Last Updated on October 11, 2022
The winter months can be tough for horses, but How Cold is ‘Too Cold’ For Horses To Be Outside? Is it better to keep your horse in a warm, dry barn, or do they prefer to be outside? And do horses need rugs and blankets in the winter? Let’s find out!
How Cold Can Horses Tolerate?
Horses are tough, resilient creatures and wild and feral horses will live outside in all seasons. However, our domesticated horses have become accustomed to living in more luxurious conditions, as we provide them with shelter, warmth, and snug blankets.
The question of How Cold is ‘Too Cold’ For Horses To Be Outside depends on a variety of different factors, such as:
- The breed of the horse – cold-blooded breeds and native ponies fare better in cold temperatures than hot-blooded breeds such as Thoroughbreds and Arabians.
- Age of the horse – geriatric horses often have a lower proportion of body fat and tend to be less mobile, and will feel colder more quickly than a younger horse. Very young foals will also get cold easily, as they struggle to regulate their body temperature.
- Weather conditions – weather that is wet and windy is far worse for horses than a still, frosty day. Horses can retain body heat well, but if they get wet then they struggle to stay warm.
- And finally, it will depend on the individual horse and what it is accustomed to. A horse that has spent every night in a warm barn will feel cold if it is suddenly forced to live outside in the snow and wind.
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What Happens If A Horse Gets Too Cold? How Cold is ‘Too Cold’ For Horses To Be Outside?
Horses are excellent at maintaining their body temperature in cold conditions. They do this by finding shelter from cold winds and rain and can generate heat internally through their normal digestive processes. The huge amount of grass and hay horses eat generates a considerable amount of warmth when it is digested – like a very efficient central heating system!
However, if a horse gets too cold then it will struggle to regain body heat without a change in the environmental conditions. It will need to use a lot more energy to keep warm, and this can only be maintained for a short period of time. When a horse is too cold, it will start to shiver and the hairs on the body will stand on end – this is intended to generate and trap heat close to the skin surface.
If the horse is too cold for long periods of time, it will have long-term debilitating effects. It will start to lose weight as it uses body fat to generate energy to keep warm. It will also be more prone to diseases and ill health as the immune system starts to deteriorate.
Eventually, if a horse is too cold and does not have adequate nutrition for long periods of time, it will become so weakened that it collapses and dies.
Do Horses Get Cold In The Rain?
Although cold weather can be a problem for horses, rain poses much more of a risk. Horses rely on their thick, dense coat to stay warm – the hairs trap warmth against the skin, keeping heat loss to a minimum.
Horses can withstand quite a large amount of rain, as their coat does have some resistance to water. If you look closely at a horse that seems to be wet, you will find that only the surface of the hair is damp. Underneath will be warm, dry hair and the horse should be comfortably warm.
However, in prolonged or heavy rain, eventually, the water will penetrate right through the coat and onto the skin. When this happens, the horse will lose the ability to retain body heat and can become cold very quickly.
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How Cold is ‘Too Cold’ For Horses To Be Outside?
Horses have a much wider tolerance to cold than humans and can withstand much cooler temperatures. While we might feel chilly when we go outside on a frosty morning, your horse will barely notice the difference.
If the horse is able to shelter from wind and rain, and has access to plenty of hay or grass, most horses can withstand temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit. In colder climates it is not uncommon to see horses with icicles on their long winter coats, but they will be perfectly snug and warm underneath!
Fine-skinned horses and those that are elderly or suffer from debilitating health conditions will not be able to keep warm in temperatures as low as this. It is important to assess the needs of your horse carefully to make sure he is able to stay warm, whatever the weather.
How To Keep Horses Warm In Winter
Horses need access to shelter from wind and rain to enable them to keep warm. For most horses, a field shelter is sufficient, but some horses may benefit from a rug or blanket as well.
Access to food is also vital for the horse to keep warm. It may be necessary to feed increased amounts of hay during the winter months, particularly if the grazing is poor quality. If you have two or more horses, provide enough hay nets or piles of hay for them to have one each.
Summary – How Cold is ‘Too Cold’ For Horses To Be Outside?
So, as we have learned, horses get too cold if they do not have adequate shelter or food. In the right conditions, most horses can withstand temperatures down to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit. However, if the horse becomes wet or is exposed to cold winds it will not be able to maintain its body temperature effectively.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on how cold is too cold for horses to be outside! Do you have a hardy little pony that loves to be outside no matter how cold it is? Or perhaps you’re struggling to keep weight on your older horse through the winter months? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE