Can horses stay outside in the winter?
Winter: frozen lakes, snow-covered meadows, frosty nights. Even if ice and snow are still coming, it is already uncomfortably wet and cold. Can horses stay outside in this weather? In particular, passers-by and horse owners are often unsettled and wonder what is suitable for the animals. Have you ever seen a horse outside that looks disgruntled when the snow falls or when it gets colder? Not really. Horses love cool temperatures, often even come to life when winter comes and enjoy the fly-free time with fresh, clear air. Utterly different from us humans, the animals wear a protective coat – at least provided that we have not sheared it or cut it back massively.
As a general rule
Horses tolerate cold better than heat. Therefore, four-legged friends can also be kept on the pasture during the winter. However, they have had the opportunity to get used to the chilly weather. For horses to survive the cold season well, the owners must create some additional requirements and comply with care rules.
One of the most important conditions: all horses need a place of retreat against rain and wind. Groups of trees or bushes are not sufficient as protection from the weather, so there should be an artificial shelter on the pasture. In winter, the shelter must consist of a roof and walls closed on at least two sides. Its size depends on the number of horses that will find refuge in it. As a rule, the area of the shelter must be at least three times as large as the height at the withers per horse (3 x Wh²), the blanket at least one and a half times as high as the height at the withers of the most massive horse (1.5 x Wh). The floor of the weather protection must be kept dry and clean. Such means that the keepers have to remove or sprinkle excrement and wet litter regularly. Particularly noteworthy: on the main traffic routes in the pasture – i.e., in front of the shelter, at the feeding and watering areas, and on the paths in between – no deep mud may form. The location of the pasture and the type of subsoil play a unique role. Fields with high groundwater levels are, therefore, often not suitable for keeping horses in winter.
Fencing a pasture can also endanger the health of horses. To reduce the risk of injury as low as possible, smooth wire, barbed wire, or knotted mesh fences may only be erected with an additional, clearly visible inner wall. Electric fences are only permitted if they are recognizable as wide strips and are checked daily.
Adjust the feeding
Breaks in training too long lead to metabolic disorders or unwanted and unsightly padding on the ribs if the feed supply remains constant. Our athletes, who have achieved great performances at the tournament or in the field in the summer, get restless when they continuously stand in a box. Horses are pure and specialized running animals that develop diseases of all kinds if they are under-challenged for a long time without adequate care. When winter feeding, make sure you have a balanced range of roughage plus concentrated feed such as oats and additional mineral feed. You can also feed Mash now and then, a high-energy nutrient that promotes intestinal transit and warms from the inside out. And very important: never leave your horse hungry in the winter pasture. If you look at the training structure of high-performance human athletes, you will quickly recognize approaches used in animal husbandry with rest or relaxation phases. If there is no peak performance, they move a little less, but always maintain a necessary condition by training less but never stopping completely. The joints and bones enjoy these quieter phases, and the strained muscles can also regenerate.
Clear fresh air
Our horses’ lungs love clean air, and this in a form that is very easy to maintain, namely outside! Dark, stuffy, and very dusty riding arenas induce the horse’s lungs to cough faster than we’d like. Fine dust and coarse dirt particles in the air clog the alveoli in the long term. Clear winter air is clean after a snowfall.