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.
1. Provide Shelter
Although horses can survive without shelter, the presence of one can be quite useful for harsh weather conditions.
The horse shelter can be a barn, a stable, a shed, or even trees providing ample shade.
These can help save the animals from wind & snow storms.
If you intend on providing a closed barn, make sure it has proper ventilation.
Shelters with improper ventilation can lead to respiratory problems.
This can be done by taking simple steps, such as keeping the windows open for better airflow.
Also, provide a blanket or a rug inside the space to help keep the horse warm and protected.
If you are planning on constructing a shelter, there are a few important factors to consider:
- For multiple horses, observe their temperaments, and ensure that they can share space in harmony.
- Get a shelter built that is large enough to accommodate all the horses with ample free space. If you’re going for a run-in shed, 12 by 18 feet should be enough space for 3 horses.
2. Water is Essential
You may think that in the cold season your horse doesn’t need that much water. Well, that’s why we’re helping you with cold horse care tips.
In winters, horses require a higher amount of water to keep hydrated.
The average water requirement for a healthy horse in moderate temperatures is 7 gallons.
In winter, the water requirement for horses increases to about 12 gallons.
Common reasons behind this fact are:
- Changes in the horse’s diet
- Dry weather conditions in winters
Remember if the water is too cold, your horse will avoid drinking it, which may result in dehydration.
This may also lead to other health issues such as colic or weight loss.
The water given to your horse should have a temperature of around 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, if you’re stuck in a snowstorm and have absolutely no way to provide fresh water to your horse, you can feed it snow. Yes, you heard it right!
A research conducted by CM Mejdell of the National Centre for Veterinary Contract Research and Commercial Services showed that horses which had to survive a few days on snow as their primary source of water showed no signs of abnormality or physical stress.
3. Avoid Clipping your Outdoor Horses
Many people, who work their horses in winters, prefer partial or even full body-clipping.
Body-clipping refers to clipping or trimming the horse’s hair along certain patterns.
But why do people clip their horses?
In winters, the skin produces grease to protect the body against the cold weather.
When a horse works, it begins to sweat.
And when the sweat and grease mix, a thick layer is created which makes it difficult to dry off the coat.
A wet coat reduces the ability of your horse’s body to insulate against the cold. This can chill the horse and lead to an onset of illnesses.
So yes, clipping is important.
However, if you do clip your horse, be sure to use a warm horse blanket.
4. Exercise your Horses
Exercise helps in:
- Keeping your horse warm and
- Regulating its body temperature
- Keeping your horse fit
However, you must take precautionary measures while exercising your horse in winters.
Firstly, let the horse stretch and warm up by walking around. It is important to get the horse’s body temperature up before you begin to jog or trot them.
Lunging is a good activity to try in winters, however, I wouldn’t recommend trying extremely strenuous exercises.
But if you feel like your horse is in the perfect physical state, you can choose an indoor facility to exercise him.
Once you finish exercising, let the horse cool down and then dry his coat.
5. Winter Care For Horse Hooves
In winters, hoof ice balls are quite common in horses.
What is a hoof ice ball?
It refers to the buildup of ice in the horse’s hooves.
Hoof iceballs increase the risk of slipping and straining the horse’s muscles & joints.
To prevent this from happening, you will have to pick your horse’s hooves regularly.
You can use hoof picks (I love this one) and hammers for this purpose.
6. Keep the Paddock free of Ice
Another trouble that horse owners face is the icy paddock.
Ice or water inside the paddocks can cause slippage as it reduces the traction.
One solution to this is to spread sand all over the space as the crystals of sand increase friction.
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.
In this process, the cellulose is broken down by bacteria in the large intestine which results in the production of heat.
This is what enables horses to maintain their body temperatures.
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:
Impaction colic is caused in winters when the digestion process doesn’t work efficiently.
As a result, blockages occur where the feed begins to accumulate.
If you suspect your horse is experiencing colic, immediately contact the veterinarian.
Make sure your horse is hydrated and keep the food away from it.
2. Joint Problems
Issues such as joint stiffness arise in winters as horses are confined to their stables and barns.
Frequent movement and exercise help keep the body warm and flexible.
This situation can be much worse for your arthritic horses.
To prevent stiffness, you can use wraps or lined-boots to keep the legs and joints warm.
To protect the younger horses from arthritis the following measures are necessary:
- Provide a diet that contains essential nutrients.
- Schedule regular farrier visits to maintain your foal’s hooves.
- Provide sufficient turnout but don’t put excessive stress on the developing joints.
3. Respiratory Issues
Barns and stables may provide warmth to our horses, but many don’t have adequate ventilation.
This causes the air quality inside them to decrease. The best ways to prevent respiratory problems include:
- Ventilating the barns
- Providing low-dust feed
- Stocking the hay and supplies away from the barn
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