Horses and Cold Weather
Today is one of those lovely, picturesque winter days in Oklahoma. The temperature’s in the mid-thirties and large snowflakes have fallen and accumulated throughout the morning. I snapped this picture of my guy, Hershey.
You may notice that Hershey isn’t wearing a blanket. I stopped blanketing my horses (under most circumstances) a few years ago after learning how horses keep themselves warm naturally. For more on that, see my post Should You Blanket Your Horse in Winter?
I also choose not to keep my horses stalled in cold weather unless it’s icy. They have free access to the barn at all times, but many times, they prefer to be outside even when it’s cold or rainy. Horses that are kept stalled in poorly-ventilated barns in winter are more subject to respiratory illnesses–so I choose not to do this! Plus, they just seem happier if they can be out and about.
Fortunately, it’s not all that cold here today, and we’ve had a fairly mild winter. But Oklahoma can and does see extreme temperatures quite a bit. In the winter of 2011, we hit a record low of minus 31 degrees F. So how cold is too cold for a horse? And what should we do to help them stay warm?
Horses are actually quite well-adapted for cold weather. They grow in thick coats that insulate their bodies, and they can maintain their body heat by eating hay. What feels cold to us and what feels cold to a horse are two different things.
One danger for horses in snowy or icy weather is slipping and falling. Wearing shoes increases the chances of this occurring. Shoes are not only slick on icy ground, but also can collect snow, making the horse unbalanced. I don’t have to worry about that since all of my horses are barefoot now, but if your horses are shod, consider pulling their shoes during the winter.
Here are a few cold-weather facts and tips for horse owners:
- Horses living in temperate climates should be allowed to increase their body weight by 5-10% before the onset of winter;
- Horses acclimated to cold weather can tolerate temperatures around 5 degrees F;
- If horses have access to shelter, they can tolerate temperatures as low as minus 40 degree F;
- Increase amount of hay fed by 1.4% for each degree below 18 degrees; and
- Water should be kept at 45-65 degrees for maximum consumption (decreased water consumption is a leading cause of colic in winter).
So remember, if your horse has a winter coat, access to some sort of shelter, continual or increased access to hay, and access to water that is not ice-cold, he will likely be fine during even the coldest temperatures. Horses are much tougher than we give them credit for!