Horses generally prefer and are more comfortable outside than inside. Enclosed, heated stables are usually poorly ventilated and therefore, horses are prone to developing respiratory problems if kept inside. Horses acclimate to most types of weather if given the opportunity. Even in temperatures that we find unbearable, horses can withstand cold weather. Don’t evaluate the horse’s comfort based on your comfort level. (Mothers are especially vulnerable to this line of thinking: they are cold so they put a sweater on the baby…)
It is important that a horse has shelter from wind, sleet, severe storms in the winter and shade from the hot sun in warm weather. Horses were designed to live outside and naturally seek shelter from extreme weather. Trees, bushes or access to an open stable or shed will provide adequate shelter – if the horse desires to get out of the weather. Horses will turn their hindquarters to the wind if they choose to stand out in the wind. Their tales help insulate their legs and inner thighs from the cold.
Blanketing a horse is appropriate when the temperature drops below a certain comfort index. If the horse has a normal winter coat, in dry winter weather, the horse can be comfortable when the wind chill dips down to about eight below. If the horse is out in the open without an opportunity to get out of the wind, blanketing may be appropriate.
A thick winter hair coat is the horse’s best defense against the cold, as long as it is dry. The effective protection of the hair coat is compromised when it is wet; it is important to ensure that the horse can stay dry during cold weather.
During cold weather, the horse has an increased need for fuel – to provide the energy it will need to be warm. If the feed is not increased appropriately, the horse will lose weight and the risk of illness increases. Unless the horse has a difficult time maintaining body weight, it should be able to eat as much forage (hay) as it wants during the winter. If the horse has difficulty maintaining body weight, an increase in grain may be necessary.
There should always be a water supply available for the horse during the winter; many colic episodes occur during the winter due to a frozen water source.
Blanketing a horse at the beginning of winter may inhibit normal hair growth and be detrimental to the horse’s health and well-being. A horse will naturally grow the winter hair coat it needs to stay warm.