Can horses stay outside in winter?
We automatically think that if it’s cold it’s better to keep your horses indoors, at least overnight, but while it’s best in some cases, in most cases it’s not necessary and your horse may even prefer to be outside. Horses are very well adapted to life outdoors and can cope with temperatures much cooler than we do. What really bothers and annoys horses is wind and rain (and snow), so shelter is crucial.
If you plan to keep your horse outside in cold weather, you need to consider the following:
After food and water, shelter is the most important thing all horses need, whether they live outside or in a stable at night (a stable is a more luxurious shelter after all). Field shelters should be arranged so that they provide protection from three sides and protect the horse from wind and rain (as well as the sun in summer). It should also be large enough to allow all horses to use it at the same time, and if not, there should be multiple shelters.
When the weather is really cold, horses will need to consume more calories than at other times of the year, in part because they use excess calories to keep warm. It is important to make sure your horse has access to plenty of good quality, fresh and dry hay. If your horse is old or has dental disease or has trouble chewing the hay, then you may want to consider supplementation or a feed specially formulated for older horses.
You might think your horse won’t need that much water in winter, especially if there is snow on the ground, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are far more cases of colic from dehydration during the winter, so it’s important to make sure you have plenty of drinking water. Snow or ice will not water your horse at all, but will make your horse suffer from the cold much faster. Therefore, it is worth thinking about heating the horse’s water in winter, you can use heated water tubs or non-freezing automatic watering systems, and also bring electricity to the field to warm the trays. This will help make sure your horse is drinking enough of the correct type of water.
If your horse is hardy in winter, you should remove the rug daily to check the horse (and rug). Blankets can hide your weight loss, so taking them off regularly will prevent this from happening as well as give you the option to inspect the rug and let it dry if necessary. When horses sweat and cool down, bacteria can build up in the rug – giving it a chance to dry and clean will help prevent this.
Many people believe that it is impossible to trim a horse that has proven to be shown all winter, but this is not always the case. If you groom your horse in winter, make sure you wrap your horse properly and regularly check that it is cold, especially if it is completely shorn; Horses that are fully groomed can suffer from frostbite in exposed areas (such as ears), so consider investing in a head and neck rug or hood to bring it inside when it’s very cold.
Horses are generally very stable, but when the ground is icy, even the most confident and stable horse can lose its balance and fall, resulting in sprains, cuts and even bone fractures. Of course, you can’t do anything about the weather, but covering the ground with rock salt will help reduce the amount of ice. If your horse is shod, you should also talk to your blacksmith about installing snow pads to stop snow build-up in the shoes and destabilize your horse.