Last evening as I was grooming my horse Glory, I was shocked to see she had already started growing a winter coat. It’s the middle of August, was 102 degrees the day before, and her coat is thickening? My immediate thought was “we’re going to have a cold winter.”
Then I mused about how someone living in 2013, just outside a major city, still looked to the old farmer’s indicators for clues to the weather. Almost everyone else I know listens to or reads the weather reports. With satellite photos, graphs and charts, the meteorologists predict our climate—with about fifty percent accuracy. Those of who deal with animals probably have a slightly better record.
Early this summer the people at the barn where I board Glory were all commenting on how their horses weren’t losing their winter coats. Normally by June, they are sleek and shining, with all the long hair gone. This year they took much longer to shed and some of the older horses never did sleek out.
Turns out the horses knew something even the meteorologists didn’t. It was going to be a cool summer. In fact, in spite of a few high temps, this has been one of the coolest on record for our area. Since thirty degree drops in temperature overnight are common here, those older horses that had lost their muscle and bulk really did need the extra warmth their shaggy coats provided.
Now it appears they are preparing for a early, cold winter. Shorter days, with less light, provide a physiological signal for animals to shed their short summer hair and replace it with a longer, denser coat. Because of this many show barns leave their lights on at night in an attempt to keep their horses sleek. (The lights also affect the reproductive cycle, but that’s a topic for another time.) The rest of us just live with the heavy coats, and maybe use blankets to try to keep them from getting too dense.
But what causes animals to grow heavy coats one year and much lighter ones the next? How did they know to hang onto their extra hair this summer? How does Nature know what the climate will be? I’d really love to know the answer to those questions.
Until then, I’ll continue to monitor my animals and prepare for a cold winter this year. I’ll be curious, come Spring, as to how accurate their predictions are.
How about you? Are there any unusual happenings that you pay attention to? Any cues from Mother Nature?
Weather plays an important part in my novel Forewarning. Take a look at an excerpt to see how.