'Snow Problem! 7 tips for looking after your horse in the snow.

7 tips for looking after your horse in the snow

As we all know, British weather can be turbulent at the best of times. Winter can be beautiful sunshine one minute and treacherous snow the next. From the looks of the recent weather reports, it looks like the weather is going to be white in much of the UK. Here are some ideas you can try to make sure your horse can enjoy all the fun and frolics of the snowy season.

Tip #1 Continue turn out

Horses actually do well in the snow providing a little more care and attention is given to them. Don’t feel you have to keep them in. For the benefit of their mental and physical wellbeing, turning out for a quick leg stretch is great as they get bored after a while in the snow.

Tip #2 Provide shelter

If your horse spends a good amount of time in a field, then make sure that he has trees, a hedge line or even better a shelter to use for protection so that he can get out of the wind and snow during the cold weather.

Tip #3 Increase calorific intake

Grass growth and its nutritional value are limited in winter and mud, frost and snow reduce this further still. So supplementary hay and feed is important.

If your horse is used to being out on grass, turning him out in a snow-covered field where he can’t find grass will be frustrating not to mention a potential health issue since the average horse should be consuming about 2 percent of his body weight per day in forage. So, give him readily available hay in the field to keep his digestive system going and generating heat to keep him warm.

He will need more to eat in order to keep his weight on during the cold winter temperatures. Horses shiver if they're cold, which burns calories and turns into quick weight loss.

As a guide hay should be fed in the following quantities when grass is in short supply:

Small ponies:  10 - 12 lbs per day

Medium ponies:  12 - 15 lbs per day

Large ponies and cobs: 15 - 20 lbs per day

Large cobs and horses: 25 - 30 lbs per day.

Believe it or not your horse will generate body heat as he digests his hay, in turn, this will keep him warm. Give him enough good quality hay in order to maintain his weight during the coldest winter months.

Encouraging movement, even in small ways, is crucial for maintaining muscle tone and joint comfort during the winter season. It also keeps your horse warm through the exercise. One way of doing this is by spreading the hay into piles around the field so they walk between them.

Tip #4 Maintain your horse’s water supply

With regards to water, horses will consume more water in the winter months, especially when more dry forage is included in the diet, making intake of water very important to prevent impaction and colic.

Horses prefer not to drink freezing water so if you can boil a kettle and add it to your bucket of cold water just so it takes the edge off the cold temperature, it will encourage them to drink. You could also add salt into their feed which will also encourage them to drink.

Tennis and football left floating on the water's surface can be enough to keep water from freezing in regions that do not experience hard freezes. If the water supply freezes then water must be brought from another source in containers.  Horses cannot go without water and you should never just rely on them eating snow just because it’s on the ground.

Finally find out how to turn off the water supply in case a pipe bursts and you need to shut off the main flow of water to avoid flooding.

Tip #5 Manage your horse’s temperature

Despite their incredible natural winter coats, your horse may need a rug for an extra layer of warmth during the night when it’s particularly cold. Some important factors need to be considered before making a decision e.g. age, breed, when you need to ride them, lack of shelter along with other individual factors such as thin-skinned horses are susceptible to rain scald.  Just like some humans, there are horses who simply feel the cold. 

If you do decide to rug your horse, check how warm your horse is by slipping your hand under the rug behind the withers. If it doesn’t feel warm, then you should consider a heavier weight, warmer rug. If it’s damp, then your horse is getting sweaty and you should drop the weight of the rug he is wearing. 

Remove rugs frequently to check for signs of rubbing and discomfort.

Tip #6 Sprinkle some grit or sand

Walk the route you will take with your horses from stable to field to identify any icy or slippery patches. Then, sprinkle some grit, sand or salt on the area to eliminate those patches and make the area safe.

Tip #7 Prevent Snowballs

When turning out or bringing your horse in, remove any “high heels”, packed ice balls, with a hoof pick that he may have acquired on the way. Apply petroleum jelly to the underneath of the horse's hooves to prevent snow balling up. Remember to remove it all afterwards as it can be a breeding ground for bacteria in warmer weather.

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Kim Horton

Co-Founder of EQUUS and a keen equestrian, when Kim's not at her desk she's with her horse, Waldo.


  • Caroline posted on January 30 2019 at 10:01 PM

    Thank you for the above tips … I always worry I’ve over rugged my gentlemen TB and that he gets hot .. do you sell the Oriana horse monitor? That I have seen on face book .. thank you

  • Andrea Deane posted on February 05 2019 at 12:02 PM

    Very interesting I have a 26 yr cob 15 hands tonight he has lost weight he has a very long coat shelter hay and given short feed every night So information has helped thank you xx

  • J Wigley posted on February 05 2019 at 12:02 PM

    Thank you for this timely reminder of the things we need to take into account at this time of year. It is all sensible advice but I raised an eyebrow at one aspect – and that was the comment about increasing calorific intake during the cold weather to prevent the horses from losing weight. I remember hearing a lecture some years ago from a prominent vet. He insisted that it is essential for horses to come out of winter weighing less than they did when they went into winter. If they have held their summer weight throughout the winter months then, as the spring grass begins to come through, they run the risk of all the weight-related problems that are all too common. Shivering is in fact a very good way of making them burn of excess weight – and most horses these days are overweight. Over-rugging is a serious problem in this country and not only prevents natural weight loss but also contributes to the risk of heat-stroke (often mistaken for colic) because the horse is simply too hot. Many riders in my experience have a mistaken impression of how horses feel the cold. Their skin is leather – it is (generally speaking) much tougher than our skin. Humans tend to think their horses feel the cold in the same way that they do, but it isn’t the case. If you can educate your readers / customers to this effect I’m sure it will be for the good of their horses.

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