By Jason A. Smith
Allen Grant carefully placed a thermal blanket over his 28-year-old mare, Peaches, at Yule Forest Stables in Stockbridge. Temperatures were inching up near 40 degrees, but Grant, and his wife Susie, said Peaches needed the warmth inside, and outside, of her stable.
Some horses are kept warm by their natural coats, but Grant said his older ones, like Peaches, are often clothed with blankets at night amid temperatures that drop into the teens.
Motorists traveling along Ga. Highway 155 can often see horses clad with blankets during the morning and afternoon commutes. The scene is a familiar one in parts of semi-rural Henry County, but experts say that while blankets can be necessary, nutrition is the key to horses coping with cold temperatures.
Horses should be fed regularly to generate heat in their bodies, said Frank Hancock, agriculture and natural resource agent for the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Office in McDonough.
He has three horses of his own, and said there is a visible way to determine when to protect a horse from the elements.
"When a horse gets really cold because of the weather, he'll turn his rump toward the wind, and tuck his tail tight between his legs," Hancock said. "Anytime it gets down into the 20s, I put a coat on them."
The Grants said they also use the 20-degree reading as a yardstick, but agreed that feeding is the key.
"Nutrition is really important," said Allen Grant, whose stables are located at 643 Mosely Road. "If they don't have hay, or if you don't supplemental feed for them, extreme weather can kill an animal.
"Some of the horses that are younger, we don't have do anything more than make sure they have fresh hay," he added. "You have to pay particular attention to the older ones."
Peaches is among 11 horses, and a spotted llama, the Grants have on their farm in Stockbridge.
Most horses are not affected by changes in weather, as long as all of their basic needs are met, Allen Grant said.
"If they have good feed or good pasture, and their winter coats, then they can stand a lot of bad weather," he said. "Up-and-down bad weather is not terrible a thing for them."
Susie Grant said one horse, Booger, has a thick, furry coat, and that keeping a blanket on him during the winter can actually do more harm than good.
"You don't want to keep a blanket on them all the time, because then they don't get their winter coat," she said. "They lose their winter coat ... if you keep a blanket on them."
She said horses can face illness if they are not properly cared for.
"It's almost the same way as [for] a human," she said. "If they get sick, if they get a cold, they can get pneumonia and they can die. They can get other problems and complications because of the cold weather. If you're at a barn, and a horse has a cold, chances are, all the horses are going to get sick."
Horses are strong animals and can sustain themselves in less-than-optimal weather conditions, according to Hancock.
"Horses are tough," he said. "It's me sometimes that thinks they're cold, not them."