Do horses get cold in the snow?

Sep 21, 2023 | Super Equestrian


DO HORSES GET COLD IN THE SNOW?

Suppose on a snowy morning you think to yourself,“ Oh, dear! It's snowing outside! Are my horses getting cold !! 

Yes, horses can get cold in the snow. All mammal creatures are warm-blooded, so getting cold in the snow or winter is obvious. Though most breeds naturally can grow thick coats during winter. But despite their thick coats, horses can still feel the cold and may need some extra care. 

Horses can easily adapt to cold weather and prefer to spend time outside. Warm-climate horses need adequate care and attention in winter or cold weather.

And the most common question that may come to your mind is how horses react in cold, snowy weather! How to take care of them! Let's hop on to the wagon, then.

How horses regulate their body temperature 

Horses’ thick coats mean their long furry body hair. Horses' coats change twice a year to adapt to the different seasonal temperatures. So when summer ended and winter started, horses' coats started to get thicker. In winter, the days start getting shorter and horses get less sunlight, and the melatonin increases. 

Therefore, melatonin helps to start growing out in the winter coat.

As a human being, when you put on a coat in cold weather, that coat doesn’t warm you up! You are warmed up by the body heat that you produce. What the coat does is, holds that body heat in and so goes for horses.

There are a few ways that horses generate heat through their metabolism and physical activities:

  1. Sweating: Running or riding back can produce both sweat and heat inside the horse's body. Heat is a consequence of muscular activity and sweating shows that they produce heat internally.
  2. Through insulation: A horse's thick coat holds the heat in its air and it works like insulation. So as it gets colder, horses get fuzzier and trap more air for insulation to get warmer. 
  3. Panting: During exercise or long muscle movement horses produce a vast amount of heat and that causes them to pant. 

The blocky body retains heat for a long period. For digestive tract processes, a fibrous diet generates large amounts of heat. Lightly muscled legs require little blood circulation. Muscles produce heat through their movements or exercise. 

This is how a normal healthy horse can warm themselves in cold weather, But it's quite different for an elderly or ill horse, which we will be about to discuss next.

Factors that affect a horse's ability to stay warm in the snow

If we talk about normal healthy horses, cold weather won't bother them that much. But for elderly horses, mares that have just dropped a baby at inopportune times, or an ill horse, snowy weather can affect their ability to stay warm.

  • Age and breed of the horse: For old-aged horses, snow or cold weather can’t be favorable. Then Arabian horses traditionally grow thin and finer coats, which are not good for winter. Horses that came from warm to cold climates may also suffer in cold.
  • Health and nutrition: Injured or sick horses are more vulnerable in snowy weather. And for nutrition, horses may not prefer block salt.
  • Length and thickness of the horse's coat: If your horse is underweight, the natural length of hair is short or thinly coated which may affect the horse's warmth ability. 
  • Wind and wetness: Lower critical temperature can affect a horse's ability to survive in snowy weather. For adult horses, a lower temperature can be as low as -7° C, and for a pregnant mare, a lower temperature can be low as 4° C. 

Staying longer in heavy snowfall or brutal windy weather (winter storms), will cause wet coats and lower body temperature.

Signs that a horse is cold and needs additional protection

A human can express their situation whether they are feeling cold, but what about horses? 

“Oh buddy, I'm literally shivering in this cold weather !” - said no horses to their keeper. So as a horse keeper, you need to keep an eye like a hawk on your horses, if they are doing well in snowy weather or not. 

There are a few signs you need to know while regularly checking whether they are cold.

  • Shivering or huddling together: Horses’ shivering can be noticeable if you look closely at their rib or hip muscles or horses huddling together. If you see that, put a blanket over them or try any possible way to make them warm.  
  • Holding the tail down or against the body: Horses can sense weather before the climate changes. So when the wind blows in cold weather, they hold their tail down and stay still holding their body against the wind.
  • Friskiness or difficulty standing still: Horses start to shiver or restlessness due to the strong wind blow (winter storm), and it becomes hard for them to stand still. So make sure your horse stays in the shelter.
  • Cold ears and noses: Under utmost temperature, the horse body decreases its heat, therefore horse noses, ears, and feet decrease blood supply. Especially it happened to small horses as they are weaker than adult horses. Therefore, make sure to provide extra protection for those miniatures. 

If you think your horse is showing any of these symptoms, you should contact an expert veterinarian, to save your horse from getting any serious issues. 

Ways to help horses stay warm in the snow

There's no doubt that horses can grow their winter coats to keep them warm enough. But as horse keepers, we need to be aware of some ideas to take care of our horses in such snowy weather. 

There are several ways to keep your horses warm in the snow. But the most important ways include-

  • Providing shelter or a windbreak: Snow doesn’t affect that much, but getting wet and hard wind can. So if horses have shelter, they can keep themselves dry. Make sure that horses stay out of the wind and can stay dry.
  • Blanketing or using a neck cover: You can provide a blanket if the temperature goes below 30°-40° and horses don’t grow sufficient winter coats to keep them warm. For small under weights horses, use a neck cover or blanket.
  • Adding extra hay or grain to the diet: If horses consume more food, they will be able to produce more body heat to keep their body in a good condition. They can do it by consuming more forage. 

Feeding a free amount of hay also can help horses to keep internal furnaces stocked and a warm body in cold weather. But if anything seems too difficult for horse feeding hay or forage, you can add a little grain too! 

For every -10° or lower, horses need to feed 15-20% more. But be careful, to not feed them excessively. If they get too fat and overweight, it will cause health issues. 

  • Access to fresh water: Check the water every day to make sure that the ice is removed. Another way is to use heaters in the water sources to keep water warm for horses. Around 45°-65° F can brace horses up to drink more water.

To Conclude

In the end, horses do get cold in the snow or cold weather. And it is when we should take care of our horses more than ever. Food, shelter from wind and rain, and fresh unfrozen water are all a horse needs to stay warm. Besides doing some activities, assessing their body condition regularly can be a great initiative.

Though, cold weather doesn’t bother horses that much if we pay attention to them properly. There’s a quote that goes “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing!” So we can say for horses no bad weather can affect them, but lack of care and attention can! 

If you feed them right and keep them right, I believe horses will do great in cold, snowy weather!

Don't forget to share with us how you take care of your horses in snowy weather!

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