Vet Q&A: Feeling the Cold

Horse in snow


Q: How can I tell if my horse is cold, and what’s the best way to keep him warm in the winter?

A: Horses do very well in cold temperatures, provided they are used to them and have a good winter coat, good teeth, enough body fat, and enough hay to eat. A horse that has poor teeth, is body clipped, older, thin, or has recently moved from a warmer climate will probably need to be blanketed and given extra grain and concentrates. If your horse is shivering or losing weight in the winter, he’s too cold!

In cold temperatures, it’s very important that your horse has an adequate supply of good-quality hay. A healthy, average-sized horse will need about 20 pounds of hay a day in spring and summer. In the winter, he might need up to 40 pounds a day.

If you blanket your horse, make a habit of running your hands over his body to check his weight. It can be hard to tell if your horse might be losing weight without touching him every day. Remember that horses generate body heat by fermenting their feed in their large intestine. Empty bellies equal cold horses. There’s a reason they’re called “hay burners!”

Courtney Diehl, DVM, has been an equine veterinarian since 2000. She grew up riding dressage in Long Island, N.Y., and now her two daughters, Sunny and Morgan, both ride. Sunny does Pony Club, and both girls ride in the local gymkhana. Dr. Diehl has been a featured speaker at numerous Pony Club and 4-H events and enjoys riding her horses, Eve and Vega.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2017 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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