horse in a field covered in snow during a winter snow storm

How To Keep Your Horse Warm In The Cold Winter Months

In Care by HorseMom Mary1 Comment

Horses can die from the cold and hypothermia

Dangers Of Cold Temps

Horses thin from illness or malnutrition or fit and carrying little or no surplus fat, will feel the cold more than their chubbier counterparts

Scientific fact: Hay is digested by gut microbes and bacteria which generates heat during the process and actually helps keep horses warm.

Giving horses a fairly constant supply of forage (hay), when out in the cold and during the night (whether stabled or not) is a good way to create body heat and keep them warm.

It’s like fuel for their internal furnace.

How your horse stays warm

The horse’s body uses food in order of importance.

  1. Maintenance for body temperature
    (vital to the health and well being of your horse)
  2. To renew the body’s tissues like organs, muscles, skin, horn, etc.
    (growth and development in the young and replaces normal wear and tear in mature horses)
  3. Maintaining body condition and weight
    Feeding too much food for your horses needs stores as fat.
    (fat under the skin  helps to protect them from the cold)
  4. For energy for movement and life
    (from performing to swishing their tail at a fly, and for working of the physiological body’s systems circulation, respiration, digestion, etc.),

Here’s what happens if you don’t

  • If you’re feeding just for maintenance, #1 and #2 above there will be little left for #3.
    (the horse will be thin with no fat reserves to help stay warm in the cold)
  • There will be little energy to spare for #4 above.
    (the horse will be weak and listless)

3 Ways To Help
Keep Your Horse Warm


a_1_number-40percentsizeGIFFeed for your horses’ life stage

This will help you accurately feed your horse the right amount of food.

The life stages are; pregnant mare, nursing mare, breeding stallion,
performance, growing foal, yearling, senior and adult inactive/maintenance.

Example: Most horses are inactive (maintenance level) in the winter so lets use this life stage.

A maintenance ration is usually 2% of the horse’s body weight and between 1.5%-2% for ponies, 2.5%-3% for young stock, broodmares, breeding stallions, performance, nursing mare and senior horses.

Figure out how much your horse weighs

First you can measure around the girth (just behind the withers) and its length from the point of the shoulder to the point of the buttock.

Use this formula:
Girth “times” girth “times” length then divide by 330.
This will give you the horse’s approximate weight in pounds.

Points of the horse

Points of the horse

So if your yearling weighs 900 lbs, feeding him for maintenance would mean giving him a total of 22.5 pounds of food daily. (The equation is; 900 lbs. X 2.5% = 22.5 lbs.)

This would be fed as grain and forage (hay) and depending on the individual horse, it could be all forage if it was good quality.

The grain to hay ratio would be 40% grain and 60% hay.

So we would take the 22.5 lbs. total food X 40% = 9 lbs grain and 13.5 lbs.
(14 lbs. rounded up) hay for the day.

3_number40percentGIFDetermine how much more to feed to maintain your horse’s body temperature

Remember, a hungry horse is a cold horse

A horse needs 1-2% more forage (hay) for each 1 degree Fahrenheit drop below freezing (32 degrees) in still air temperature.

More forage (hay) if your horse is exposed to wind chill

Using our growing yearling example;

A.)  The amount of extra forage (hay) he would get is 2% for each 1 degree Fahrenheit drop below freezing 32 degree Fahrenheit.

So if the temperature outside is 25 degrees Fahrenheit that would calculate to 7 degrees below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit).

B.) Our equation would be 7 degrees X 2% = 14%.

C.) Take our yearlings daily hay amount from above 14 lbs. X 14% = 1.96 lbs (2 lbs rounded up) extra forage (hay) for the day.

The total amount of hay for the day at 25 degrees Fahrenheit is:

14 lbs + 2 lbs = 16 lbs of forage (hay).

Remember to keep adding more forage (hay) as the temperature continues to drop below freezing 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

 One more thing to consider when trying to keep your horse warm in the cold.

How much water should your horse drink
during cold winter weather?


Horses require an average of 12 gallons of water daily.
Horses tend NOT to drink much water in the winter and some seem to drink minimal amounts.

That can be dangerous since horses that drink too little in winter could be both underfed, cold and susceptible to colic.

For pastured horses in winter (and summer)

Here are some tips so your horse doesn’t get dehydrated:

  • Keep the watering area free from deep mud and ruts
    (I know my horses HATE them)
  • Remove ice daily from water container
    (how much would you drink if the water was “ice” cold)
  • Keep water clean
    (obvious, but so important)
  • If groups of horses are outside together make sure all are able to drink
    (horses low on the social hierarchy can be chased away)
  • Heat water with a electric water heater or heated bucket if possible
    (careful tho’ when it gets close to empty many horses won’t drink)
  • Keep a salt lick available at all times
    (the more you can encourage them to drink the better)

Here’s how to test your horse for dehydration

Pinch a fold of skin on the shoulder or neck and see how long it takes to fall back down (it should be almost immediate).

This can be done daily as a precaution.

Stay warm and help keep them safe;


About the Author

HorseMom Mary

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I'm a Horse Mom and proud of it!  You can also find me incorporating natures process into the 1st pelleted organic and natural horse supplements in the world.


  1. img-8

    My sister wants a horse, and we are trying learn all we can about caring for it. I didn’t realize that the amount of hay would change depending one how cold it got and what they were exposed to. If possible, is it smart to move your horse to warmer locations in the winter? Thanks for all this great information!

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