Horses need extra TLC during winter weather

horses in winter
Adequate, high-quality horse feed is very important, especially in the winter. (Submitted photo)

LEXINGTON, Ky. — The 2018-2019 winter has served up roller coaster temperatures and record precipitation.

Kentucky’s equine friends are quite adaptive to these variations, but when the temperatures dip low, along with wet and windy conditions, horse owners need to pay attention to a few things to help the animals cope and thrive.

“Horses have three basic needs — shelter, feed and water,” said Bob Coleman, horse specialist for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

“You can easily manage horses outside, but you’ll have to provide a few creature comforts.”

Shelter should provide protection from the wind and the different forms of precipitation Kentucky usually receives in winter months such as freezing rain, sleet, snow and ice.

Coleman said horses’ hair coats are pretty efficient at protecting the animals from colder temperatures, but they won’t be as effective against wind and wet conditions.

“If a horse’s coat gets wet in rain or snow, it can dramatically chill them. You may need to bring them inside a barn to dry and warm up,” Coleman said. “Otherwise, three-walled shelters that guard against prevailing winds will do a nice job of protecting horses from the elements.”

Having bedding in an outdoor shelter is also a good idea, as long as it drains well and stays dry. Horses are very resilient and tolerant to the cold.

They can withstand air temperatures down to around 13 degrees Fahrenheit. When the temperatures drop below that, horse owners should think about their feeding program.

In cold weather, horses need more energy to stay warm.

“Adequate, high-quality feed is very important, especially in the winter,” Coleman said. “As horses eat and digest hay, digestion creates internal heat which can help them maintain body temperature.”

If owners are unsure of their hay quality, slowly adding a daily concentrate to the feed can be helpful in providing a complete ration.


Many horse owners use blankets on their animals. Blankets can be helpful, but they do require extra attention and the sizing is important. A blanket that is too big will likely cause a lot of coat-damaging friction.

When conditions for blanketing have passed, owners need to remember to remove the blanket.

“You need to remove the blanket periodically to groom and check the horse’s coat,” Coleman said.

“We have some extreme temperature variations, and if that blanket gets wet, or if it warms up and traps moisture from the horse sweating, it could be detrimental to the horse’s health and coat condition. So, if you must use blankets, make sure you check the horse often.”


Water is still the most crucial element in winter horse care. If a horse takes in less water, they may eat less feed as well. Adequate digestion requires adequate water intake.

“It’s not uncommon to see an increase in impaction colic in horses that eat high forage diets without drinking enough water,” Coleman said.

“Make sure the water you’re offering isn’t too cold and check for problems with your tank heaters.”


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  1. It’s good to know that when it gets below 13 degrees that they may need extra food to stay warm. My family owns a horse for getting around our property and it’s important to us that he stays healthy and taken care of. Having good conditions while it’s colder outside is an important factor in making sure he’s doing well.


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