As winter approaches, horse owners begin worrying about their horse’s adjustment to the weather.
A common question that comes up is, “do horses get cold?”
Horses adapt well to the cold weather. As the weather changes, they shed their summer coats and grow a thicker winter coat. In spite of that, indoor horses, in particular, may still feel cold. Owners should follow care tips for cold horses to keep their horses healthy through the winters.
In this article, we’ll give you some cold weather tips for horses and help you understand their natural mechanisms to fight against chilly weather.
Understanding Winter Coats in Horses
Nature has devised its ways of enabling animals to adapt to the changing weathers. If you’ve been wondering how do wild horses survive in the winter, then they do so by shedding.
Horses begin to shed their summer coats during fall.
They develop thicker and longer winter coats that help in:
- Keeping horses warm by insulating their body
- Regulating their temperature by trapping heat
The thicker the coat, the higher is the capability of your horse to retain heat.
This is why horses living out in winter can resist the cold without needing any extra insulation. A good example are the Przewalski horses that are the last completely wild horse breed..
How Cold Can Horses Tolerate?
Horses accustomed to the outdoors can withstand much colder temperatures.
According to the University of Minnesota:
Without a shelter, horses can bear temperatures as low as 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
For horses that have access to a shelter, this value goes down to -40 degrees Fahrenheit.
For horses, the actual problem is not the temperature but the moisture and wind are what cause difficulties.
Horse Blanketing: Does it help?
Well, whether or not you should blanket your horse depends on a few different factors.
For instance, a horse that has:
- A healthy metabolism
- Access to adequate food and water
Might not require blanketing unless exposed to extreme weather conditions.
The only thing a healthy horse may need is a breathable or waterproof blanket to protect against the rain.
Whereas a horse that is sick, old or weak will almost certainly need to be blanketed; even the younger ones can benefit from a few extra layers.
If your horse needs a blanket, I’d recommend going with the Tough 1 Soft Fleece Blanket. It’s soft, warm, and looks fantastic!
To accustom your horse to the cold temperature, you might begin blanketing it through the end of fall, which can hinder the growth of the horse’s winter coat. So, take it a bit easy on your equine and follow this winter care tip for horses only when it’s extremely cold and windy.
There are situations where a blanket is vital such as your horse shivering in cold rain. In that situation, it would be best to add a layer of fabric to help horses that:
- Are clipped
- Do not have access to shelter
- Work in winter and have lighter coats
Thermoregulation in Horses
Another mechanism that helps keep horses warm is thermoregulation.
This is the process that involves the burning of fat in their body, which generates heat.
You may have noticed that horses gain weight during the fall season.
This is because their body is building up excessive fat for the winters.
Since this fat has a high insulation capability, it aids the horse in maintaining its body temperature.
The heat generated from the burning of fat also helps keep them warm.
Care For Cold Horses
Although horses can keep themselves warm, there are certain measures that we need to take, especially for horses living out in winter.
If the required care is not provided to them timely, there may be severe repercussions.
Let’s try to understand the essential winter care for horses that you need to follow.
The Role of Nutrition in Your Horse’s Winter Health Care
Like humans, horses also have nutritional requirements; these vary with the changing seasons.
For instance, a horse in winter will require extra energy to keep its body warm.
This excess energy has to be provided through food.
So does it mean that the horse needs to eat more during the winter?
Well, the nutritional value of the food given should be increased.
This means that you should provide your horse with a feed that has:
- High fiber content
- Adequate calories
Adding Good Quality Hay to Your Horse’s Meal
Hay is rich in fiber and so it provides an internal heating effect.
The digestive system of horses utilizes the mechanism of hindgut fermentation.
Apart from fiber, horses may also require additional calories to balance the energy lost by their body during the cold temperatures.
So adding a sufficient quantity of grains to their diet is also important.
Common Winter Ailments and Remedies for Horses
Even though you try your best to care for your horse, he may at some point in time fall ill, particularly if he is old or weak.
To enable you to provide the best possible care, here are tips and remedies for the most common winter hazards:
What temperature is too cold for a horse?
This depends on a variety of factors such as:
- The availability of a shelter
- The type of weather
- The coat of your horse
So if a horse has access to a shelter, it can tolerate temperatures up to -40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Without a shelter, this value would decrease and they would only be able to bear temperatures around 0 degrees Fahrenheit. (This is when the weather isn’t wet or windy.)
Your horse should also have a thick winter coat to be able to survive these temperatures. (By the way, we also recommend you wear a winter coat/jacket yourself when riding. Check out our top picks!).
How do you warm up a wet cold horse?
The cold weather causes the joints and muscles to become stiff and sore.
If the horse isn’t warmed up before a ride, there is a high risk of injury.
To have a safe ride, it is important that you follow a few techniques to warm your horse:
- Firstly, check your horse’s temperature. If it is out of the normal range, contact the veterinarian.
- Secondly, if your horse is wet, cover him in a wool cooler to absorb the moisture.
- Make sure the saddle is a bit warm before you place it on your horse
- Take him outside and let him walk around, allowing to stretch the muscles.
- Once your horse feels comfortable and relaxed, you may take him for a ride.
Do horses need blankets in winter?
Although it may seem comforting, blanketing a horse isn’t mandatory.
Just make sure you provide the following to your horse:
- Good quality hay which is rich in fiber. It helps keep the horses warm due to the fermentation process.
- A shelter is necessary for your horse. If it has a warm place for resting, there may not be the need for a blanket at all.
- And of course, access to warm water is essential.
However, blanketing is an important part of caring for a cold horse when:
- It rains
- It’s windy outside