Chilly weather is rapidly approaching and your instinct may be to close barn doors and windows to protect your horse from the cold. Resist that urge.
Proper ventilation of barns is crucial to your horse’s respiratory health, particularly during the winter, when he is likely to spend more hours indoors. Closing even a few barn doors and windows to make the barn warm and “cozy” can cause a significant decline in air quality as dust and other particulates build up in the air. A horse with heaves0 will be especially sensitive to this, but any horse can be adversely affected if kept in a tightly closed space.
To avoid wintertime ventilation mistakes, remember that it’s wind and precipitation you are shielding the horses from—not cold air. Horses don’t mind the cold as much as we do. Plus, a blanket can provide the extra warmth a horse needs without putting his respiratory health at risk. So, if it’s not windy or raining or snowing, leave all the barn doors and windows open—no matter the temperature. If wind and precipitation are a concern, close only those openings necessary to block them, which typically means windows and doors on the windward side.
You’ll know you’ve closed the barn up too much if the temperature is more than 10 degrees higher inside than it is outside. Any hint of ammonia smell in the air is a sign that your ventilation has gone seriously awry, and your stall- cleaning efforts need work. If you discover that your barn is overly warm or smelly this winter, turn out the horses and address the problem before bringing them back in.
This issue first appeared in EQUUS issue #470, November 2016.