Guidelines for Horse Care in the Winter

With extreme tempatures and weather during the winter months, it can be challenging to keep your horse happy and healthy. Below are a few guidelines that will help!

To get started, what is a “healthy horse”?

Summer  You should be able to easily palpate the ribs, but not be able to see them easily. The horse should have a smooth glossy hair coat

Winter  It should be more difficult to feel the ribs going into winter as they need a better layer of fat to stay warm. The horse should have a thick, glossy hair coat.

Feed Requirements

Horses require 1.5 – 2% of their body weight in feed per day. This means that a 1000 pound horse needs approximately 20 pounds of feed per day.

During work, this can be growing, riding, lactating, keeping cool or keeping warm for example, these requirements change.

As temperatures drop below freezing, feed requirements change dramatically. The table below lists the amount of feed for a 1000 lb horse.

Wind Speed
Grass Hay
Alfalfa Hay
How Much?
68 0 20 18 1/4 Bale
30 0 25 22 1/3 Bale
10 0 30 27 1/2 Bale
10 10 35 31 2/3 Bale


Adapted from Lon Lewis’s Feeding and Care of the Horse

Types of Feed

The type of feed you make available to your horse should depend on the size and condition of the horse and time you have available to feed your horse.

An adult horse with ribs you can’t see or feel, may not require a grain supplement. If the horse is thin or losing weight, he/she may need to be supplemented with grain. Horses that cannot maintain adequate weight with hay and grain should be evaluated by a veterinarian.

Water Requirements

Horses require 5-10 or more gallons of water per day, depending upon size, work load, temperature and the type of feed they are eating. During the winter, the horse’s body is working hard to stay warm and they are consuming large quantities of hay so they need a lot of water.

When horses have to drink very cold, or frozen water, they will not drink enough to stay properly hydrated. This makes it more difficult for the horse to stay warm and also increases the likelihood of colic.

The ideal temperature for drinking water is 45-65˚F. This is achievable in the winter by adding a water heater to the water source.

Shelter Requirements

The most important type of shelter is a wind break. As indicated in the previous table, wind chill plays a bigger role in the increase of feed required than cold temperature itself.

There are several types of shelters that can be utilized. The simplest types are natural wind breaks like hills and valleys and trees. A simple way to make a wind break can be to plow up a berm of snow. This gives the horse a place to be out of the wind and a place to not have to stand in deep snow. While a blanket does provide some wind relief, it can cause a horse to sweat under it. This will make it difficult for the horse to stay warm.

The most important things to remember are that your horse needs: a place to get out of the wind, to have a good supply of unfrozen water to drink and to have enough feed to meet its nutritional requirements. If you have any questions, talk to your large animal veterinarian.