Horses during winter

Our great British winter brings with it a wide variety of weather conditions. There are many horses which live outside and they need to be able to cope with severe changing conditions. Horses kept outside need to be able to cope with the ever changing weather. There are many factors to consider when assessing how a horse can cope throughout the winter months and ensure they are comfortable.

Equines can manage in different weather conditions, in particular those larger horses who would need to have extra food and shelter during winter to help them preserve their energy reserves. Like many thin animals, they will feel the cold and use up their stored fat to maintain their bodily warmth. There are some breeds from warmer climates who are not so well equipped for our British winter.

Equines need shelter, a good quality rug and a well thought through diet which balances both the intake and output of food.

During the autumn months all equines grow an extra layer of hair which helps to protect them from the cold and keep body heat in. Their coats will also be protected from the rain because their hair is coated with waterproof oils which helps protect them from the elements. The direction of the fur also helps to direct the water off their coat, in fact there are small patterns which help create a water system.

Over grooming of equines can be unhelpful as it will often remove some of the oils from the coat.


To rug or not, that is the question, this depends on the guardian as age, health and their living environment need to be considered when deciding whether a horse needs a rug which needs to be checked underneath once a day because humidity can cause skin problems as well as a build-up of hair which can become itchy.

Frozen water can cause problems for horses, leaving them without water for hours at a time. Checking water regularly helps to ensure a regular flow of fresh water for horses. Horses will build up a thirst if they are eating dry foods like hay rather than grass (which is about 80% water).
Appropriate shelter

Providing shelter is not a legal requirement. Horses kept outside should have shelter in both the summer and winter months. It’s very important to have a safe and strong shelter and to keep it clean at all times in particular the bedding area.

Mud Fever

The ‘mud fever’ condition effects the horse’s legs and is associated with the skin being exposed to bacterias, which are present in soil. It’s a very difficult condition to treat, many horses have sensitive skin and are prone to this condition. Keep the horse’s legs clean to prevent them from getting mud fever.

Tethered equines

Lack of shelter and grazing are just some of the issues regarding tethering. Tethering is not illegal, but it is not an ideal way to keep horses. Keeping the tether tangle –free is an important factor as well as lack of water or food. Looking to see if the animal is in good condition is a way to judge whether the animal needs help. Including hazards, leaving equines tethered near motorways or on roundabouts leave these animals very vulnerable to people passing by.


During the winter months donkeys need a high level of care. They don’t have the same amount of waterproof oils on their coats as equines do, so shelter is a very important factor. Shelter should be available for donkeys at all times. Donkeys can become ill quickly especially if they are cold and wet as they are very sensitive and can become unhappy quickly.

Our Older Equine friends

Extra care is needed for older equines, they may require a rug for the first time, or extra feed to help them maintain a healthy body. Monitoring the animals is vital as they will need extra care and attention the older they become.

Like all animals, equines can get arthritis and other disorders like respiratory problems. Keep older equines in a shelter especially in the winter, keep the shelter well ventilated with good quality hay. Pay special attention to stiff joints and sensitive lungs, ensure the bed area is clean.

Encourage movement for horses in stables/shelter to help joints by placing hay in different corners. Horses should always have enough room to move around in and lie down comfortably. Look out for teeth problems in older horses, symptoms they may be suffering with their teeth is loss of appetite, problems eating fibre and dropping their food.

Legal Requirements

Here’s a summary regarding legal requirements:

• It is not a legal requirement to provide shelter
• Body condition of the equine will tell you whether the animal is suffering from the cold
• Unless mud causes a veterinary condition, the owner is not in breach of the law
• Horses do roll about in mud to protect their bodies from the elements, so if you see a horse with mud it doesn’t necessarily mean they are being neglected
• Check the horses body condition to determine its health and welfare



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