Keeping your horse warm in winter

Horses by nature are excellent at dealing with the harsh months of winter, but a few extra layers of husbandry during these colder times won't go a miss.

As the nights start drawing in, a horse will begin to grow its thicker winter coat, providing it with a perfect layer of insulation. This coat isn't as efficient when damp, which is why it's essential that a horse has a safe, dry, sheltered area during the colder, wetter months. Be extra vigilant of your horse under winter coat, as signs of poor health, such as skin infection, can go unnoticed without a more scrupulous inspection.

Barns and shelters

It's important that your barn or shelter isn't full of draft or open to the prevailing weather. Unnecessary drafts take away the heat trapped under a horse's winter coat and make it vulnerable to the effects of chill.

The combined effects of damp and draft can be severe on a horse as it becomes unable to generate enough of its own heat to combat both forces at once.

Throughout the colder months, and also in the event of out of season cold snaps, it's important to bring a horse inside at night or at least make sure it has a dry place to shelter. Horses that are used to being turned out or living out-doors, should at least have a three-sided, roofed structure to shelter within.

The pitch of the roof should allow rain to fall away from the entrance and the front of the shelter should be well drained to prevent water from collecting and flooding. The shelter should be large enough to accommodate all the horses grazing on the pasture.

Keeping them high on fibre

High fibre feeds, such as hay, are a particularly good food source for your horse to feed on during the winter.

With the help of friendly microbes working in the horses gut, heat becomes a vital by-product when digesting highly fibrous food stuffs.

During colder weather, a horse's food intake should be upped, if the temperature continues to drop, then continue to increase its calories.

Giving your horse an extra layer

If your horse has been either; clipped and does not have a full winter coat, imported from a milder climate or struggles adjusting to the drop in temperature because of age or ill-heath, you might consider blanketing it.

Blankets may be considered for very cold or sub-zero temperatures. They can, however, interfere with a horse's natural defence against the cold by preventing hairs from standing up and the trap of air for insulation.

In some cases, a lighter blanket can actually have a reserves effect on a horse and give it chills.

Blankets should be in good condition. They should not be allowed to stay dirty or wet, as this could lead to skin infections. Poorly fitting blankets can cause sores. You should check your horse daily for any signs of blanked irritation.

You can layer or add blankets if the temperature continues to drop.

Making sure it has plenty of water

  • Check your horse's water supply every day.
  • Make sure the water is clean and hasn't frozen.
  • Some owners fit water tank heaters to help encourage drinking.
  • Alternatives to water might be alfalfa cubes or soaked beet pulp.

Riding your horse in winter

Give your horse a gentle warm-up before more vigorous exercise and spare it the distress of a frozen bit by warming it up before it becomes mouthed.

Be careful about getting your horse sweated up in the afternoon, sunny mornings are best. Visit your horse every morning and carry out your checks.