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Hollihorse Index | Recycle Racehorses | Harness Racing Update | Horseride

I was just thinking this morning about writing something about coolers, and
how we use them to help keep horses warm and drying in the cooler months of
the year.

I never really knew how to use a cooler until I got racehorses. When we
finished riding our event horses or dressage horses, we would untack them,
bathe them, then either stand them in crossties or put back in the stall. To
be honest, I didn't really understand the cool out process until I
conditioned my first three day event horse and then it was a necessity to
understand how to walk a horse, giving them 10 swallows of water, every 10
minutes, gradually cooling them down in order to prevent stiffness or tying

Today, we use coolers on a daily basis even if the horse has just jogged or
been on the exerciser, but requires a bath because they are either dirty or
got a little sweaty. A hot horse should not stand in a breeze or chill wind.
And the time between getting the tack off and getting the warm water on
should be as quick as possible. I think it is criminal to let a hot horse
stand, steaming, without a cloth on or cover of some kind, it's so hard on
the big muscles of the body to be cooled off quickly from a chill breeze.

We wash with warm water, not hot and not too cool -- if you wash with cool
water you actually cause the horse's skin to work harder and keep pores open
longer, as the hot skin, splashed with cool water, will be "tricked" into
warming itself up to prevent a chill -- so the skin keeps hotter longer. If
your barn has no hot water, consider investing in a bucket hot water heater
(electrically heated metal rod that you stick in a bucket of water, about
$40) or large, inexpensive electric hotpot -- probably can find one at a flea
market or yard sale. Even a half gallon of boiling water added to cool water
will help to take the chill off the water. If you have sunshine during the
day, use a black wash bucket and set it out first thing in the morning in the
sun. That will take the chill off the water, too, and black attracts heat --
after a few hours in direct sun stick your hand in the water -- you will be
surprised, it will probably be lukewarm. Even in 45 degree weather!

When finished bathing, scrape all excess water off the horse, and run your
hand down the backs of the legs to squeeze the water down. I take a big towel
to the head first, taking care to dry the ears and eyes and muzzle, then do
the body briskly; rub to absorb water from the hair. One towel will be damp
when done. If it's wet, then you haven't scraped hard enough and left too
much water on the horse.

I place a cooler on the horse immediately. If it's been a hard work and the
horse is steaming and blowing, or if the weather is cool -- 30 or 40 degrees
-- I will put TWO coolers on the horse, as the top cooler will be soaked
quickly. You should change the top cooler but not the bottom one; it will be
dry as the water should be pulled thru to the top.

I am no expert on materials, but the best coolers I have have mostly wool in
them. The polyester blends of a few years ago were very hot and did not pull
water very well. They have made much better materials now with polar fleeces,
etc. but as these materials are very expensive, and do not come in the widths
needed for the horse coolers (80 inch wide) most of us probably can't afford
them. Also, the polar fleece coolers and dress sheets I've had have been very
densely woven. This seems to trap heat on a horse, while it may whisk
moisture on a human, who does not have a dense hair coat. Polar fleece in my
opinion is still not a material I would use on a very hot horse altho a
mildly worked horse who has just had a bath it is ideal. On a hot horse I
would still rather use two wool or wool blend coolers. As I understand it is
next to impossible to find real wool coolers any more, 60-40 is the best you
can do. I do know some who use the cotton thermal bed blankets (in a full
size, I think) and they are not too sturdy but work OK in the milder months
of the year. You can easily find them at garage sales and WalMart specials
very inexpensively.

One new sheet I bought last year is the polar fleece blend dress sheet from
Weather beeta, about $50. It's blue with green trim. This is a WARM sheet and
really pulls the water off, it's impressive. I wish I had a cooler in this
material. However, it's a magnet for dirt! Can't have everything!
Polar fleece around a barn has a nap that seems to attract hay, shavings,
etc. and is hard to shake off. They're a lot of work to keep clean.

