How to dry the wet horse when it’s cold


There’s not much more time-consuming at the barn than a wet horse with a winter coat. In the summer, a damp horse is not a big deal; he will quickly dry because it’s hot and his coat is short.  But – cold weather is it’s own challenge.  Here are some tips to dry the wet horse in winter.


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  • In the winter, your horse grows a coat usually impervious to moisture. It’s literally designed to shrug off water and leave him warm.


Fun fact, the same shine-boosting natural oils called sebum that shines him up in the summer help waterproof his winter coat. One more reason to curry more and avoid using detergents.


Horses can get soaked in a few situations:


  • Your horse has been sweating. Usually, after exercise, a horse with a winter coat will soak himself from the inside out. Sweat happens if the weather does a weird warm-up or the blanket is too much for the temperatures. Which reminds me, don’t blanket a wet horse with anything other than a cooler! They need to dry first.


  • Your horse had a bath. It’s not always ideal to bathe in the winter, but it can be done. With warm water and a solarium, the weather is strangely warm, or perhaps there’s a skin issue or massive stain.  You can also hot towel your horse as a bathing alternative. 


  • He’s been in the rain for too long. Some horses may not have the natural coats to repel water or have been out in the elements too long. The rain and weather have simply beaten your horse’s hair at its own game. Many horses with compromised diets, medical issues, sub-par winter coats, and just plain old bad luck get soaked to the skin in cold weather.


sweaty horse with girth marks

Migs is only slightly sweaty here, and only slightly fuzzy. One more month, and it’s a hairy and sweating story..


How to dry the wet horse in winter


  • First, it’s essential to know that his body temperature is normal. Checking a wet horse’s TPR can let you know if he’s still warm (from exercise) or cold (from being in the elements).



  • Proper cool down after exercise is critical to return his body temperature to normal and then begin the drying process. Or, you may need to warm him up if he’s wet to the skin and cold.


  • Monitor your horse’s coat as he dries. The drying process may heat him up and cause more sweating, so he will take even longer to dry.


After you know your horse’s temperature


  • Use towels and massage your horse! I find that using smaller towels and dish towels is more manageable than large bath towels. Remove as much moisture as you can, grabbing fresh towels as needed. Some high-tech towels trap loads of water, but use what you have.


  • Cover up with coolers! Horse coolers let the moisture wick away from his skin and into the fabric. Wool is best, it’s heavy, warm, and you may even be able to see the moisture bead on the outside of the cooler as your horse dries. Fleece coolers are good, too; they are affordable and easy to care for.


  • Skip the Irish knit style of coolers. These are cotton and will soak up moisture, and keep the wetness against your horse. Save Irish knits for warmer weather.


gray horse in green wool cooler grazing

Wool coolers are the best!



  • Keep your horse out of the wind and drafts as he dries. You might be able to let some sunshine warm him up if there’s no breeze.


  • Check your horse’s cooler often and change to a dry one when needed. Use a stiff brush to go against the hair coat’s direction and fluff it up.  Then you can add a fresh cooler.


  • One old-school method of drying your wet fuzzy horse is to stuff his cooler with hay or straw. This creates an airy insulating layer under the sheet or cooler that helps him dry quickly.


  • Give him some forage to eat and create some warmth on the inside. This might take some time, but it also gives your horse something to do besides standing around wet.


  • It can be helpful to add a quarter sheet or cooler to your horse as you walk him out after exercise.  This can help temper any sudden coldness your horse may feel being sweaty and hot in cold air. 


old photo of a horse with straw in his blanket

Old school method. It works.


Some safety points about coolers:


  • Your cooler should have leg straps if your horse wears it in his stall or paddock. Some coolers are much more decorative than functional, so be sure it can be safely strapped to your horse.


  • Keep checking your horse’s temperature. Use a thermometer! As he dries, he should have a normal body temperature.


  • Yes, you should your veterinarian if he is overheated when you return from riding or his temperature is dropping too rapidly as he dries. Anything above about 103 or below about 98 warrants a call. Also, call if he is not returning to his normal TPR as he dries.


  • If you do stuff his blanket with hay or straw, don’t turn him loose with buddies as they may try and nibble on him. Heck, he may also want to chew on his outfit! He might like a hay net instead.


horse cooler with neck piece

Some awesome coolers like this WikSmart have belly bands and neckpieces. You can also layer coolers.


Groom as your horse dries


  • Curry combing can undoubtedly help his body feel better as you massage along. This will flake off any dried sweat that’s going on, too.  


  • If things are dry and there’s a bunch of crusty stuff going on, bust out a cactus cloth to buff any sweat marks out. Grooming gloves and a really stiff brush can do this, too.


How do you dry your wet horse in the winter?


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