1. Provide Ventilation
Your instinct tells you to cozy your horse up in his stall and shut all the doors tightly to keep the cold wind out, but that’s not the best choice for equine health. Healthy horses rarely have trouble with cold, but their respiratory systems don’t do well in an airtight barn. Allow some airflow through the barn at all times to keep fresh air circulating, even on cold nights.
2. Gimme Shelter
Horses don’t have to be housed in stalls during a cold snap, but they do need some sort of shelter. A grove of trees that provides a windbreak is usually sufficient, but a shed with three sides and a roof is better. The goal is to give your horse a place to go to escape the wind and rain. Even if the ambient temperature is very cold, most horses will be fine if they are able to stay dry and stay out of the wind.
3. Lots of Forage
The process of digestion keeps horses warm from the inside. Stoke their internal furnace by providing free choice. Throw some extra hay in the field or stalls on cold nights. With most horses, you really can’t overdo it as long as you’re feeding a good quality grass hay. Note that while feeding extra grain or concentrates will provide additional calories in the winter, it won’t provide the same slow-burning digestion that forage does, and if overfed can increase your horse’s risk of colic or laminitis.
4. Liquid Water
Your horse may not be sweating in the winter, but he is losing water through respiration, salivation and other normal body functions. Make sure he has constant access to clean, unfrozen water, and monitor his intake to ensure he’s drinking it. Some horses are less inclined to drink in the cold, especially if their water source is frigid. Click here to read more about keeping your horse hydrated in winter.
5. Outfit for the Weather…
If you’ve opted to body clip your horse for the winter, or if he is elderly or very skinny, you’ll want to blanket him. Invest in a good quality waterproof blanket (those labeled as stable sheets or blankets are intended for indoor use and won’t usually provide much protection from rain.) One midweight blanket will do the trick for most conditions, but if it gets very cold where you live, you might want to get a heavyweight blanket as well. A turnout sheet doesn’t provide insulation, but is good for cool, rainy days when you want to keep your horse dry without overheating him.
6. …But Don’t Overdo It
In most cases, you’ll want to err on the side of too lightweight a blanket rather than overblanketing. If your horse gets sweaty under his blanket during the day, he’s prone to becoming chilled if the temperature drops at night. There’s no one-size-fits-all blanket solution. If your horse is very active in the pasture, he might work up a sweat even on a cold day. If your pasture happens to be in a windy spot, your horse could use some extra clothing even when the temperature is above freezing. Stick your hand in the front of your horse’s blanket every so often to see how he feels. If it’s hot and clammy in there, you’re overblanketing. Otherwise, your strategy is probably working well.
7. Go Ahead and Ride
There’s no shame in skipping a ride when the temperature drops well below freezing, and it’s smart to stay out of the saddle if the ground is icy or the windchill is dangerous. But don’t let winter derail your entire riding regimen. Your horse probably doesn’t mind the cold, and you can put on a few extra layers and treat yourself to your hot beverage of choice when you’re done. You and your horse will both benefit from remaining active throughout the year, even if you scale back your schedule somewhat. Plus, committing to regular riding through the winter—even if it’s just once or twice a week—will make conditioning that much easier when spring finally rolls around again.