Winter Horse Care Tips

February 12, 2021

Caring for Your Horse in Winter

We all know the love, time and attention that goes into caring for your horse. As the leaves start to change and the weather gets a little colder the needs of your horse changes as well.  Adequate diet and water intake is important year-round but becomes especially important once the temperature drops. Good quality hay and horse feed as well as an increase in water intake can maintain your horse’s body weight during frigid temperatures. Feeding your horse in winter isn’t just about the food, although that is a large component. From proper shelter to proper use of salt licks, we’ll dive into some concepts to consider.


Keep Your Horse Hydrated

Life as we know it wouldn’t exist without water. Even horses should monitor their water intake. There’s more moisture in the pasture on those dreamy, warm summer months but things change come wintertime. It’s an entirely different game. Horses need a water increase in the winter. Dried horse feed, grain, forage, and hay don’t contain as much moisture, so supplementing the additional water is vital. Make sure the water bucket doesn’t freeze so they have access to clean water and keep a lookout on a daily basis (at the bare minimum). Eating snow as a water source is not optimal; they will not likely eat enough snow to account for the amount of water needed. If your horse doesn’t drink enough, they might not eat as much, regardless of how high quality the feed is. Losing weight is certainly not something you want to have to deal with in freezing temperatures.

Do Horses Lose Weight in Winter?

Starting out with a good body condition prior to winter months can play a beneficial role in your horse’s health. Eating well during the seasonal change is important to overall health and function. Heavier coats might hide weight loss so ensure that you’re performing regular assessments with your horse. You can check for any signs of weight loss. Thin horses can be fed additional grain and hay to supplement the weight loss. Your horse’s age, body fat and weight, and body condition all come into play for winter feeding requirements. Forage, good quality hay, oats are good options to feed your horse and enable them to eat high fiber and protein. Proper feed intake can help your horse maintain the energy needed to survive the colder months.

Coats and Warmth

Horses have a hair coat and a layer of body fat to provide extra protection during the winter months. Depending on the breed of horse, the coat itself can be totally suitable to combat natural elements and maintain weight. If your horse doesn’t have a suitable winter coat then they may suffer through winter without enough warmth and shelter. Some basic winter supplies can include a winter horse blanket, halter, lead rope, proper feed, hoof pick, brushes, and a few more things you might spot on this cold-weather horse care and feeding list.

Combating Cold Weather

Corn does not keep your horse warm but adequate shelter will. Provide your horse with warm shelter to help them battle the winter weather. Many horses may huddle up together for added body heat and to retain energy, but the shelter keeps them warm from the cold rain and snow. Your horse needs to maintain lower critical temperature for necessary body heat. Lower critical temperature for horses is around 41° F if your horse has a summer coat and 18° F with a winter coat. Adequate shelter during cold weather helps your horse retain body temperature and keeps your horse happy too.

Outdoor horses will need extra calories for the energy expended. If you don’t have a barn or covered setup, an angled shelter can shield from the cold weather, too. Lack of exercise can become a problem during the winter months, potentially causing weight gain or even an overweight horse. In this case, a decrease in high energy feeds can help your horse lose a couple of pounds if necessary. You can even buy some horse toys and inspire them to stay physically active and mentally sharp.

How Much Does a Horse Eat in the Winter Months?

Horses may eat the same amount or a bit more during winter but there are a couple of things to consider to maintain body weight. Feeding horses during the season can range based on where you are located and how severe your winters are. Are frigid winters with harsh snowstorms common in your area? Or is it more of a light sprinkle? Sunny days only? If they are suffering from discomfort during cold stress this may alter their eating habits. Body stress can impact this as well. Some horses will need additional food in the winter while others won’t. Speak to your vet about the adequate percentage of body weight per day and calories for your horse.


Choose Loose Salt

Horses require salt, as it plays a crucial role in the equine diet. Opt for loose salt in the winter. Your horse might not want to deal with the freezing ice salt block should you use it. The loose salt tends to be more comfortable. Salt remains part of the winter feeding schedule to meet the mineral and electrolytes diet needs of your horse. Some horses are pickier than others but the loose salt should be more than adequate.

Vitamins and Minerals

You can monitor nutritional needs through the vitamins and minerals in the food your horses eat. They say hay is for horses, but poor quality hay just doesn’t cut it. Plus, cold or colic, stressed, or sick horses may need specific dietary requirements or digestion aids. There are anti-colic supplements available on the market as well. Fiber and protein play an important part in health. Depending on your veterinarian’s recommendation, you can use an equine supplement and multivitamins.

Feeding Senior Horses

Elderly horses require attentive care during the low heat days. Not only are they more susceptible to illness, but they might have digestion problems, lost teeth, and overall body pain. Older horses can benefit from feed like beet pulp, chopped grass hay, and higher protein and fiber. Provide your horse with energy from calories, fat, and the proper body condition to help them endure the weather like they did in their younger years. Added fat from flax or other options can offer your horse more calories. Senior feeds are a great option for senior horses because they are formulated to keep the equine aging process in check such as problems chewing or digesting forage.

Horses are such spectacular creatures filled with wonder. You can look into their eyes and see the warmth and personality behind them. You are now equipped with the knowledge to shield your horse from the cold this winter. It isn’t rocket science and you don’t have to buy expensive equipment. It comes down to proper shelter and food. Give them enough water and food like forage, grain, and hay. Enough hay fiber intake per day can keep your horse in prime condition.