Prepare Your Horses and Facilities for Winter

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Peggy Miller-Auwerda
Equine Specialist
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach


Winter is right around the corner and planning ahead can benefit your horse and prevent difficult repairs when the snow and cold winds are blowing.

Horses in pastureA horse’s adaptation to cold weather is occurring now with the shedding of their summer coat and growth of their winter coat. The coat serves as a insulator to help block the cold. Shivering also serves as a method to generate body heat. Energy intake is the critical factor in determining how readily a horse develops a tolerance for cold. To prepare for the temperatures below freezing make sure you stockpile enough forage. Forage will meet the increased energy requirements of wintered horses. Metabolic heat is produced in the hindgut when digesting the fiber in the forage. Feeding extra grass hay is the simplest method to increase the metabolic heat production and add extra energy when the temperatures are below freezing.

The amount you can stockpile will depend on the facilities. If possible purchase about 10% more than you think you will need. The average size horse will consume 1.5 – 2.5% of their body weight per day in feed (hay and grain). Thus, for a horse weighing 1100 lbs. they will consume 15 to 25 lbs. of hay per day.

Most horses drink 10 to 12 gallons of water per day. Keeping the bucket and troughs thawed and the heaters working properly is essential. Test the water heaters to make sure they are working properly. Stray voltage can cause a horse’s water intake to drop below normal and may result in health issues such as colic.

Prepare your horse's feet for the winter. Most horses’ shoes are pulled for the winter. If the horse is kept shod check on shoes with studs or even snow pads.  

Horses should have access to some type of shelter – a timberline, natural bluff, or a shelter. The shelter is typically a 3-sided shed. Horses do conserve up to 20% more body heat in a shed compared to an open exposed area. Inspect the roofs of the shelter. Stand inside your shelter or barn and look for any light that is shining through or rain that enters. Repair any problems to help maintain the integrity of the structure. This is also a good time to inspect for any sharp nails, broken boards and remove and repair them. Make sure lights are working so you have a well-lit area when needed. Walk your fence lines and look for loose boards and wires, protruding nails, loose posts or other signs of weakness. Fall is a good time to repair these before winter sets in.

If you use horse blankets inspect them for holes, loose straps, frayed fabric so they can be repaired. Also, it is a good idea to clean them if needed. Trying the blankets on the horses will allow any time needed to adjust the blankets. Some horses gain weight, some lose weight and youngsters grow into adults. A hand should fit snugly under and be able to slide around the shoulder, withers and rump if the blanket fits properly.

Horse in the snowCheck labels on all medications kept in the barn or horse trailer. Some may become useless if they freeze. Thus, moving them to a warmer climate will prolong the usefulness of the medication. Also check expiration dates and dispose of any item that is expired.

Lastly, stock up on snow supplies such as salt, sand, or non-clumping clay cat litter. These items provide extra traction on icy footing.

Date of Publication: 
September, 2019