When you run or exercise outdoors in cold weather, the movement increases your body temperature and keeps you warm. As you perspire, your clothes become damp or wet. When you stop moving, you’ll feel even colder until you remove the wet clothes for a dry set. It’s the same with your horse, with his cooler -- a wicking sheet or blanket -- functioning like a high-tech towel.
If you live in an area with mild winters and can only afford to get one cooler, don’t invest in a heavy wool one -- you’ll hardly ever use it. Fleece coolers offer you a good alternative and are more laundry-friendly. Irish knit coolers, also commonly referred to as anti-sweat sheets, don’t wick away moisture as well as fleece or wool, but they will soak up excess perspiration. This material works fine as a cooler if you live in an area with moderate year-round temperatures.
When to Use
Your horse probably doesn’t need a cooler if it’s 60 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer. Assess each situation though; if it’s a cloudy 60 degrees with a chilly north wind, you’ve given your horse a hard workout and he’s body clipped, have him wear a cooler to cool him off more slowly -- otherwise you risk him getting a chill when that cool air and wind hits him. Remove the cooler if it soaks up so much perspiration that it becomes saturated. If your horse is still sweaty, replace it with another one. If your horse is only sweaty under his saddle, fold the cooler and just apply it to that area until it dries.
Your cooler can help transition your horse from his winter blanket as you’re tacking him up. Place it over his back as you groom him, folding it or moving it back on his hind end when you put on his saddle. Remove it completely when you’re ready to ride or, in extremely cold weather, put the cooler in place before and after your horse’s workout. For the pre-ride warm-up, leave it on over the saddle, sitting atop it as you walk your horse and loosen his muscles. Remove it before you do anything other than walk your horse. Place it back on your horse as soon as you dismount and walk him to the untacking area.
Cooler vs. Cooling Out
A cooler is not meant to substitute for cooling your horse out after exercise. The “cooling out” process means you bring your horse’s heart and breathing back to normal. It can take your horse as much as an hour to completely cool out in hot weather, or as little as 20 minutes in cooler weather or after an easy workout. Let your horse trot on a loose rein for about five minutes, then walk him for another five to 10 minutes. After you untack him, lead him on his halter as you walk on the ground beside him -- called hand walking -- until his breathing seems normal. If it’s below 60 degrees, put his cooler on while you hand walk him. If it's hot and humid, spray water on him to cool him down completely.
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Based in Central Texas, Karen S. Johnson is a marketing professional with more than 30 years' experience and specializes in business and equestrian topics. Her articles have appeared in several trade and business publications such as the Houston Chronicle. Johnson also co-authored a series of communications publications for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in speech from UT-Austin.