Coolers come in two basic sizes, usually a normal size of 78 to 80 inches by
about same dimensions, and then a larger size 80 by 82 or 84. The large size
cooler in my opinion is rarely necessary unless you have a huge horse -- I
wouldn't order a big cooler for any horse under 17 hands. I have two big ones
and I hate them, they are always hanging on or near the ground even on my
biggest horses.

I prefer coolers in a square shape, with a tape binding, and without tie
tapes altho a butt rope is fine. The tie tapes are chewy toys and just
another thing to get ripped. When you tie them, they leave a big airy gap at
the chest anyhow. We use big cooler clamps -- about 5 inch ones, they are
very light and easy to clip and made of aluminum, usually, not heavy things
like those on the end of the car battery chargers.

When you put a cooler on, pull it way up to the poll and if it is too long,
fold it back from the head, not at the but. It will almost always unfold from
the butt, drag over the hindquarters, and when the horse empties out it may
poop on it on the inside. Also, if it drags too far over the quarters, I
think it doesn't allow air to get under the horse's legs and help to dry the
horse, it traps the heated air under the horse and makes the belly stay wet.
So the cooler should stretch from poll to dock but no further in either
direction. If too big, and you take the fold, then clamp about half way from
the gullet to the chest. We take the two ends, and roll them together a
little, this pulls the material up slightly. Then clamp to hold the roll. So
that when the horse puts his head down to eat hay, the ends don't drag so
close to the front feet, so that he steps on it and pulls it sideways. I
don't like the contoured neck coolers, as there isn't a smooth way to fold
back the material from the chest if you need more air on the horse. With a
short horse, I will take the ends of the cooler and fold them up into the
roll and clamp so it looks a bit like a origami paper toy fold in the front
(sorry, I can't think of a better way to describe it!)

A cooler should be checked every 10-15 min. or so. Remove the top wet one,
put a dry one on; or remove the top cooler and go with just one to speed
drying; or fold back the cooler to allow some air when just about done
cooling out. Never let a horse roll with a cooler on if you can help it, dirt
really ruins them and we rarely wash them. Coolers are hung over a fence to
dry in the afternoon and taken down, folded and hung back next to the stall
at p.m. feed. If you watch them, they don't have to be washed. Many stables
crosstie horses with coolers until cool. We don't but if we have a roller, or
horse who likes to practice nudism (takes one off) I will safely tie a small
hay string around the belly over the top of the cloth, so that if they roll
they don't step on it when they get up and rip it.

When walking a horse with cooler(s) on, take care to keep the cooler straight
and from sliding by clamping it up high under the horses neck and looking
back as you turn to see if it's staying straight. Some horses just have the
kind of butts that slide that coolers around and you have to keep tugging at
it all the time. They do better with a heavy cooler or shaped cooler with
butt darts.

If a horse with a heavy hair coat takes hours to dry, I will speed along the
process by throwing the coolers back and rubbing with a towel, then putting
them back. Such a horse ought be clipped in some fashion if you work him
often, as it's no good to keep getting hot and wet constantly.

When just about cool, I will switch to a dress sheet if I am at the track.
While warm enough to stand in crossties, a dress sheet isn't quite warm
enough to travel (once dry, a regular blanket should go on for that) but it
will help to keep a just-cooled out horse warm until ready to load up. If you
are in a breeze at all, I would keep the horse wrapped up in the cooler, tho.
Sometimes you can place a dress sheet or even a lightweight cotton stable
sheet right over the cooler to keep it from twisting or falling and load and
travel home that way if home is just a short trailer ride or it's getting
dark and you have to get moving. I keep a lightweight, cheap sheet for just
that purpose in the trailer for emergencies.

I positively hate it when you see people putting stable blankets right on over
wet coolers; you know they just pull the cooler out from under the blanket
when they get home and the poor horse has to stand under that damp, wet
blanket all night long. I tell people let me put that wet cooler on your
truck seat and you can drive home sitting on it and then tell me when you get
there how dry and comfortable you feel.

So that's how we do it with coolers. I am sure every stable is different, but
basically the idea is to allow the cloth to whisk away the dampness in the
haircoat while protecting the horse from chills. However you do that, and
keep the chill off the horse, is probably correct.