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Extreme Cold and Horses: What Should You Do?

Water, hay and shelter.

Extreme cold and horses.  Photo by Susan Larson.
Extreme cold and horses. Photo by Susan Larson.
Horses aren't bothered by the cold the same as humans.  But when temperatures plummet into the single digits and below zero -- as is forecast Monday night into Tuesday in our area -- horses require special care.


"Owners should take special precautions in extreme cold to keep their horses healthy," said Dr. Jana Froeling, owner of Full Circle Equine Service.

Keeping water sources from freezing is top priority.  "You have to make sure they have fresh water.  Horses can live without food for days, but they must have water," Froeling said.

Caretakers must keep water in buckets and troughs from freezing.  Heaters keep the water at about 40 degrees, Froeling said.  If you aren't using heaters, you must continually break the ice to ensure the horse has access to water. 

Froeling recommends placing an old basketball or soccer ball in the water trough.  "The wind blows the ball around in the water and that helps prevent freezing," she said.

Some horses won't drink water that is super cold, Froeling said.  In this case, it's important to top off or replace cold water with warm water.  "Don't use boiling water, because the air has been removed from it and it freezes faster," Froeling said.

Hay is next most important.  "Make sure the horse has lots of hay to keep them warm," Froeling said.  "A horses' gut is a gigantic fermentation tank that warms the whole body.  Constant access to hay will warm them faster than putting ten blankets on them," she said.

Shelter from the wind is needed in extreme cold.  "If your horse has access to a stall or run-in shed, hay and water, they don't need to be blanketed, unless they are clipped," Froeling said.  However, when the temperature is in the teens and below zero, a blanket can help even the non clipped horse preserve some of their body fat. 

"Unclipped horses will be fine without blankets," Froeling said.  "But if your horse is older or thinner, putting a blanket on them during the extreme cold will save yourself some work trying to put weight back on them later."  Once the temperature rises into the 20s, you can take the blanket off.

Froeling added a caution about blankets.  "If you use a blanket, make sure the horse can lift its tail and manure normally," she said.  "I've seen many blankets with tail covers and hind leg straps that inhibit a horse and cause the poop to fall on its tail and hind legs.  This causes skin scald," she said.

As you're going the extra mile to care for your horse in the extreme cold, make sure to care for yourself, too.  See:  Take Precautions in Extreme Cold Weather

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Editor's Note: This story was corrected from the original version.  Clipped horses do need to be blanketed in the cold.  I apologize for the miscommunication in the original version. -Susan




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