Winter Care for Horses

The winter season presents a multitude of health hazards for equine species. However, regardless of their age or way of life, we can assist in preparing our horses for winter and offering them the finest outdoor winter experience possible.

Important Winter Care for Horses Considerations during the winter months consist of the following:

  • Shelter
  • Blanketing
  • Water Access
  • Adequate drinking
  • Hoof care
  • Weather
  • Exercise
  • Body Condition Score
  • Feeding requirements
  • Wellness care

Winter Care for Horses

Shelter for Horses

Providing shelter for horses is critical throughout the entire year, but particularly so in the winter. If your horse spends the whole year in pasture, a straightforward three-sided shed may suffice to provide shelter from wind, precipitation, and snow. Equine cover enables them to endure significantly lower outdoor temperatures (down to -40 degrees Fahrenheit) than would be possible in the absence of a body. Individual horses are most comfortable in temperatures ranging from 18 to 59 degrees.

The optimal dimensions for a three-sided run-in shed for two horses are 240 square feet (12 feet x 20 feet). Sixty square feet should be added to the pasture for each additional horse if they are all getting along. It is critical to monitor the horses in the field to ensure that they are amicable and capable of cohabitating in the run-in stable.

Blanketing for Horses

A horse may use its fleece as a natural blanket during the winter. Winter hair on horses develops naturally as a result of the ample sunlight that occurs throughout the day. During the winter months, as the amount of daylight decreases, horses will develop their winter coat. On the contrary, horses experience a reduction in the thickness of their winter coat as the duration of daylight increases.

The natural winter coat of a horse traps and warms the air, making it an ideal insulator. A damp or muddy skin can significantly compromise the insulating properties of an object and potentially facilitate elevated heat loss. Consequently, it is critical to provide adequate shelter and moisture for a horse throughout the winter season, particularly in the event of precipitation. Certain horses may benefit from blanketing during the winter, but blanketing is not required for all horses.

The winter blanketing of a horse could be advantageous in the following circumstances:

  • A shelter is not accessible.


  • The steed might possibly become wet.


  • A horse’s winter coat has been trimmed.


  • An exceptionally youthful or aged horse


  • An equine that has not yet acclimated to frigid temperatures


  • Chargers that have a body condition score of three or lower

Tips for blanketing horses:

  • It is critical to purchase a blanket that fits your horse precisely so as to prevent the development of ulcers or rub marks.


  • At least once per day, remove the blanket to inspect it for damage or wounds and to realign it if it has become dislodged.


  • The blanket must remain waterproof at all times.


  • Purchase a blanket that is specifically labeled for turnout rather than a stable blanket designed for interior or barn use exclusively.


  • A wet horse should never be covered with a blanket, as doing so would entrap the moisture and result in the horse remaining damp.


  • Before blanketing your horse, always allow them to dry completely, particularly if they become sweaty during exercise.


  • To prevent a horse from overheating during the day, its covering may need to be removed and reapplied for the night as the temperature rises during the day.

Read More: What is Horse Feeding: 10 Best Tips for Feeding Horses

Water Access for Horses

Winter is among the most critical periods to ensure that a horse is adequately hydrated. A horse on pasture can obtain 60 to 80 percent of its summertime moisture from the lush vegetation. This may increase the daily water demand of the animals. The moisture content of the pastures will decrease to below 15 percent during the winter season. This may necessitate that a horse consume additional water throughout the winter in order to stay hydrated.

On a daily basis, the average equine requires 10 to 12 gallons of water. In order to prevent impaction-related colic during the winter, adequate hydration is essential. Water consumption has a direct effect on the digestive tract by preventing feces from drying out. Intestinal blockage may result from waste that becomes excessively desiccated. This may occur within days to weeks if inadequate water consumption continues. Additionally, it is critical to specify that snow and ice do not suffice as a water source for horses.

The following are methods for encouraging a horse to consume water in the winter:

  • Preserving the water between 45 and 65 degrees
  • Increasing your horse’s salt intake—1 to 2 ounces of sodium per day is ideal for an average adult horse.
  • Maintaining fresh water in your horse’s water containers on a regular basis
  • Daily inspection for damage or frayed wires (if utilizing heaters).

If you are concerned that your horse is not drinking enough, provide a bucket of tepid or room-temperature water daily.

Hoof Care for Horses in Winter

Horse hoof care is an essential component in ensuring the year-round welfare of a horse. The growth rate of equine hooves is typically slower in the winter compared to the summer. Winter hoof pruning should continue every six to twelve weeks, per the farrier’s recommendation and the condition of the individual horse.

Daily, examine the hooves of a horse for any irregularities. Snowballs can form on the soles of horses’ feet when there is ice or snow on the ground during the winter. This can increase their susceptibility to injuries and place additional strain on their tendons and joints.

Barefoot horses will, on average, have superior traction in the snow. When it is necessary to maintain shod horses throughout the winter, it is preferable to do so indoors, away from any snow and ice that may accumulate. Equipping shod horses with snow padding and studs could potentially mitigate the risk of injury in situations involving exposure to snow or ice. Finally, frigid, hard ground during the winter months may result in sole bruising.

Horses and Winter Weather

To prevent injuries during periods of heavy snowfall or ice, it is best to remove all horses from their outside paddocks. Reintroduce horses to the outdoors once the snow and ice have melted. When necessary, smooth surfaces can be improved with the application of sand. Sand should not be positioned in areas where a horse could ingest it, as doing so could result in sand colic. Salt is a useful substance for melting snow and ice. In contrast, a marginal application of wood ash or manure could potentially offer a modicum of traction. In the end, it is most prudent to remove horses from slippery surfaces to ensure their safety.

Horse Exercise in Winter

While riding horses during the winter months, it is crucial to consider a few essential factors. In the event of severe winter conditions, a horse might be confined to their enclosure for an extended period; consequently, you might observe stocking up, which is defined as swelling in the lower legs of the horse. During the winter, providing a horse with daily turnout or exercise can help prevent stocking up and maintain the horse’s fitness. Riding through wintry or icy conditions with extreme caution is detrimental to you and your horse.

It is critical to ensure that your horse is adequately cooled during the winter, as leaving them in the stable while it is hot and wet is unacceptable. It may be advantageous to perform trace clipping on specific areas of the winter coat (approximately 1/8 inch in length) on routinely exercised horses.

These regions consist of:

  • The nape of the neck
  • Abdomen extending to the horse’s sides
  • Elbow until approximately 25% of the way up the body.

Consult your veterinarian before deciding whether or not pruning is the most effective method for your horse and you.

Body Condition Scoring in Winter

Due to the obfuscation that thick, long manes cause, which obscures the condition of lessening manes, wintertime horse monitoring is essential. Regularly palpate the rib cage of your horse for indications of weight loss. When weight becomes a concern, it is advisable to have your veterinarian conduct an examination.

Feeding Requirements for Horses in Winter

During the winter, it is crucial to consider your horse’s nutritional requirements. A horse housed in a barn will likely require less fodder during the winter than one that is kept outside throughout the season. By digesting forage, particularly hay, a horse can generate heat and maintain body temperature during periods of low temperatures. Winter grass is less nutrient-dense than summer hay, so horses will probably require additional caloric intake in the form of oats or hay to maintain body condition.


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