You wouldn’t think a horse struggles with the cold, but it does. The problem is that it can be hard to tell when a horse is cold, as there are no body signals such as shivering. So what are signs that a horse is getting cold?
Many horse owners don’t pay much attention to their horse’s body language. Although they can give us many clues and hints as to their feelings and physical state, horse owners often neglect these subtle signs. But if you know how to read them and how they affect your riding, you can use this knowledge to improve your performance and develop more harmonious relationships with your horses.
When a horse is cold, you’ll notice a few different things.
If you’re looking for signs that your horse is cold, one of the first things to look for is the color of their coat. If it appears particularly dull or matted, that could be a sign that they need some extra warmth.
Other signs include:
-Shivering or shivering-like behavior
-Poor appetite and/or decreased energy levels
-Difficulty standing up and/or moving about
Horses are well-adapted for their environment and can be hard to spot when they’re cold. But there are some signs to look for that can help you determine if your horse is too cold.
- If your horse’s breath is visible, that’s a sign that it’s cold.
- If your horse is shivering or shaking, that’s another sign that it’s cold.
- Another sign of being cold is if your horse has ice on its whiskers: this means that the temperature in the air is below freezing but not quite enough to create frost on the ground or grasses around them (which would have already melted).
Signs That A Horse Is Cold
When the colder months roll in, there are times when you might be wondering if your horse is too cold. So our team of researchers spent some time finding the best answer to this question.
So how can you tell if your horse is cold? Here are some of the top ways you can tell:
- They are shivering.
- Their temperature is below 99.6 degrees Fahrenheit. (37.6 Celcius)
- They don’t have enough fat.
- They don’t have a good winter coat.
- They are huddling together with other horses.
- They don’t get enough to eat.
If a horse becomes too cold, it could be in danger of hypothermia. Therefore, it’s good to familiarize yourself with the warning signs as much as possible before the cold starts to come.
What to Do if Your Horse is Too Cold
If you believe your horse is exhibiting any of these signs, you will want to take action immediately. Here are a few options to consider :
Contact a Trained Veterinarian. No one is better equipped to diagnose and treat a problem related to your horse’s health, than someone that has trained for years and has hands-on experience. While it might be tempting to rely on your own wits or the advice of other horse owners, the most reliable and trustworthy information you can get will be from a vet.
If for whatever reason, working with a trained veterinarian isn’t an option, there are several other courses of action horse owners might take:
Feed Your Horse Additional Hay. The internal process of digesting the food can help produce vital body heat to keep them warm. This step is especially important if your horse is thin to begin with.
Provide Your Horse with a Shelter. If your horse is normally just out in a field, find a way to bring them into a well ventilated, warmer environment. Long exposure to winds and freezing temperatures can be particularly dangerous if your horse is wet from the outset, so it’s best to put them somewhere that they are out of harm’s way.
Consider Using a Water-Proof and Well-Ventilated Horse Blanket. This can be particularly helpful for horses that have been recently clipped, or are thin. Keep in mind, if you blanket your horse once, you will need to continue re-applying the blanket for the rest of the season when temperatures are low. You can find the blanket I recommend here.
Make Sure Your Horse Has Access to Warm Drinking Water. Hydration is an important part of the body’s heating process. If temperatures are below freezing, you should consider using a submersible heater to keep water readily available for your horse. You can find my recommendation here.
How Cold Can Horses Tolerate Naturally?
Horses that are well adjusted to colder temperatures can tolerate temperatures down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit. The majority of horses are the most comfortable between 18 degrees and 59 degrees Fahrenheit. (-8 to 15 degrees Celcius)
Because of their size, horses are better equipped to cope with low temperatures than we are. In fact, what we call cold, might not even feel cold to them.
In the winter, a horse’s coat will stick straight up, creating additional insulation to help them stay warm. They also utilize tactics like standing together in groups and keeping their backs to the wind to stay warm.
Should My Horse Stay Outside for the Winter?
In general, horses are well equipped for living outside during the cold winter months. However, you will want to make sure that your horse is well adjusted for living outside.
If you’ve moved to a much colder climate just before the start of winter, your horse’s body won’t have had the time it needs to develop the thick winter coat that horses should produce. If this is your particular case, you might consider utilizing some of the options we mentioned previously to help keep your horse warm.
Another factor you should consider is your horse’s overall health. If they are recovering from a recent sickness, or they are skinny and don’t eat well, then they might not be ready to spend winter outdoors.
But as long as your horse is in good condition, has a healthy weight, and is adjusted to the climate of your area with a thick winter coat to show for it, they should be able to cope with a mild outdoor winter.
Should I Use a Horse Blanket?
While there is some disagreement on this subject, many horse owners believe it’s a good idea to blanket your horse when it’s 20 degrees (-7 Celcius) or below. However, there are some important things to keep in mind if you decide to use a blanket for your horse.
If you use a blanket once, you should continue using it for the duration of the winter months. You’ll need to make sure that either yourself or a friend or family member is available to blanket your horse when you’re not available to.
The reason you should continue blanketing if you’ve done it once is because blanketing your horse just as it becomes cold in the fall might prevent your horse’s body from producing the thick winter coat that it needs. Blanketing also helps preserve valuable heat producing calories if your horse has a difficult time maintaining a proper weight.
It’s important to take the blanket off during the day when temperatures rise, otherwise, the horse will overheat. Once things cool back down in the evening again, the horse is likely to get chills due to the moisture they’ve accumulated from having the blanket left on all day.
If you ever find that your horse is wet to the touch, you should always thoroughly dry them off before you apply a horse blanket. The easiest way to do this is by soaking up the water with a dry towel, making sure to leave the hair standing as you finish in each area.
This is to help ensure that any water remaining on their skin will dry out in the air. Additionally, you should also make sure that the horse blanket itself stays dry before you place it on your horse. Once you are confident that both your horse and the blanket are thoroughly dry, you are safe to apply the blanket.
Horse blankets are typically recommended for horses that have been clipped, are thin, or have a difficult time maintaining their weight.
If you do decide to use a blanket, make sure that it is the right fit. If you use a poorly sized blanket it can cause chaffing and discomfort for your horse. Make certain that the blanket is undamaged as you remove it from your horse each day for the warmer hours.
How Can I Tell if My Horse is Too Skinny?
When it comes to staying warm, it is helpful for horses to have a moderate level of fat. The precise weight that your horse should be can be difficult to calculate because it is different based on the breed of horse that you have. However, there are a few easy ways to tell if your horse is too skinny.
If your horse is too skinny, their appearance will be bony in general. It can be helpful to look at photos of your horse and compare them with how your horse looks now to tell if they have increased or decreased in weight.
One of the most obvious places to recognize weight gain or weight loss is your horse’s ribs. You should be able to feel your horse’s ribs when you touch their side, but they should not be clearly visible. Here is a resource that goes into more depth.
When Will My Horse Get Its Winter Coat?
Horses can begin getting their winter coats as early as the end of August. It is at this time that they will shed their shorter summer coats in preparation for the much longer winter coat that will help keep them warm for the duration of the winter.
If you want your horse to grow a good winter coat, avoid blanketing them in the early fall when the first colder temperatures arrive unless the weather is extreme. Blanketing your horse too early can trick their bodies into not producing the quality of coat that they will need if you plan to leave them exposed for the majority of the winter months.
How Can I Recognize Horse Shivering?
Horse shivering is fairly easy to recognize. If your horse is shivering, it will look like muscle spasms. Another way you can tell is by asking your horse to raise one of its legs to see if it is shaking.