Tips for keeping your horse slick and sleek all winter.
For most people, long-haired horses aren’t such a bad idea.
It’s natural for livestock to grow thick coats when the days get shorter and cooler, and the extra hair keeps them safe and warm, protecting them from chill and sickness.
If you show horses, however, there has probably been at least one frustrating season where your horse got a little fluffier than you would have liked. And goodness knows, a shaggy horse just doesn’t sparkle when he stands next to a slick horse in the show ring.
Gigi Bailey says she remembers a day when the wind-chill factor at her De Pere, Wisconsin, farm plummeted to minus 92 degrees Fahrenheit. With winter weather as frigid as that, it’s a wonder that Gigi’s barn was full of short-haired horses – and they usually stay that way all winter long.
Part of Gigi’s short-hair recipe is standard: Make sure the barn stays warm, make sure the horses are kept warm, and keep the barn lights on for 16 hours a day. But, as she says, “Winning is 100 little things,” and sometimes you’ve got to be willing to take the 100 extra steps to help your horse maintain a slick hair coat.
“You can lose a good hair coat so fast,” Gigi says. “All it takes is one good chill – in the trailer or at a horse show or wherever – to lose it.”
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Start with a warm barn
Gigi explains that an insulated barn keeps horses warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. Her show barn was constructed with this in mind. The building’s walls have a 14 R-factor; the ceiling has a 20 R-factor (R-factor refers to the energy efficiency rating of a structure.) She keeps the thermostat at about 64 degrees in the winter, and ceiling fans constantly circulate warm air throughout the barn.
“At 64 degrees in the wintertime in the barn, the horses typically wear a sheet and a heavy blanket, and they wear a light hood or a slinky at night,” Gigi explains.
Away from home and on the road
“Feel the day,” Gigi suggests, when discussing whether or not to haul horses with blankets. “Before we take a trip, we stand around and take a poll. ‘Should we haul in heavy blankets and light hoods? Just sheets? Sheets and blankets? Nothing?’ I prefer to put more blankets on the horses and open the windows up a little bit, mostly because I just think the circulation is healthier for the horse.
“When we’re at a show, we check blankets all day long,” Gigi continues. “We feel under the blankets at their withers and on their backs. We want them to be toasty – but not sweating.”
To body clip, or not to body clip?
While many trainers and barn managers prefer not to body clip a horse – because the buzzed hair often is duller and a different color than a normal short hair coat – there are times when it becomes necessary.
“If I do have to show one that grows long hair, I usually clip it,” Gigi says. “I think body clips are fine as long as you keep that horse’s hair as healthy as you can before you clip it.”
If she is unable to body clip the long-haired horse for some reason, Gigi makes certain that every other aspect of the horse is in pristine condition before she steps into the show ring. Every day throughout the chilly season, her show horses are curried and vacuumed, followed by a spray coat conditioner. She expects each horse’s grooming to be impeccable – just like a halter horse.
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A matter of health?
Maybe you’re doing absolutely everything you can think of to keep your horse’s hair coat nice and short, and he still fuzzes up. Unfortunately, it happens. Some horses just naturally grow more hair. But if the hair coat is dull, or if it is difficult to get the horse to shed throughout the winter, have your veterinarian run some routine health tests.
“When I see a horse’s hair go bad, I try to determine the cause,” Gigi says. “That little alarm will go off in my mind that says I may have a health problem – which routinely is anemia or a low thyroid. It doesn’t hurt to pull blood to make sure we’re OK.”