Winter Horse Keeping

brown and white horses
Photo by Sarah Jane on

What do you do for your winter horse keeping? The Horse.Com has an awesome slide show that goes over a number of tips for making sure your four-hoofed friends stay healthy and happy during the cold season. Here’s are some of their tips:

  • Provide plenty of hay for forage. Horses need more forage to keep warm in winter.
  • Provide adequate shelter. It’s best if they can get completely out of any wind and rain.
  • Keep your paddocks clean to avoid a mess during the spring thaw.
  • Add sand for traction, especially on icy patches.
  • Make sure your water sources are ice-free and, if possible, use a heated water source for your paddocks.
  • Use a good turnout blanket. The higher the denier, the sturdier it will be.
  • If you are continuing with a rigorous program, you should probably body clip your horse so the sweat doesn’t build up when you are working during the winter months.
  • Use a cooler to keep your horse warm after working and to wick moisture away.
  • Have your horses go barefoot to prevent ice and snow buildup in hooves.
  • Fence off any standing water so horses don’t venture onto ice and fall in.

What other tips do you have for your own winter horse keeping?

Is Your Barn Ready for Cold Weather?

two brown horses
Photo by Chanita Sykes on

While it has been unseasonably warm in the Northeast this year, we all know that January and February often usher in biting cold and winter snow. To that end, it’s always a good idea to review barn plans for cold weather management.

While the best time to prepare for cold weather is the fall, there are things barn owners can do now to help horses. One of the biggest concerns horses face is acute cold where the temperature drops suddenly. According to Bob Coleman, PhD, PAS, an extension equine specialist with the University of Kentucky’s Department of Animal and Food Sciences, acute cold can be far worse for horses than chronic cold because a sudden drop in temperature often means horses are not used to the cold and horse owners might not have prepared adequately to handle the shift. In chronic cold weather situations, horses are more likely to be acclimated so the shock to their systems is less problematic.

No matter what, horses need shelter, adequate feed, dry bedding space, and access to water. Coleman also notes that horses use digestion to generate heat and horses need to eat around 2 percent of their body weight in feed in order to maintain weight throughout the winter months. Extra hay is critical at this time of year not only for keeping horses warmer through digestion but also because field forage is at its lowest.

If you blanket your horses, make sure the blankets are waterproof as wet horses will not retain their body heat as well. In addition, if you have open water sources in your pastures, it’s best to keep your horses out of those until warm weather is guaranteed to avoid a horse falling into an ice-filled water source and needing rescue.

For more information check out the article by Holly Wiemers: Cold Weather Horse Management Tips found on The

Get Ready for the Cold

Most of us, if we aren’t lucky enough to have a southern barn to retreat to in winter, must blanket our horses during the winter months. I know I have at least three different weight blankets for my horse, Lou that Nancy gratefully puts on him when the weather is not cooperative. Blanketing isn’t all that complicated but there are some things to consider.

What’s the deal with blanket weights and what’s the difference between a sheet and a blanket?

Sheets are just that, they don’t provide any insulation. There are sheets for the rain, for protecting against flies, for shows, for drying your horse off, or for being in the stable. They are one layer or maybe two but they don’t have insulation. Lightweight blankets, on the other hand, have up to 100 grams of fill. Mid-weight blankets sport 180-200 grams of fill and heavy-weight blankets are 300 grams and up.

Ok, so now I know the difference in blanket weights but what do I put on my horse?

Just like people, horses are all different. Does your horse run warm or stands in the stall shivering? Do you clip your horse? Does your horse have a thick coat or a thin coat? Is your horse an easy keeper? Does your horse live outside or in a barn? Did your horse just move from one place to your barn and the weather was different? All of these factors make a difference in what you should put on your horse in addition to the weather for the day. If you have to err, it’s better to err on the lighter side; horses that are over-blanketed can start sweating and overheat then get chilled from the perspiration cooling. Dover Saddlery has a great blanket wizard to help you out in determining what you should use.

What about size? There are so many!

Well, of course! Just like there are people who need different size clothes, horses need different sized blankets.  A good fitting blanket is critical if for no other reason than your horses’ safety. If the blanket is too big, they can get caught in the straps and potentially break a leg. If the blanket is too small, they will be uncomfortable and may suffer from blanket sores. Make sure you measure your horse from the center of the chest, over the shoulder to the back of the tail with a soft tape measure. This should be the correct size for your horse.

How is it supposed to fit?

Put the blanket on your horse and make sure the fabric on the chest portion overlaps with the buckles set in the middle position. The back of the blanket for the tail seam should reach to the correct point on the back of your horse. Make sure you have a hands-width of room under the blanket at the withers and shoulder and around the entire neck. If the opening is too small, the blanket will rub and if too big, your horse may catch himself in the blanket. Now adjust the belly and tail straps with the same idea, you don’t want them too loose or the can catch a hoof in the straps.

I just got a blanket and now my horse ripped it up! What gives?

Just like blanket weights, blankets come in different deniers or thicknesses. If you turned your horse out in a sheet designed to be for stable use only, then that might be the cause of the problem. Make sure you use the appropriate type of blanket or sheet based on how your horse is stabled. You wouldn’t expect a cashmere sweater to be worn as an outdoor raincoat. Likewise, your soft stable sheet isn’t appropriate as a turnout sheet for your horse particularly if the weather turns while your horse is outside. The higher the denier, the thicker the outer layer is and typically the more durable the blanket is as well. A note to the savvy buyer; if you can wait to purchase a new blanket at the end of the season you can often get some incredible deals on last year’s blankets. We personally use a very heavy denier for Lou as he likes to play rough with his stablemates. Consider that as well. If you have a horse that is very active, you might want to use a heavier denier as well. If your horse is older and is out with quiet companions, you might be able to use a lighter denier and that is usually less costly.

For more on blanketing, check out Dover’s Blanketing 101 article.