For many new riders, horse coolers are confusing. Standard practice in some barns and a rare commodity in others, it may be difficult to understand if your horse needs a cooler- let alone how they work and why some stables are so insistent on their use.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- What horse coolers are
- How they work
- and how to use a horse cooler the right way, including how to know if your horse needs a cooler.
First, what is a horse cooler?
A horse cooler is a type of horse blanket that is used to keep a wet horse warm in cold weather. A horse’s coat serves as insulation against the cold, but a wet coat can actually make a horse colder. Horse coolers are made from wool, cotton, or modern synthetic fabrics (like fleece), and they help wick moisture away from your horse’s coat. After a half-hour wearing a cooler, the cooler can be removed. The horse will be mostly dry and the blanket soaked, thanks to a process called osmosis
Coolers can be horse blanket shaped, with a cutout for the horse’s neck, or square. Square horse coolers extend to a horse’s poll (just behind the ears) and help keep the large muscles of the neck warm while the horse is drying.
Horses Coolers are used mostly in two situations:
- Bathing Horses in Winter: Winter horse show preparations call for a pre-show bath, but it’s dangerous to leave a horse soaked to the skin in very cold weather. Instead, winter bathing requires scraping excess moisture off and then using a cooler to keep the horse warm while it dries. Read more tips for winter horse bathing here.
- For intense winter training: Horses that work hard enough to sweat heavily during a cold-weather ride need help cooling off without their wet fur becoming too cold. Coolers are used to wick sweat away from the skin of horses and help them dry faster. For clipped horses, coolers are used to help dry the short-trimmed fur before their winter blanket is replaced.
Are Coolers and anti-sweat sheets the same thing?
Generally, yes, horse coolers and anti-sweat sheets are the same thing. When some people use the term, however, they use coolers to refer to the more “old fashioned” square sheets of wool and cotton, and anti-sweat sheets to refer to the modern version, which are often made from high-tech fabrics designed to wick water while retaining heat.
How Horse Coolers work
Remember learning about osmosis in high school? Osmosis is the movement of fluid through a semipermeable membrane until both sides of the membrane have equal fluid concentration. Today’s coolers are mostly made of fleece and wool (though admittedly, my personal favorite in my barn is a vintage wool cooler with a waffle-weave cotton liner).
Putting dry coolers on wet horses initiates the process of osmosis. The dry fibers of coolers use osmosis to actively pull water – like sweat or bath water – off a horse’s skin. The dampness of coolers after use proves that it works.
Why coolers are preferable to letting horses dry naturally
When horses exercise, blood vessels near the skin dilate, allowing more blood to pass. On the surface of the skin, sweat-producing pores open and start sweating. During strenuous exercise, massive amounts of blood are diverted to the skin and muscle for cooling and performance.
While sending a horse our into cold weather can constrict these surface blood vessels, it’s a harsh shock to the system. Additionally, wet fur isn’t able to “puff” up and insulate a horse, so they’re more susceptible to hypothermia if not dried slowly while their temperature is regulated with a cooler.
How to Dry a Horse with a Cooler in Cold Weather
- To dry a very wet horse in cold weather, apply 2 coolers, each on top of each other. The bottom wicks moisture while the top helps hold in warmth.
- Hand walk the horse while wearing with 2 coolers. The horse will start to relax and cool down.
- Feel the chest heat with your hand. This will help you feel their core temp.
- The base layer cooler will be quite wet when your horse is halfway dry and halfway cool.
- Remove both coolers, place the wet underlayer aside, and put the previously top layer cooler on your horse, against their fur.
- Removing the remaining cooler 20 or 30 minutes later.
How to use Coolers on body Clipped Horses.
If your horse has a full body or trace clip, keeping it warm while cooling off after a winter workout is critical. It’s annoying for us but necessary.
Horse hair is a great heat insulator. When the temperature lowers, the hair traps a layer of air.
After body clipping, horses lose their ability to defend themselves from cold and rain. In nature, sweat pores and natural cooling processes help a horse cool down. Instead, for clipped horses, humans need to step in and help keep the large muscle groups warm and limber.
Depending on the weather, body clipped horses may require double or even triple coolers, depending on the weather outside and ambient temperature in the barn.
PRO TIP: conventional dryers shrink fleece and especially wool coolers. In order to keep their original size and shape, these blankets should be dried in heated tack rooms or indoors at home
Final Thoughts: Choosing and Using a Horse Cooler
Horse coolers are an important part of horse care, especially in the winter months if you continue intense riding. They help to keep your horse comfortable, help them dry faster, and can also be used as an extra layer under a blanket to prevent a chill in colder weather.
Horse coolers come in a variety of styles and sizes, so it is important to choose one that is right for your horse. There are several things to consider when choosing a horse cooler:
SIZE: The first is the size of the cooler. It should be large enough to fit fully over your horse’s back, and should have straps to secure it in place. Like blankets, horse coolers come in 2″ increments. Learn how to measure your horse for a blanket via this free preview page from Backyard Horsekeeping: The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need (2007)
MATERIAL: The second thing to consider as you shop for a cooler is the material. A cooler made of breathable fabric is ideal, as it will help to keep your horse’s coat dry. You can choose traditional fabrics like cotton or wool or tech fabrics. Cotton or wool tend to be heavier, slower to dry, and more expensive, so most new horse owners purchase budget-friendly anti-sweat sheets.
STYLE: Finally, consider the style of the cooler. Some have buckles at the front, while others have Velcro closures. Choose the style that is easiest for you to use, they’re equal in terms of function.
Once you have chosen the perfect horse cooler, be sure to use it correctly using the instructions above. Horse coolers are an essential part of winter horse care for those of us who continue to keep up our training in preparation for spring horse shows. Even if you don’t ride hard or bathe horses in the winter, a cooler can be a helpful tool to have in your tack room just in case. Be sure to choose the right cooler for your horse, and use it correctly, for the best results.