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Finally, some cold weather ... to enjoy

We are finally being promised some actual cold weather by the weather forecasters. I say this not with dread, but with a feeling of relief.

It is not that I am ecstatic that I will have to get out what grandma used to call her wrap-rascals and wind myself up in layers of clothing to take the dog out but I really believe that it is healthier to have some cold weather when it is due to keep down the various nasty little critters out there.

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If I want to make a bad example of myself (and I don't mind doing that) I truly think that cold helps to slow down the viruses and colds as well as the bugs and grubs that live outdoors and creep around eating the plants. This probably has no scientific basis but it is a pet theory that I have had handed down to me by my elders, so please, don't everyone leap to dissuade me all at once.

Of course, if you retreat into the far reaches of your car, home and office my theory doesn't work at all — you need to get out and breathe the cold air for it to be effective.

What we worry about in the winter is keeping our barns bright and airy but not drafty. Since airy and drafty are rather close companions you need to be aware that standing in a raw draft all night is not a good thing for horse or human. If you do whatever you normally do for your horses when you bring them in and then go stand in some of the different places in the barn you will probably achieve a pretty good idea of the difference.

If that draft bothers you, just subtract 30 degrees and envision standing there all night. The difference can be as little as a line of draft proofing flexible material where the stall's Dutch doors don't really meet well and that is an easy fix.

Of course, if your horses are out all night with a run in shed then all is well because they can move around to keep warm. And blankets are also a wonderful thing — for the horses. Not so much for you, because after all, some horses are not very civilized about blankets. They consider them to be either toys or challenges and that often means replacing the blanket on the horse the next time that you look at him or even replacing the blanket entirely if the horse has been successful in destroying it.

If you have a horse that, shall we say, lacks any sense of thankfulness when it comes to your efforts to keep it warm, it is a good thing to know that there are several places to buy more blankets that have already been used and are therefore less expensive. In just a few weeks, Thurmont is having its huge Jan. 1 sale and it will undoubtedly be lousy with used blankets. Also I found an online place, www.calibex.com/Used-Horse-Blankets-Sale/shop-html. This does not serve as a recommendation of Calibex as I don't know them at all but they sure listed a bunch of blankets and some were reasonable priced.

I even looked up the old idea of giving a horse some corn in the winter. We always did that back in the bad old days. We thought it would add warmth without going to their heads and making them even more simple minded than the cold weather did so we would add a little corn to their feed — and I mean a LITTLE corn.

This is what I found on one of the more scientific equine feed sites: "Corn's reputation for being a feed that makes horses "hot" and hard to handle is largely a myth; it likely stems from owners who have substituted corn for an equal quantity of oats in their horse's diets — and unwittingly supplying more than twice the energy. Feeding by weight, rather than by volume, is crucial when switching grains.

But contrary to popular belief, corn is not a "heating" feed in the traditional sense.

"In fact, because the greatest amount of internal heat in the horse's body is generated through the microbial fermentation of fiber, not starches, increasing the amount of hay in your horse's diet in winter will generate more body heat than will increasing the amount of corn he eats. However, because corn provides lots of energy per pound, and energy needs increase during cold weather, corn is a good winter feed for horses."

Which is all well and good and I believe it, but I also know from experience that tossing a full-sized horse one ear of corn in the morning and evening makes the owners feel good and usually delights the horse with an edible toy.

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