Horses stand cold weather with careful management

LEXINGTON, Ky. – It’s wet, it’s cold, and it’s windy. Can horses tolerate this kind of weather?

According to University of Kentucky College of Agriculture equine specialist Bob Coleman, they can if horse owners keep an eye on shelter, feed, and water.

“In this climate,” Coleman said, “with the windchills and more rain and freezing rain, horses are going to get wet and they better have something they can get underneath.

“They don’t need to be in the barn, but we should think about some shelter; maybe a run-in shed where they can get out of the wind.”

Three-walled shelters that guard against prevailing winds are best, he said, and a roof couldn’t hurt either.

“When it rains and turns cold, horses are really wet and their hair coat is not doing anything for them. Then the wind starts blowing. If they’re stuck with no way to get out of the wind, it dramatically chills them.”

In addition to shelter, having a bedded area with straw or wood chips is also worth considering. The idea is to have something that drains well and is dry for horses that are kept outside.

“Horses are very resilient and tolerant to the cold,” Coleman said. “They can withstand temperature down to 13 degrees. Anything below that horses will need more energy to keep themselves warm.”

That is the time for horse owners to think about their feeding program, he said.

“If they tell you it’s going down to 10 degrees, you need to think about adding more feed. You’re probably looking at adding a half-pound of hay for every degree below 13. If you’re feeding roll-bale hay, just make sure it’s adequate and good quality.”

The other thing to think about, Coleman reminded, is how horses are getting their water.

“Make sure the water source hasn’t frozen up. Check ponds often, the edges freeze fast which also makes them more dangerous.

“Make sure a stock tank has a heater to keep water thawed,” Coleman said.

When the weather gets cold and wet, management rules change, he emphasized. Horse owners can alleviate stress if they closely watch the weather and their animals and respond quickly to adverse conditions.

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