise the horses will tend to ignore the shade/shelter because the need to be near other horses usually overrides the need to seek shade/shelter.
It is important to give your horse the option of using shade and shelter. They won't always take it, but at least it's there when they need it.