Weather Watch

Harsh weather conditions can wreak havoc on horses

CORRECTION: A word-usage error in this story's original headline has been corrected to reflect the correct verb.

It’s been estimated that more than 25,000 wild mustangs roam the open spaces of Nevada, Oregon, Montana and Wyoming. More than half of these high-spirited horses live in the vastness of Nevada, where they can face harsh weather conditions. Rainfall can vary from just a few inches in one region to more than 40 inches in another and temperatures can swing from well below freezing in the early morning to blistering hot in the afternoon.

These wild equine cope with changing conditions far better than humans do, but their lifespans are only about 15 to 20 years, while their domesticated cousins can live to be more than 30 years old.

Unlike Nevada, most of San Luis Obispo County resides in the Goldilocks Zone, not too cold and not too hot but about just right. However, even our changing weather conditions can affect horses.

Micky Hedger of Atascadero has cared for horses for more than 30 years. One Sunday evening his wife’s quarter horse, Chance, developed colic (abdominal pain or tummy ache) and he called his veterinarian, Dr. David Eckstein of Templeton Veterinary Clinic, for help. While working on Chance, Eckstein noted that the first heat wave or first cold snap of the year tended to be the busiest times for him.

When the first heat wave of the year bakes the ground, Hedger told me horses just can’t seem to drink enough water fast enough to compensate for the increase in heat. This, in turn, dries out their digestive system, causing colic. If daytime highs are going to exceed 20 degrees more or less than the day before, he will try to coax his horses to drink water.

Conceding the truth of the old adage, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink,” Hedger said he came up with a trick to make them hydrate. About two days before an anticipated temperature change, he gives his horses a watered-down bran mash, like a thick pot of oatmeal; it keeps things moving along in their digestive tract. His horses love his bran mash. To hydrate his horses even further, he will reduce the bran by two-thirds and replace it with water. He likes to call it “bran broth,” and his horses drink it up. The bran will help keep things moving and the water will keep the horse one step ahead in hydration.

Further north, Debbie Statton and her trusted sidekick Paul Bemis take care of older and formerly neglected horses at their Heaven’s Gait horse sanctuary in western Paso Robles. Statton has loved animals all her life and takes their care very seriously. During cold winter nights, she will use blankets to keep her horses warm. During the summer, she covers her horses with fly sheets. These insects can inflict a painful bite and spread pigeon fever. Last year was horrible for flies, probably because of all the late season rains, she told me. Horse flies need bodies of water like ponds to survive and multiply.

Not only does temperature and rain affect horses, but the rustling of trees when the wind blows can cause some horses to become spooked. One of her favorite horses, Jinger, can be difficult to ride when the wind is howling.

Statton said her goal of establishing the sanctuary is to give older, abused and neglected equines the respect and care they deserve for a lifetime of serving the needs of their owners. For more information, visit http://heavensgait.org

This week's forecast

Another cool and below seasonable day is expected as a late season upper-level area of low pressure remains entrenched just off the California coast. The upper-level low will produce areas of late night and early morning coastal low clouds, fog and drizzle. However, mostly clear skies will develop during the late morning and afternoon hours along the beaches and in the coastal valleys. The North County will remain clear.

Maximum temperatures in the North County (Paso Robles) will reach the mid- to high 80s, while temperatures in the coastal valleys (San Luis Obispo) will range from the low to mid-70s. The beaches will be mostly in the 60s.

The upper-level low will remain quasi-stationary off the west through Tuesday, continuing the cooler than normal temperatures across the Central Coast with coastal low clouds in the morning and continued afternoon fresh to strong (19- to 31-mph) northwesterly winds along the coastline.

Temperatures are then expected to slowly warm as we progress through the week and following weekend with continued northwesterly wind and low marine clouds possible in the morning. No extreme heat is anticipated in the forecast period.

Long-range models are indicating high-pressure will continue to slowly build from the desert southwest resulting in above higher than normal temperatures and mostly clear skies for the Fourth of July.

Surf and sea report

Fresh to strong (19- to 31-mph) afternoon northwesterly winds along the Central Coast will generate a 3- to 5-foot northwesterly (310-degree deep-water) sea and swell (with a 5- to 11-second period) today through Friday.

Arriving from the Southern Hemisphere: Charts and models are indicating fairly quiet conditions in the Southern Hemisphere. However, few of the longer-range models and charts are indicating an energetic storm developing about 600 miles to the east of New Zealand on Thursday. Seawater temperature will range between 52 to 54 degrees through Friday.

Did you know?

More than half of the electricity that PG&E delivers to its customers comes from clean, carbon-free sources. Visit www.pge.com for more information about clean energy.

John Lindsey is a media relations representative for PG&E. He is a local weather expert and has lived along the Central Coast for more than 25 years. If you would like to subscribe to his daily weather forecast or ask him a question, send him an email at pgeweather@pge.com.

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