When the temperature drops, everything slows, including both wild and domesticated horses. In the wild, herds move more slowly than in any other season in their search for adequate grazing. Luckily, they know from experience passed down from previous generations where the best grazing is to be had in winter.
The herd’s movement is direct and purposeful. They have to eat as best they can and must keep their bodies moving to generate warmth. Their coats have grown out to protect them from external cold, wet and wind while preserving internal warmth. As long as they find shelter in a stand of trees or rock outcrop when the weather is harsh or the winds blustery, they will survive the darkest, coldest season of the year.
Winter is a time of survival. It’s the season when horses must go deeply into their core essence to survive both physically and emotionally. During the cold of winter, horses must retain and manage their body heat. In the wild, loss of body heat could be fatal since the sources of nourishment to sustain life are scarce. The horse must endure the whims of weather, be it icy cold, lashing rain, deep snow or extremely frigid nights.
Our domesticated horses experience the same physical reactions and needs as their wild counterparts. In the winter, they move more slowly and retain their body heat if not in a climate-controlled environment. It’s good for horses to contend with the seasonal elements because it’s in sync with the natural order of life. Horses are healthier and perform better when allowed to live in concert with the seasonal cycles where they live.
YOUR HORSE’S BODY IN WINTER
Actual physiological changes take place in the horse’s body when it is cold. All the soft tissues such as skin, muscles, tendons and ligaments become more constricted. These body tissues are less flexible and any sudden movement can cause damage. Expending too much body heat when exercising can compromise the horse’s health because he’s not able to retain enough internal heat to withstand the cold.
From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) point of view, winter is a time to preserve energy for warmth and move slowly and deliberately so as not to stress the body. Winter challenges the health and balance of a horse in such a way that the animal must use his inner resources — his physical essence and emotional determination — to endure this rugged season.
The leader of the wild herd lives and survives by this instinctive wisdom of herd preservation. We can follow this example with our own horses. During the winter, horses need consistent access to grass hay and water. They need to be able to move freely to maintain their own body heat. Being too quick to blanket in cold weather actually reduces the effectiveness of the horse’s own natural immune system. If the horse is enclosed in a stall without being able to move about, he is not able to generate his own body heat and circulation to his limbs.
WINTER WARM-UP ACUPRESSURE SESSION
Acupressure, which is based on TCM, offers a resource for “winterizing” your horse. Before you expect your horse to do more than walk, or get on his back to ride, think about helping him warm up his muscles, tendons and ligaments to avoid discomfort and possible damage. By offering your horse an acupressure session every four or five days along with your grooming routine, you can enhance his ability to retain and generate warmth.
The intentions underlying the acupressure chart below are to support your horse’s immune system and sustain a healthy flow of life-promoting energy and blood circulation to warm and nourish his entire body, while also maintaining your connection with him throughout the winter. By following this routine, you will enjoy the winter more and be ready to get out and go when spring arrives.
Nancy Zidonis and Amy Snow are the authors of Equine Acupressure: A Working Manual, Acu-Dog: A Guide to Canine Acupressure, and Acu-Cat: A Guide to Feline Acupressure. They founded Tallgrass, offering books, manuals, DVDs, meridian charts, and apps. Tallgrass also provides hands-on and online training courses worldwide including a Practitioner Certification Program (animalacupressure.com or firstname.lastname@example.org).