Do Horses Get Cold? (How to Care for Them in the Winter)

Do horses get cold?

Horses are extremely resilient animals that have adapted their wild horse traits to domestic animal life.

In the wild, their coats were made thick enough to withstand the cold temperatures, but do domestic horses have the ability to withstand the cold and rain?

In this article, I will explore if horses feel the cold, how to tell if they are cold, the consequences of them becoming too cold, and other related topics.

Do Horses Get Cold?

a horse running in winter

All horse owners want to know how to provide proper care for their horses when it is cold and wet so that they do not fall ill. This section will determine if horses get cold in the wet weather and colder temperatures.

Do Horses Get Cold in the Winter?

Horses and humans deal with cold in different ways because they are different species of mammals. With this in mind, do horses get cold in the winter? 

Although horses will get cold when the mercury level drops and temperatures become more frigid, their heavy hair coat keeps them insulated and warm during the colder months. 

Because of this, they can stay outside during the winter without risk to their health. Senior horses and those that are clipped will need a little bit more help to stay warm.

Here is a video that explains more about horses’ ability to handle the chilly months and extreme cold:

Do Horses Get Cold in the Rain?

When the weather is wet and cold, horses have a harder time keeping warm than they do with cold weather on their own. Rain and cold is not your horse’s friend.

Certain breeds, like the Shetland Pony, have a much higher tolerance for this as they have developed special coats that keep the water out and heat in.

However, they are tough animals and do just fine with cold rain if they have a shelter they can go to so they can stay dry.

Unless the rain itself is cold, horses enjoy being in the rain and should be accustomed to it if you live in an area with heavy rainfall.

If their coat gets too wet, horses experience a decreased ability to insulate, which is why it’s so important that they have an adequate shelter to stay dry if needed.

Here is a video that explains more about a horse’s ability to withstand the cold and rainy weather: 

If horses like warm rain does it mean they like going into the water? Can horses swim?

How Do I Know If My Horse is Cold? (6 Warning Signs)

Although horses can get cold if the weather is severe enough, just like other mammals, what are some of the signs owners can look out for that signal that their horse is cold? 

Warning signs that your horse is chilly and needs help staying warm include:

1. Shivering

If a horse is colder than it can handle, it will start shivering to generate heat and keep its body temperature at a normal level (2)

2. Changing their posture

Cold horses will turn their bottoms to the cold with their tail tucked in between their hind legs. They will also huddle with other horses to stay warm

3. Raising their coat hairs

A horse’s coat hair will lift to trap warm air in the coat and keep itself warm in a process called piloerection

4. Look for shelter

Horses have a natural behavior where they will look for shelter when they are cold or their body temperature drops below desired levels 

5. They are eating more

Eating and digesting food is a process that creates a lot of heat energy for horses, so they will eat more if they get cold 

6. Their body temperature is below 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit

If you think your horse is cold but you do not see any of these other signs, check their temperature with a thermometer

These are some of the most common ways to tell if your horse is cold. However, every horse reacts to things differently.

So, make sure you observe your horse’s behavior regularly to know how they behave when they are cold.

I have a friend who had a horse that absolutely hated the cold, even if he had a blanket on. He would literally try to take his stable down by kicking, spinning, and bucking! When he was warm enough he didn’t do this.

ALSO CHECK: How Many Stomachs Does a Horse Have?

How Cold Can Horses Tolerate?

a cowboy thinking

When exploring the question of “do horses get cold?” it is also important to consider how much cold they can withstand.

Horses have a thermoneutral zone that ranges between 40-80 degrees Fahrenheit. (1) This is the range of temperatures through which a horse can adapt to changes in temperature without using extra energy.

With this in mind, what is the coldest temperature a horse can stand? If there is no cold wind or moisture, horses can withstand temperatures anywhere between 0 and -40 degrees Fahrenheit.

This range changes depending on the thickness of their coat. A clipped horse is less equipped to handle the cold than one with a thick coat.

When Do You Need a Blanket For a Horse in Winter?

With all of the mixed opinions about blanketing that exists, one of the biggest things equestrians need help with is deciding when to blanket a horse

You should consider blanketing your horse if:

  • Their natural winter coat grows in slowly or you want to help keep their coat shorter so it is easy to manage. Even though a blanket helps, keep in mind their coat will still grow in winter as this growth is triggered by daylight hours and not if it wears a blanket. 
  • Their coat is clipped because they are at work regularly 
  • They are from an area with a warmer climate and have not yet adjusted to the cold 
  • They live outdoors all year
  • They are geriatric horses or foals with a decreased capacity to handle the cold 
  • They are thin and do not have enough body weight
  • They have a poor body condition score, low body fat, and or are prone to health issues

This is not an exhaustive list of the circumstances when you should consider giving your horse a blanket. Some horses have better cold tolerance than others, so it is all subjective.

