Open Barn = Healthy Barn

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A recurring theme at Horse Journal is to let your horse be a horse:? Turn out as much as possible.? Start with forage to determine diet. Vary the exercise routine as much as possible.

Therefore, there is one common horse-keeping practice in the winter that drives us batty, which is to shut up a barn tight the instant the temperature dips below 60°. The corollary to this is to swathe a horse in blankets up to his nose.

People tend to gauge the comfort level inside a barn by their own needs rather than that of the horses, which can be completely comfortable in colder temperatures.? A more important consideration is that horses require fresh air to remain healthy, gobs and gobs of fresh air.

Horses put out a lot of body heat, and a closed barn readily collects that heat and the humidity that goes with it.? A barn that is shut up for hours at a time and accumulates dust puts a severe strain on the horse's respiratory system. If horses in your barn are getting sick, you should consider opening the doors and windows more, not shutting them tight.? it's a contradiction to wet down the hay of a horse with respiratory problems and then lock him in a completely closed barn.

Nature provided the horse with excellent winter insulation. A coat that is in good condition will fluff up and protect the horse against cold and, to some degree, against wind and rain.? A horse that is clipped, of course, needs extra protection as does a horse whose condition is compromised by age or illness.

But, barn managers can be driven nuts by boarders who leave them with elaborate memos of how a horse needs a specific level of blanketing to meet each minute climate change, not realizing that a horse doesn't need to curl up in front of a cozy fire in the evening in order to be comfortable.

We can't suggest guidelines here about closing the barn in bad weather because everyone?s barn structure varies, including whether it's shed-row, center-aisle, hay storage above stalls, bank-built, and so on. Then tHere's your individual winter climate adding to the mix. you'll need to make the call based on your own conditions and whether your horses are unclipped, clipped and blanketed, or a mix.

But start here:? Unless snow or driving rain is actually blowing down the aisle, think twice before you shut your barn up tight.

Margaret Freeman, Associate Editor