A domestic horse needs access to shade and shelter. A free living (wild or feral horse) can seek these out when necessary but a domestic horse can only make the best of what is provided for them. So it is important that you provide these facilities for your horse/s.
Why does my horse need shade?
In hot climates (such as the whole of Australia) horses should always be able to get out of the sun. In fact in Australia shade from the sun is even more important than shelter from bad weather. Horses that do not have access to shade will become stressed if they are not able to find shade.
There are several reasons why shade is especially important for horses:
- Horses that do not have access to shade can suffer from overheating (the large body of a horse takes longer to cool down than that of a smaller bodied animal)
- Horses with areas of white skin can burn easily in the sun (white facial markings etc.)
- Horse flies prefer full sun therefore a horse without shade is also plagued by flies
- The high fibre diet of a horse gives off lots of heat whilst being digested. This is handy in cold weather but works against a horse in hot weather
- The eyes of horses have evolved to let in lots of light (so that they can make best use of any available light at dawn and dusk). In very bright weather (especially if the horse does not have an adequate forelock) the horse can be uncomfortable due to this.
- Also some breeds such as Clydesdales and Appaloosas are more susceptible to eye cancers due to having more ‘white’ around the eye.
Why does my horse need shelter?
Domestic horses also require shelter to be provided for them in inclement weather because again they can only utilise what is provided for them. A healthy horse can cope with low temperatures without any problem but it is when it is raining that a horse will usually seek out shelter. Some breeds have been bred to have a fine skin and coat (such as Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds) which means that they tend to feel the wet and cold more than tougher, hardier breeds of horses (although there are exceptions therefore treat each horse individually). Even horses with thick winter coats need somewhere to escape from strong wind and rain.
Can rugs make up for lack of shade/shelter?
Horse rugs (such as cotton or cotton/mesh) should not be used as a substitute for shade. A horse needs to be able to get out of the sun to a cooler area. In inclement weather rugs can help to keep the horse warmer and drier but a healthy horse is usually fine with shelter only.
How can I provide shade/shelter?
Vegetation in paddocks is a natural form of shelter and has the added benefit of providing habitat for wildlife. This vegetation needs protection from horses (at least until it is mature) otherwise horses will eat or trample it. Man made shelters in paddocks must be large enough for the entire herd to get into without danger of less dominant members of the herd getting trapped. Consider building one very large shade/shelter (rather than a small one in each paddock) that all of the horses can get to on a daily basis. This can be situated in an area that is linked by laneways to the various paddocks and means the shade/shelter can be used all year round. Paddocks can then be rested and rotated.
Stables tend to be too hot for the use of shade in hot weather (due to the enclosed sides) and should have a shaded outside yard attached so that the horse can get outside.
If horses are kept in individual paddocks with shelters then the shelters should be positioned so that horses can see and preferably touch each other while using them. Otherwise the horses will tend to ignore the shade/shelter because the need to be near other horses usually overrides the need to seek shade/shelter.