ST. CLOUD - Welcome back for part 2 of preparing your horse for winter! Last week, we focused on physiology and how it impacts horses during the winter. This week we will focus on management, covering several hurdles commonly faced by horse owner’s regarding winter horse care.

Shelter - Did you know that providing shelter for your horse or pony can increase your horse’s temperature tolerance? Why, yes! In Part 1 we discussed a horse’s lower critical temperature (18°F). We covered the importance of a winter hair coat and how these animals need additional energy to maintain body warmth if the temperature is lower than that lower critical temperature. By providing shelter (either a barn, open sided shed, or trees), you can increase their tolerance of those bitter winds, sleet, and intense storms.

Palomino gelding horse in a halter and blanket sleeping in the paddock on a winter day.
Palomino gelding horse in a halter and blanket sleeping in the paddock on a winter day.Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Hair coat - A winter hair coat is these animals’ first layer against the cold. It does an excellent job trapping and warming air, insulating the animal. Horses will continue to develop a winter hair coat until Dec 22nd (winter solstice) as the days become shorter. As daylight hours increase, horses begin to lose their winter coat. Do not blanket before Dec 22nd, or you will decrease your horse’s natural winter coat.

This horse is exercising on a leash in a paddock in the winter.
This horse is exercising on a leash in a paddock in the winter.Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

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Blanketing - Blanketing a horse is necessary to reduce the effects of cold or inclement weather (ex: no shelter is available and the temperature is below 5°F, there is a chance the horse will become wet, the horse is very young or old, low body condition score, etc.)

Exercise - Lack of exercise easily leads to atrophy of muscles. That being said, exercise shouldn’t stop during the winter months. Provide turnout or exercise as often and possible to maintain those muscles you two worked so hard for during the summer. Be mindful of riding in deep, heavy, or wet snow to prevent tendon injuries. Avoid icy areas as these are dangerous to both you and your horse.

Trace clipped horse standing in snow.
Trace clipped horse standing in snow.Submitted photo.

Cooldown - Leaving a hot, wet horse standing in a cold barn is just asking for illness. Use a trace clip on regularly exercised horses, then use appropriate shelter and blankets (reference this UMN publication).

PART 1: Preparing your horse for winter doesn’t have to be as intimidating as it sounds

Maybe you knew everything about winter horse management, or perhaps you learned a few things. I hope that you apply this information to continue to care for your happy, healthy horse. If you would like to learn more about caring for your horse in winter, visit the UMN website.

If you have questions about this article or need assistance, please call your local Extension office. Residents in Stearns, Benton and Morrison counties may contact Dana Adams at adam1744@umn.edu or (320) 204-2968.