How to Keep Your Horse Safe This Winter

November 8, 2023

A horse wearing a coat in a corral while snow falls

Spending the winter with your equine friends can be magical with snowy rides and cozy grooming sessions in the barn. But as temperatures drop, it’s important to be aware of the extra precautions you should take to keep your hooved friend safe, healthy and happy. Here are a few winter weather considerations from the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) to keep your equine feeling their best.

Feeding for Cold Weather

Did you know that a horse’s calorie requirement can go up by as much as 25% on cold winter days? While this isn’t true for every horse, some may need additional feed during the winter season. Things like available shelter, outside temperature and individual tolerance can affect how much additional nutrition your horse might need. Be sure to work with your veterinarian or nutritionist to figure out what is the right winter diet for your horse to ensure that they have adequate nutrition for those cold winter months.

Fresh Water

Horses often get water from their food during the months that pasture is growing. However, during the winter, they are often getting dry hay and pelleted feeds, which are low in water compared to fresh pasture plants. Not drinking enough water is a common cause of impaction, colic and dehydration.

Horses aren’t able to drink water if it’s frozen and are reluctant to drink cold water when it is cold out. If temperatures fall below freezing, here are a few tips:

  • Get lukewarm water for your horses. Horses prefer water about 68 degrees Fahrenheit when it’s cold and will drink more water at that temperature than water that is close to freezing. However, lukewarm water will freeze quicker than cold water and will need to be replaced more frequently. 
  • Things like having a larger trough with access to sunshine, partially burying the trough and having appropriately installed heating elements, and composting manure around the trough will decrease the number of times that you may need to go and break up ice and add more lukewarm water.

Keeping Surfaces Safe

If there are icy areas in your barn or paddock, the ice should be removed if possible. If that’s not possible, sand or mulch should be applied to these areas to increase traction and decrease the risk of slips and falls. Be sure that your horse does not ingest sand that is placed down, as that can lead to impaction. Winter hoof care is also very important. Just because there is snow on the ground, routine hoof maintenance, such as picking out the hooves and farrier care is still essential and doesn’t stop with the colder temperatures.

If heavy snow should occur, the snow should also be removed to allow your horses to have easy access to their shelter, food and water.

Adequate Shelter

Horses should have access to shelter to get out of the wind, snow, sleet or rain. Access to a stable or other suitable shelter can dramatically increase a horse’s tolerance to the cold weather. Always remember that horses that are wet or cannot get out of the wind are more susceptible to adverse effects of the cold weather, like frostbite. Young horses are even more sensitive and require special care.

To Blanket or Not to Blanket

Horses will grow a winter coat as long as the days are getting shorter. If you blanket your horse before the winter solstice, they will not grow as much of a winter coat.

You may need to blanket a horse:

  • If you have a horse that is clipped
  • If they may become wet (rain, sleet or melted snow)
  • If they are very young or very old
  • If they are thin and their body condition score is less than four. 
  • If the horse is new to the area and not acclimated to the cold.

Note: Once you have started blanketing a horse when it gets cold, you need to continue blanketing them until the weather warms up. 

If you do blanket your horse, be sure to:

  • Get a blanket specifically for your horse and make sure that it fits.
  • Take the blanket off each day, inspect it for any damage, make sure that there are no areas of irritation or rubbing on your horse, and put it back on the horse properly.
  • If the blanket becomes wet, take the blanket off immediately and put your horse into a sheltered area to dry. When the horse is completely dry, you can put a new, dry blanket back on your horse.