Looking after your horse in winter

Horse wearing a rug in a snowy field

Wintertime can be lots of fun for all the family but only if you’re prepared for the hazards that come with it. Read our advice to help keep your horse warm, happy and safe from danger during the cold spell…

Horse winter guide:

  • Chilly winds can make horses spooky and unpredictable so be extra alert when handling and riding.
  • Horses cope very well in cold temperatures – it is wind and rain that they can struggle with. If you can, provide a windbreak, like a field shelter or even a line of trees, to block some of the wind or rain.
  • National Equine Health Survey

    NEHS is the only survey that looks at the general health of our horses, ponies, donkeys and mules in the UK. The survey opens on the 23 May 2016, register today to recieve a reminder email on the week of the survey.

    Register now

    There are lots of rugs and winter blankets on the market to suit all types, from a thin rain sheet to a thick rug for fine-coated or clipped horses. Some of the hardier breeds may not even need a rug over the winter or will be fine with just a rain sheet to help keep them dry.  
  • Horses naturally lose a bit of weight in the winter in preparation for the spring grass but keep an eye on your horse’s weight – if you find they are losing a lot then you may need to increase their hay because this will help to keep them warm. Don’t forget that overweight horses are still susceptible to laminitis, even in winter.
  • Check your horse’s water regularly to break and remove ice. Floating a tennis ball in the trough can help to slow down the freezing process and keep a tool handy to get rid of any ice that does build up.
  • Horses can easily get chilled after a workout. Walk your horse after exercise so they can cool down slowly and, if necessary, use a cooler blanket to stop their body temperature from losing heat too quickly
  • In winter, when the grazing isn’t as good, horses are more likely to forage in ditches and hedgerows for food which, in the wet and muddy conditions, can be really dangerous. Check your boundary fencing and hedging thoroughly every week, especially near ditches and roads. Hedges lose their foliage in the winter so might need reinforcing.
  • If you’re moving your horse to new grazing, do it first thing in the morning so they become familiar with the new space while it’s light.
  • As for any time of year, always wear reflective clothing when you’re out riding and take a mobile phone with you for emergencies.
  • If it’s foggy or icy, don’t go riding – it’s not worth the risk.
  • Plan for extreme weather – would you be able to get to your horse in heavy snow?  Who would be able to help you out? Would they have all the information they need to look after your horse?

— Page last updated 9/11/2016