Can horses stay out in cold weather?
Sometimes it’s hard to decide if your horse should come into the barn or stay out in cold weather. Most horses will do just fine turned out during storms and bad winter weather, but there are times when you want them more protected. BUT – when the weather gets dangerous, time to reconsider.
Help the outside horse during cold weather
- Do the horses have access to a shelter? A three-sided shelter in a paddock is ideal, with the open side not facing the wind! Not all horses will utilize their shelters, but the option needs to be there. You can also feed them inside the shelters so their hay stays away from snow and mud.
Fun in the snow!
- Add some extra calories. Horses are amazing creatures – they produce heat when they are digesting! This is especially important at night when temperatures drop and the time between feedings widens. Talk with your veterinarian or Equine Nutritionist about how much extra hay you can feed, often it is a flake or two. If possible, you could add in a late-night feeding as well. If your horse is on pasture, which is now covered in snow, time to add some hay to the feeding routine.
- Slow feeders are wonderful for overnight use (well, daytime use, too)
- Does your horse have water that is not frozen? There are loads of watering systems out there that resist freezing. Some are super duper fancy, others are just simple insulating jackets for water buckets. Some horse owners swear by putting a soccer ball in the trough to keep the water moving to prevent freezing. Horses will drink in the winter, but usually not as much as when their water is warmer. You can read more about dehydration in the winter here and how to entice your horse to drink here.
Do you need to add blankets?
- Supplemental blanketing. Without getting into a huge discussion about blanketing you need to look at your horse individually and decide if he needs help staying warm. I own a horse whose winter coat is a total of FOUR additional hairs. There is NO WAY he can handle temps approaching freezing without a blanket. If your horse is a senior, or a hard keeper, or has a sparse winter coat, give him a blanket to help him out.
- This may seem surprising, but keeping your horse outside during the cold winter may be best! During the day, the weather may also be sunny at times, which of course, is a great way for your horse to stay comfortable. Sunny outside is often warmer than shaded stalls inside the barn. If he has buddies hanging out with him in the paddocks, they can huddle together for warmth. They also have the opportunity to move around outside, creating warmth.
When to bring the horses in:
- Unsafe footing is the primary reason to move horses indoors.
- The ground/footing has become dangerous. Excessive mud is hard on tendons and muscles. It can also be slippery as snot. Frozen ground can have ice patches, which is a huge vet bill or horrible tragedy waiting to happen. Remember that a chilly horse will move around to stay warm, make sure it’s safe for him to do so!
This winter wonderland is an ice skating rink. Sheets of ice along the paths… so horses stayed in!
- When the footing is dangerous and the weather unforgiving, will you be able to bring food and water to the horses? Your farm needs to be as safe as possible for everyone.
- When the weather includes lightning, and your barn does have a lightning rod. Horses in bad weather often stand next to trees and fences that lightning loves. Bringing your horses inside can be the best decision. Read more about lightning here and decide if your barn is safer than your paddocks during lightning storms.
- At night, you may want to consider bringing your horses in, temps can drop rapidly and severely in some cases. At this point, the barn may be warmer!
How are the roads around the property?
- When the weather has created dangerous and impassible roads, your vet may not be able to reach you in a dire emergency. You will need to weigh the risks and keep your horses happy and safe.
What factors do you consider when deciding IN or OUT for your horses in the winter?
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