What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Excessively Cold Wintery Weather


Horse generally handle freezing temperatures and severe winter weather very well, as long as they have adequate feed, water, and some protection from wet and wind. Well-intending owners can cause intestinal problems for horses by changing their management in anticipation of cold weather or during a cold snap.

Horses tend to drink less water when it is very cold, which likely increases the incidence of conditions causing abdominal pain (colic), specifically large colon impaction. In our practice, there is always an increase in the incidence of large colon impaction, especially among older horses, when the weather becomes very cold.

Snow and ice can pack into the hooves, causing the formation of ice balls on the soles of the hooves which can lead to lameness and and an unwillingness to move. Frostbite and hypothermia is very rare in healthy adult horses, but can happen in foals.

  • Code Green

    Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources
    • If the conditions are extreme and you have questions about management.

your role


What To Do

Ensure that your horse has access to the basics and stick to your normal management and feeding routine. Ensure that they always have access to fresh water, by breaking the ice on top of a water trough or checking an automatic waterer on a regular basis.

Horses may drink more if provided with warm water, and often prefer a choice between warm and cold water. Consider providing them a warm water source. If you notice that your horse is drinking far less water than normal, you may want to stimulate their thirst. (See that skill- Stimulate thirst)

If you normally blanket your horse, do so. However, recognize that blanketing can cause problems for horses if they overheat under them. Horses do derive some heat from the process of fermentation of hay. If you are going to provide more of any feed, provide more roughage in the form of long-stem hay, and not rich alfalfa or grain.

Call your vet to review your basic management and feeding routine. Discuss any specific healthcare concerns you have that may be affected by cold winter weather. Talk to your farrier about hoof care options during the winter months. Leaving horses barefoot is a practical approach to reducing packing of snow and ice on the soles.

What Not To Do

Do not radically change management of your horse unless indicated by your vet.

Do not feed increased amounts of grain, bran mash or other concentrated feeds, or add in an extra feeding. Note, "hot feeds" do not keep a horse warm.

Do not "over-blanket" horses. In general, horses are better off a little cooler than too hot.

your vet's role

Your vet helps you design management and nutritional programs to keep your horse healthy throughout the year.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • How do you normally manage the horses?
  • Do the horses have access to shelter from wind and wet?
  • Do the horses have access to open (or warmed) water?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Do the horses have any health problems that you know of?

further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP