What's so Cool About Coolers?

Coolers help keep horses warm and drying during cool-down.

Photo: Michelle N. Anderson, TheHorse.com Digital Managing Editor

Q. I’m a little confused about the purpose of putting a cooler on a hot horse after exercise. Is it to literally help “cool” the horse? I feel like putting a cooler on a hot horse would just trap in damaging heat or not allow a sweaty horse to dry. What’s the real reasoning behind this habit?

Danny, via e-mail

A. A cooler is used at the end of a workout, otherwise known as the cooling-down portion—hence the blanket’s name. You’re right about the cooler trapping heat post-workout. However, this action helps the horse avoid catching a chill during winter cool-down. During a workout a horse can keep its body temperature high enough to stay warm in cold weather, but once the workout is finished, its body temperature will drop and it will become cold and likely uncomfortable, unless somehow kept warm.

A cooler also wicks away moisture, which helps a sweaty horse dry more effectively. Coolers are typically made of some type of moisture-wicking fabric, with the most popular options being wool or fleece. These fabrics pull moisture away from the horse, through the fabric, and allow it to evaporate more readily. The cooler causes the evaporation to happen on the outside of the fabric, keeping some of the heat on the inside and the horse warm. Without a cooler, the sweat evaporates directly off the horse, along with all the heat, which would cause the horse to get cold quickly if not actively working.

There are also cooler options for warm weather. These coolers are made of lighter fabrics, typically cotton or a cotton blend. They are generally called anti-sweat sheets and just help to wick away moisture, not provide any warmth to the horse. 

If in a cold climate, or if you have a clipped horse in the chilly months, you might use a cooler pre-workout to help keep the horse warm before riding. Once the horse has moved around enough to raise its body temperature and stay warm, you can remove the cooler until you’ve concluded the workout, then reapply it to keep the horse warm and wick away sweat.

About the Author

Rachel Buchholz, DVM

Rachel Buchholz, DVM, is an associate veterinarian at Northwest Equine Performance in Mulino, Oregon. She currently manages the standing MRI unit at the practice, as well as seeing horses for various lameness and sports medicine related issues. Buchholz graduated from Michigan State University, where she worked in the renowned Mary Ann McPhail Equine Performance Center studying equine spinal anatomy, pathologies, and therapies. Her professional interests include equine physiotherapy, advanced diagnostic imaging, and western performance horse issues.

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