Here is a video that offers more advice on blanketing horses:

What Happens When a Horse Gets Too Cold?

When a horse’s body temperature drops too low and they are not able to stay warm on their own, they will be prone to disease and illness

Horses can get an upper respiratory disease or their version of the common cold (equine influenza virus) if they do not have adequate warmth or spend too much time inside during the winter so they cannot get used to the cold weather.

Signs of equine influenza virus include loss of appetite, nasal discharge or runny nose, fever, and coughing. Having proper ventilation indoors and managing the stable properly, as well as keeping all horses up to date on vaccinations 

Cold weather colic is another illness associated with the cold winter months and drops in body temperature to look out for during the winter. (3)

Horses get colic during the winter because they are less likely to drink enough fresh water if the water is too cold, making it harder for them to digest their food and leading to digestive tract problems.

a horse drinking warm water

Keeping water warm during the winter weather is a necessity so that your horses stay hydrated.

If you can afford to add water through heaters to your barn, it is a worthwhile investment that will prevent water from freezing and ensure your horses always have something to drink.

If a horse that cannot handle harsh cold has too much exposure to it, it can increase its risk of contracting cold weather colic.

If your horse has to wear a blanket during the winter, make sure to remove and replace it if it is soaking wet to prevent them from getting sick. Also, never put a blanket on a wet horse, this will make the colder.

Wait until they are dry. Use a cooler to help dry them and prevent a chill.

Adding more hay or forage to your horse’s diet in the winter will help prevent colic and allow your horse to generate more body heat naturally

How Do Horses Stay Warm in the Winter?

a horse in winter

Horses have a special winter hair coat that has thick hair that keeps them warm. If their coat is clipped, they lose this defense from the colder weather.

Horses also go under shelters and huddle together with other herd members to generate body heat and stay warm.

There are also steps that horse owners can take to ensure their horses are warm for the winter if necessary.

How To Keep Horses Warm in the Cold 

The following are some steps that horse owners can take to keep their domestic horses warm during the winter months if they need extra support.

  • Provide durable simple shelter so that they can stay dry and warm
  • Give your horse a blanket for extra body warmth
  • Add more hay to their diet in winter so they get adequate calories
  • Avoid turning your horse out to pasture alone during the winter if you can
  • Make sure horses have plenty of fresh warm water to drink

FAQs 

At what temperature should I blanket my horse?

Horses should be blanketed when the outside temperature falls outside the thermoneutral zone range of 40-80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Do horses lay down when they are cold?

a horse laying down

Do horses lay down on their side when they are cold?

Horses do not usually lay down as often when they are cold. They move less because they want to stay huddled for warmth. If they are laying down, it could be a sign of colic.

Make sure you understand colic signs and if horses lay down on their side.

Do horses really need blankets when it’s cold?

Only senior horses, those that have been clipped, or those that have thin coats need blankets. Otherwise, it varies from horse to horse based on their cold tolerance and other factors.

Conclusion

Do horses get cold? Horses do get cold just like other mammals. But thankfully they have natural defense mechanisms against the cooler weather and there are things you can do to help keep a horse warm if needed.

If a horse gets too cold they are prone to illness. No one wants sick horses. Take each horse as an individual when deciding if they are cold.

Do Horses Get Cold in Winter

Have you tried these methods before? Let us know how you dealt with this issue down in the comment section!

References

  1. Ivey, Jennie. Equine Welfare Series SHELTER for HORSES. https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/W451.pdf
  2. “Cold Weather Care for Senior Horses.” Www.totalequinevets.com, www.totalequinevets.com/client-center/resources/TEVApedia/cold-weather-care-senior-horses.
  3. “Cold Weather Horse Colic.” The Horse, 14 Nov. 2016, thehorse.com/120625/cold-weather-horse-colic/#:~:text=Nothing%20seems%20to%20function%20quite. Accessed 14 May 2022.
Bryanna Tanase
Bryanna Tanase

Bryanna is a 23-year-old Florida-based Grade 1 Para-dressage rider based in Florida and she has been riding for 5 years. Horses are her passion and her ultimate goal is to be selected for the US Para-Equestrian Team and represent the US at the Paralympics. She rides at Quantum Leap Farm and Emerald M Therapeutic Riding Center and her equine partners are Shane, an American Paint Horse, and Cappy a Welsh x Thoroughbred. When she is not helping at the barn, riding, or training, she is learning about horses, writing articles about them, and using her social media platforms to raise awareness for therapeutic riding and para-equestrianism, shares her journey, and advocates for greater inclusion of para-equestrian in the media and equestrian sport at large.
Follow on INSTAGRAM and FACEBOOK
Read her Latest articles
Learn more about HER

Leave a Comment


SUBSCRIBE OUR NEWSLETTER

Want The Best Care For Your Horse? Subscribe to our EXPERT RIDER Tips