Managing Carriage Horses in Extreme Weather

How Tally-Ho Cares for Our Horses When it is Very Cold, Hot or Smoky

At Tally-Ho, the care and well-being of our horses always come first, and that includes looking after them properly when we experience extreme weather conditions.

On the west coast of Canada, our extremes tend to be in terms of rainfall. However, we do occasionally experience cold snaps, and, more frequently, we are having summer heat waves combined with smoky skies due to forest fires.

Horses have a high natural capability to adjust to changes in temperature, especially gradual changes that occur seasonally. They can also adjust to more extreme temperature changes, but not immediately, which is why we ensure to offer them the care, facilities and nourishment they need while they adapt.

Tally-Ho staff are all well-trained in the key elements of horse care and signs of discomfort or distress, and we follow the advice of our Equine Specialist Veterinarian during any extreme weather conditions. 

Read on for more information about how we care for our horses during extreme heat, when the air is smoky and in wintery conditions.

Keeping our Horses Cool When the Temperature Heats Up

Victoria, BC’s low humidity ratio and cooling offshore breezes are ideal for working horses as they prevent overheating. However, we do get occasional extreme spikes that push up our usually manageable temperatures.

Horses have natural, built-in heat reduction capabilities, including evaporative cooling and convection. As their body temperature rises, sweat glands produce a highly concentrated salt solution that coats the hair and pulls moisture and heat off the horse as the air flows over them. Then, blood vessels near the skin will dilate to allow the transfer of heat from the blood into the air. Lastly, they can reduce their body temperature by 15% by changing the way they breathe. 

In extreme heat, horses do need our help to stay cool and prevent symptoms of heat stress. Our staff are fully trained to care for horses in hot weather and know how to recognize and deal with early signs of overheating.

Do our horses work when it is very hot outside?

Our horses can work in the heat, but we take great care to ensure our horses are safe when it is hot.  

For example, when temperatures are warmer, our working horses are provided:

  • Lots of water
  • Electrolytes (added to the water)
  • Soaked (damp) feed
  • Natural and man-made shade options

In addition, they are cold-hosed to help keep them cool; we monitor their internal body temperatures before, during and after work to ensure they remain within the normal range; and Tally-Ho’s sightseeing stand is ideally located next to Victoria’s inner harbour, where the breezes can reach us, and where the horses are provided shade from boulevard trees.  

Tally-Ho also follows the guidance of the commonly-used Horse Heat Index, which uses environmental temperatures and relative humidity to determine when the horse may need additional assistance to maintain a healthy internal body temperature. 

Tally-Ho uses all these measures to monitor and manage the horses’ health in summer heat waves.  During periods of abnormally high temperatures and/or humidity that could have an adverse health impact on the horses, tours are immediately cancelled, and horses remain at home on the farm. 

How Does Smoky Air Affect Horses?

It is becoming increasingly common to experience smoky skies during the summer months, even when wildfires are many miles away. Poor air quality due to smoke can affect a horse’s respiratory health in similar ways to how humans are affected, for example:

  • Eye irritation
  • Respiratory tract irritation
  • Cough
  • Nasal discharge
  • Laboured breathing 

Of course, while we can go inside to escape and use masks and air filters, these are not options for horses, so how do we help our herd cope when the sky is smoky? We:

  • Provide plenty of water to help keep the respiratory tract moist.
  • Allow our horses to move around to find a location where there is a breeze or the smoke is not as thick.
  • Limit or restrict their exercise – including carriage pulling work. At Tally Ho, we use the British Columbia Air Quality Health Index rating to guide our decisions. We will halt carriage rides if the air quality risk is high or above. 
  • Dampen the feed – soaking hay helps to reduce extra dust in the air.
  • Know the signs of horse respiratory distress and get additional help if required.

During periods of poor air quality, we follow the advice and direction of our Equine Specialist veterinarian as to if it is safe working conditions for the horses.

How do Horses Stay Warm in Cold and Snowy Conditions?

We might not get a lot of snow in Victoria, but what we get is heavy and can turn into slippery ice quickly. However, horses still love to be outside in nature, even when everything is white and frigid.

Horses naturally cope with cold weather through the creation and conservation of heat. They conserve heat through huddling, seeking shelter and growing longer,  thicker body hair. 

A horse can also generate energy from the food it eats. The right food in the right amounts can enable it to regulate even extreme temperatures. However, without enough high-quality food, a horse will start to lose weight and get sick.

During extremely cold weather spells, we help our horses adjust to the temperature change by ensuring they have:

  • 24-7 access to hay and plenty of vitamin and mineral grains and supplements that help boost weight gain and energy production
  • Lots of clean water (our automatic waterers are heat-taped to ensure they do not freeze over in cold conditions)
  • Blankets (every horse is provided a winter-weight blanket)
  • The option of covered shelter (although they rarely choose to use the shelters – instead opting for the ‘huddle’ – if you build it, it doesn’t mean they’ll use it!)

We continue to gently exercise and work our horses in cold weather, as using their muscles can help increase body heat. Our carriage-pulling horses always get plenty of rest, food, water and, if needed, blankets in between rides.

Our staff are trained to spot early signs of distress caused by cold weather and we will always cancel tours and keep the horses home if the weather does not provide appropriate working conditions.

Do Our Horses Pull Carriages in the Snow?

The safety of our horses is always paramount in our decision-making, as is that of our customers and staff. So, on the rare occasions there is snow on the ground in downtown Victoria we will not run carriage tours.

Snow and ice are risky for our horses as they do not wear shoes that would provide them traction (thereby increasing the chance of a slip and/or fall), and the risk of being struck by an out-of-control vehicle rises significantly. Not only are the risks of heading out on the roads too high but in the coldest conditions, horses do best when they reserve energy and eat lots of food. We’re happy to keep them safe, warm and well-fed on the farm until the snow melts.

What About Rain? 

Rain, as we west coasters know, can happen all year round. Horses’ hair acts as a natural rain protection as the oils encourage water to run off, keeping their core warm and dry. 

As with all weather conditions, the horses on our farm are free to seek natural (treed) or manmade shelter as they need it. During periods of continuous rain, the horses are blanketed.  

During the rainy season, our carriage drivers dress in layers and wear good quality rain gear, the carriages have roofs to help keep our guests dry, and the horses are provided rain blankets between tours to ensure their body temperatures don’t fluctuate too much.  In extremely wet conditions, we will cancel our tours as it’s simply no fun for the horses, carriage drivers or guests when they are cold and wet!  

Check Out Our Happy Horses for Yourself

Come see for yourself how our horses enjoy their life at Hidden Acres Farm on one of our Behind-the-Scenes tours. These guided tours allow you to meet our horses and hear from our staff about how we care for them in all conditions.

In addition to our farm tours, Tally-Ho Carriage Tours offers a variety of sightseeing tours that depart from Menzies Street just off Victoria’s inner harbour. Whether it’s a special occasion or you just want to see the city from a different perspective, we have a tour to suit your needs. For more information, contact us today.