Horses can handle almost anything that the cold winter can dish out as long as they can get out of the wind! The long hairs of their coat can raise and trap air between the hair and the skin. This trapped air is warmed and provides great insulation for your horse. Horses with adequate hair growth and good body condition (fat) can withstand temperatures to -40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Trouble occurs when the coat becomes “flattened” either due to wet weather or when the wind ruffles the hair and the trapped air escapes. Flattened hair can allow the horse to become chilled. In order to prevent the wind or wet weather to affect your horse’s ambient body temperature, we recommend that you provide shelter for your horse. A three-sided shed or a heavy tree line can provide a windbreak for your herd. Always make sure that your shed faces the south to avoid direct northerly winds.
Blankets are commercially available for your horse. The appeal to blanket your horse should be carefully considered though because a blanket will lay your horse’s hair down flat and he will not be able to stay warm without the continued use of a blanket. Once you start to blanket your horse for the winter, more than likely, you will have to continue this practice until spring. Horses that have been body clipped, have a low body condition score or are under extreme stress due to disease should be blanketed.
Horses have to work a bit harder to maintain their body core temperature during cold weather. Stored body fat is used as insulation as well as a source of calories to keep a horse warm. To avoid loosing weight during cold weather, a horse must increase their caloric intake approximately 15-20 % for every 10 degree drop in temperature below 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
It is the HAY not the GRAIN that keeps a horse warm in the winter! Old schools-of-thought was that grain (especially corn) should be fed in ample amounts during cold weather in order to produce more body heat for the horse. However, hay not only provides insulation by just filling the core of the body, but digestion of fiber creates additional heat through fermentation. Hay is digested in the large intestine by bacterial fermentation. This digestive process produces quite a bit of heat that warms the inside of the horse. Grain, on the other hand, is digested in the stomach and part of the small intestine, and creates much less heat because digestion occurs primarily by enzymes and acid rather than bacterial fermentation. The heat generated from the stomach and small intestines is much less than the heat produced by the large intestine.
Provide FREE-CHOICE hay during cold weather to keep your horse warm!
Water is another important element needed to keep your horse warm during cold weather. Horses (average 1000 lb horse) should consume a minimum of 10 gallons of water per day. Often, horses do not drink enough water during the winter months. Unfortunately, snow cannot provide adequate water intake for a horse due to the expenditure of calories (stored body fat) required to warm the snow as the horse eats it. Horses are very reluctant to drink cold water during winter months because cold water chills the horse. Research demonstrates that horses will drink more water during cold weather if the water is warmed to temperatures between 45-65 degrees Fahrenheit. Various bucket warmers are commercially available. Otherwise, just pour hot water into your horse’s bucket of cold water to bring the temperature into the desired range.
If your horse does not require shoes in the winter; have the farrier pull or remove your horse’s shoes. Going “barefoot” allows your horse’s foot to spread and his heels to expand. This will increase circulation to the foot and allows the foot to stabilize. Secondly, the horse tends to travel better in the snow (better traction) when barefooted rather than shod.
Bundle up and ride your horse in the winter months…. the scenery is beautiful!