To Stall or Not to Stall in Cold Weather?
I rarely stall my horses, but I have kept them up (in stalls/paddocks) some this past week due to having our first two frosts of the season. Grass can be very high in sugar after the first frost especially, so I’ve been taking precautions. But the majority of the time, you’ll find my three out in the pasture with access to shelter at all times.
Now that it’s getting colder, I know some people may be more apt to stall their horses. They think, “oh, it’s freezing outside. I’d rather be inside, so my horses must want to be inside, too.”
But is this really the case?
If given the choice, most horses would prefer to be left outside (with access to shelter).
Of course, if you board or have limited pasture space, you may not have much choice in the matter, but here are a few reasons why you may want to rethink stalling your horse for long periods of time, even during cold weather.
- Limit circulation;
- Slow metabolism;
- Increase stress (due to forced unnatural environment);
- Reduce gastrointestinal motility which leads to increased risk of colic;
- Retard cartilage development in young, growing horses;
- Decrease bone density;
- Increase risk of developing stereotypical behaviors such as weaving, wood chewing, etc.; and
- Lead to respiratory problems due to dust from bedding/hay and inadequate ventilation (especially if barns are closed up in winter).
With that said, there are a few instances where it really might be better to keep a horse stalled some, such as:
- During icy conditions. Even barefoot horses can slip, and older horses may be unable to get up if they fall/lie down on icy or snowy ground;
- When you need to temporarily keep horses off grass such as during new grass growth in spring or after the first frost in fall (though a grazing muzzle might work too);
- For older horses or horses at the bottom of the pecking order who may not otherwise get access to enough feed/hay;
- If your horse is seriously injured or ill (but keep in mind that horses with more minor injuries/illnesses can actually benefit from movement).
Some people say, “My horse loves his stall” which may be partly true. I have a horse who prefers to be inside if it’s windy or very hot. But keeping a horse stalled the majority of the time is never in his best interest. Like us, horses appreciate having choices. If possible, let your horse have the choice of whether he’d like to go in his stall or stay outside.
Sources and Further Reading