Cold-Weather Horse Care: Tips to Remember

Assess your horse's comfort level several times each day when winter weather hits.


While some parts of the country have or are starting to thaw out, other areas are bracing for more winter weather. Here are a few cold-weather horse care tips to remember as winter carries on.

By this time of winter—and with the extra-frigid temperatures and mountains of snow that much of the United States has experienced—your horses will have had plenty of time to develop winter coats to insulate themselves against cold winds and temperatures. However, if you’ve provided extra protection with blankets, you’ll want to continue until the weather warms up.

Remember that even with a blanket, horses exposed to rain, wind, and cold temperatures will be prone to chilling. When these conditions prevail, your horses will need access to some type of shelter. This could be a barn, shed, or simply a windbreak.

Assess your horse’s comfort level several times each day, noting the temperature and conditions when you do. Is he shivering? If blanketed, is he sweating? Don't be afraid to change blankets during the day, or bring your horse inside if he's seeming very cold. Ensure your horse remains appropriately prepared for the weather from the start to the end of each day.

Is your horse losing weight or body condition this winter? Tom Schell, DVM, of Nouvelle Research in Jonesville, N.C., advises horse owners that winter coats can be deceiving, so a hands-on approach is best to asses winter body condition.

“You should be able to feel your horse’s ribs with light pressure,” he said. If you have to apply more pressure to feel them, your horse is overweight and probably doesn't need his feed increased for the winter months; if you can feel them without exerting any pressure, they’re too thin. “Loss of body condition could indicate that feed needs to be increased,” he added.

In addition to shelter and feed, you need to monitor your horse’s water intake. Cold water can cause your horse to drink less and become dehydrated, and that, Schell said, could result in impaction colic.

“Always make sure your horse has a clean, unfrozen water source available,” he said. “Water heaters can be purchased or you can break the ice daily and add warm water to warm up the container.”

Keeping your horse comfortable when winter weather hits can be challenging, but know how to prepare in advance makes the job easier.