Your guide to winter horse care

By Wendy Talbot on 25 September 2020

How to weather winter

Cold damp weather, gloomy grey skies, restricted daylight and too much mud can make a typical winter in the UK a bit of a turn off when it comes to horse ownership but it doesn’t have to be that bad. Take a look at our guide to winter horse care to find out how to make things easier for you and your horse.

Rug right

We are all guilty of anthropomorphising but you must fight the urge to reach for an extra rug for your horse just because you feel cold. It pays to buy the best quality and fit of rug that you can afford, to keep your horse warm and dry during the winter. However, unless your horse is thin skinned, lacking bodyweight, elderly or has been fully clipped it shouldn’t need more than a lightweight rug unless it’s extremely cold. Click here to see a helpful temperature guide to rugging horses.

Feed facts

Whether you have an ex racehorse or a Shetland pony fibre should form the mainstay of your horse’s diet. The horse’s digestive system is designed to process fibre and munching it helps to keep them warm1.

During the summer horses usually gain their fibre ration from grass but in the winter when the grass dies off or if they are stabled they should be given fibre in other forms such as hay, haylage or chopped forage.

Fibre is good for mental and physical wellbeing; eating will help keep your horse occupied in the stable, while the very act of chewing will create saliva to neutralise stomach acid, which can help prevent gastric ulcers. Ideally horses should go for no more than six hours without access to fibre.2

In terms of your horse’s bucket feed the safest option for keeping temperaments calm and tummies comfortable during long periods in the stable is a low starch and high fibre option. Feeds containing higher oil are good for weight gain while low calorie, low starch and low sugar feeds are best for good doers or those at risk of laminitis.3

There are so many products from different equine feed companies that it’s best to contact one, usually via a designated careline, for guidance on the most suitable feed for your horse or speak to your vet for advice.

Winter Health

Worming: Encysted small redworm need to be tackled during the late autumn or early winter using a single dose of moxidectin or a five-day course of fenbendazole.4 Alternatively, there is a specific blood test which will show if encysted small redworm are present.5 Find out more by reading our worming blogs here.

Water: Making sure your horse always has access to fresh water will help keep his digestive system in good working order. If he’s reluctant to drink when it’s very cold try adding some warm water or some apple juice.

Fresh air: It’s healthy for horses to have plenty of fresh air; make sure your stable has good ventilation but no persistent draughts.

Shelter: If your horse is wintering out he will need good shelter from the wind and rain in the form of a field shelter, trees or hedges.

Exercise: Even if your stabled horse can’t be turned out he still needs a good leg stretch on a daily basis, either in hand or ridden. Ideally every horse should be allowed daily freedom in a paddock or arena for a romp and a roll too!

11 HorseDialog hacks to help you through winter

  • Invest in a good set of waterproofs – whether riding or mucking out staying dry makes all the difference.
  • Keep your feet, hands, head and neck warm as these are where you lose most heat.
  • Buy a cheap set of DIY overalls to help keep you clean and dry if you are doing stable chores before work - you can slip them on over your work-wear to save precious minutes.
  • Keep a spare set of clothes at the yard in case you are inadvertently soaked and need a quick change.
  • Draw up a weekly schooling and hacking schedule to help you make the most of the limited time you have.
  • If you ride in the mornings groom your horse the night before to save time and use a detangler for manes and tails to help stop mud sticking.
  • Warm your horse up and cool him down properly; long hours in the stable may make your horse stiff and the colder weather means muscles take longer to get going properly.
  • Only use warm water to wash your horse after a ride –would you like an ice cold shower after exercise?
  • Poo pick on frosty mornings as it’s far easier to collect the poo when it’s firm and frosted over and it’s easier to wheel the barrow too.
  • Wipe mud and grease off your saddle and bridle with a little warm water each time you use them and then give them a proper clean at the weekend when you have more time.
  • If you don’t have hot water on tap at your yard take a thermos of hot water every day – you can use it to heat up water for washing off your horse and your tack and to make yourself a cup of coffee too!


  2. ECEIM Consensus
  4. Matthews (2008) Equine Veterinary Education, p 552-560




Wendy graduated from Bristol University in 1999. She then went on to complete a residency at Liverpool University and holds a European Diploma in Equine Internal Medicine. After working in practice for 13 years, she joined Zoetis in 2012 as the National Equine Veterinary Manager.

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