Don't make your barn too cozy

Be careful not to put your horse's respiratory health at risk in your attempts to warm the barn this winter.
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Cold winter weather may send you rushing to close the barn doors and windows, but doing so can put your horse’s respiratory health in jeopardy.

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A shut-tight barn may feel warmer, but the lack of air circulation allows ammonia fumes and dust to collect, both of which can irritate a horse’s lungs. Horses with a history of respiratory disease, like heaves, are particularly susceptible and even a single night in stuffy conditions may trigger an episode that takes weeks of care to subside.

Remember that your horse doesn’t experience cold as you do. With a thick winter coat, he can comfortably tolerate temperatures well below freezing. And heavy winter blankets can provide the protection lost when hair is removed with clippers. For your horse’s sake don’t make it warmer inside the barn than it is outside.

On the other hand, you don’t want the barn to be drafty. Experiment with different combinations of open windows, doors and vents to find an arrangement that allows air to circulate without blowing drafts through your horse’s space. You can use a low-tech method to detect drafts: Simply hold a length of toilet paper out at arm’s length. If it blows sideways, you’ve got a draft to track down and address.

If at any point you smell ammonia or see particles of dust hanging in sunlight, look for ways to increase ventilation in your barn. This may mean bundling yourself up against the cold, but that’s a small adjustment to make to protect your horse’s respiratory health.

This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #448, January 2015. 

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