It’s that time of year; the leaves are falling, and there’s a crispness to the air. While we still enjoy the beauty of fall and the great riding weather, it’s time to start planning for winter. Horses in winter need a little extra care to keep them fit, fed, and healthy. Here are some winter horse care tips you can use all season long.

Feeding Your Horse in the Winter

Feeding Your Horse in the Winter

In winter, horses need to eat more as digestion creates more heat. According to experts, a horse will need to eat about two pounds of feed per day past normal intake for every 10-degree change below 30F.

Have plenty of good quality hay in the field and your hay bags and grain feeders ready for the winter months. High-quality hay is more effective in keeping your horse warm than corn or cereal grains because hay releases more heat. Whether your horse is turned out most of the time or in the barn will also affect food intake. Horses that are outside more often than not in the winter should eat a mix of alfalfa or clover hay along with grass hay to compensate for their higher energy requirements. Winter can also exacerbate ulcers, degenerative joint disease, and respiratory conditions. Regular supplements and topdress feed with electrolytes to help keep these issues at bay.

Making Sure Your Horse Drinks Water in the Winter

Horses naturally drink less in the winter because they aren’t exercising as much (except for horses being ridden regularly). Providing salt every day is essential to promote drinking and prevent dehydration. Some people like adding salt blocks to their horse’s diet, but some choose to add salt to their horse’s food or water source as a great way to increase water intake. Do note if you add salt to a water source, your horse also needs access to unsalted water. In addition to dehydration, reducing drinking can increase the danger of impaction colic. Provide warm water and electrolytes for horses in winter, and keep the water temperature stable with a water insulator.

Exercising Your Horse in the Winter

Riding Your Horse in the Winter

Keeping your horse in shape during the winter is important for their mind, soundness, and fitness. Here are some tips for exercise in the winter:

  • Make extra time for warm-ups and cool-downs. Don’t rush into any exercise; ensure your horse’s muscles are warm and loose to prevent injury. Cooling down is important so your horse’s body temperature and breathing can regulate. It also helps dry the sweat, so your horse can acclimate to the outside temperature.

  • Be consistent with exercise. A little exercise every day is much better than hard exercise on the weekend.

  • Be mindful of how your horse feels that day. Is he raring to go? Or is she tired and feeling a bit off? And don’t forget your mood; feeling under the weather or out of sorts means you should take a day off too.

  • Take into consideration the weather conditions. If the weather is nasty or the footing is slick, unless you have a safe and dry area to exercise your horse, it’s an automatic rest day for you both.

Providing Shelter for Your Horse in the Winter

Shelter for Your Horse in the Winter

Horses need access to shelter from the winter elements, but keeping them in a barn is only sometimes a requirement. Horses can tolerate at or slightly below 0F with no wind or moisture (i.e., snow). With access to a shelter, horses can handle temperatures as low as -40F but are most comfortable between 18F and 59F. While a copse of trees will work as a natural shelter, providing an open-sided shed in the field and/or a barn will keep your horse happy all winter.

Winter Horse Grooming and Hoof Care

Grooming Your Horse in the Winter

Grooming your horse gets a bit challenging with a heavy winter coat, but keeping up grooming rituals is important so you don’t miss any injuries and continuing bonding time between you. Some winter tips include:

  • Use a currycomb with “long fingers” instead of a traditional curry with shorter teeth to reach through the long winter coat to massage the skin and distribute your horse’s natural oils effectively.
  • A grooming vacuum can quickly and effectively pull loose hair, debris, and mud. Just be sure to acclimate your horse to the sound and sight before you use it!
  • Full body clipping makes winter grooming easier, but consider a partial clip that will keep your horse warm while keeping the areas that get sweaty with exercise easier to groom.
  • Keep your horse’s tail clean during the winter by braiding it in a commercial tail bag.
  • A conditioner with silicone sprayed on white areas of your horse will keep the white bright as the dirt slides right off.

Read more Winter Horse Grooming Tips.

Hooves are equally as important to check throughout the winter. Regularly clean your horse’s hooves and check them several times a day if in the pasture; make sure the ice and snow aren’t clumping in the hooves, which can cause pain and damage to the hoof. Thrush can also be an issue if hooves aren’t regularly inspected. Hoof hardeners are a great way to protect the lower hoof wall and sole from damage and too much moisture.

To Blanket or Not to Blanket?

Blanketing Your Horse in the Winter

It’s the age-old question for horse owners. Experts agree that body-clipped horses need a blanket; they don’t have a full winter coat to protect them from the cold. Starting at below 60F, clipped horses need to be blanketed. Horses with moderate hair or partially clipped should be blanketed when the temperature is below 40F. Horses with heavy winter coats should be blanketed when the temperature is below 30F.

Learn more by reading our Horse Blanketing 101 Guide.

Horses need a little extra TLC to get through the winter months comfortably. However, your horse will have a happy and healthy winter with the right food, proper shelter, extra attention to supplements, grooming, blanketing, and exercise. You’ll both be ready for a great spring, whether getting ready for the ring, a great trail ride, or enjoying the warming weather in the pasture.