Winter Management of Equines

There are almost as many different opinions on how to manage horses as there are stars in the sky. In addition, cases where special management is required can include, but are not limited to heaves, insulin resistance, metabolic issues, lactating mares, age, etc. Yet, when managing the average horse, there are some things that never change.


• Most horses will require at least 2% of their bodyweight in feed per day. However, requirements may increase or de-crease depending on stage of production, ease of maintain-ing body condition, and weather conditions.
• Energy needs increase 1% per every degree below the LCT (Lower Critical Temperature) of 18F (with a winter coat) or 41F (with a summer coat).
• The old rule of thumb used to be that the grain ration fed to horses is automatically increased in the winter to meet their increased energy needs. The most recent research data indicates that increased access to forage is the best way to increase the ability of a horse to keep warm in the winter, as forage digestion takes longer, they feel fuller and heat is created. By contrast, grain rations tend to run through a horse much more quickly. The current trend is to return to largely forage-based diets for most equines, however, that is a topic of discussion for another day.
• Salt and mineral continue to be important needs during the winter.
• Like any of our other livestock species, testing the forage that your equines are consuming helps determine what supplements are necessary to meet their nutritional needs!


Water is critical no matter what time of year it is. One would think that water is less necessary during the winter months compared to the hot, humid days of summer, yet most horses are consuming a much drier feedstuff during the winter than the summer. The grass that horses eat during the summer has a higher water content that helps with hydration, versus the drier hay they consume in the winter.

The phrase “sheep are born looking for a place to die” is often heard, and one could utter a similar sentiment about horses. Colic is a concern for all horse owners throughout the year. In the winter, the combination of eating drier feedstuff and not drinking enough water can cause colic. Under-consumption of water can also lead to lowered feed intake, which can also cause colic.

Ensure that the horses have immediate access to water, especially around feeding time as they are more likely to drink within the immediate 3 hours following a feeding. A 1200-pound horse can consume up to 10-12 gallons per day.


Some will argue that horses must be in a building during the winter. Many horses in the world survive living “out in the elements”. The most important shelter for a horse, especially in our windy climate, is a wind break.

Horses are most comfortable at temperatures between 18 and 59 degrees. Temperatures below that range can make life miserable for them, depending on the condition of their winter coat and how much they have been pampered.

  • The weight/fill of a blanket refers to the quantity of stuffing that blanket contains. If the horse is on full turnout all of the time in our harsh climate, medium to heavyweight blankets are likely the best option.
  • Denier is the density/strength of the exterior material of the blanket. The higher the denier, the more durable and water-resistant the blanket will be.

Winter does not last forever, although it certainly seems like it does some years. Being prepared before winter hits full throttle is important. Make sure you have a plan for feed, water, shelter, and blankets before that first cold spell. If your equines reside outside all winter outside with only a windbreak, please do not feel badly as that is how mine live as well!