Cold weather diets for horses

by horselover2

Those seemingly endless winter months of mud, slush, and frozen ground … owners dread them, but the horses? Most of them don’t seem to care; many horses seem energized by the crisp air and chilly breezes. Although young, very old, or sick horses need changes in their routine, healthy horses with a full winter coat usually tolerate winter weather as long as their owners change basic feeding and management principles.



Water is one of the most important considerations. Horses tend to drink less water when the temperature drops, so make sure water is available when they want it.  Start with these steps:

  • Provide a constant supply of clean water that is not too cold. Horses will drink water that is quite cold, but they tend to ingest more when water is warmed to around 45 or 50 degrees F.
  • Make sure water sources aren’t frozen by using insulated buckets, installing an electric heater, or providing warmed water several times a day.
  • Adding water to feed, giving occasional bran mashes, probably won’t ensure your horse gets enough water.  Also, don’t count on horses eating snow to stay hydrated.



Horses need a steady supply of hay;  it’s a major source of fiber that keeps them comfortable through colder months.  An average horse weighing about 1,000 pounds  needs around 15-20 pounds of hay each day. The amount of hay they need gets increased when the temperature drops.

Easy keepers and horses doing minimal work will do well on medium-quality grass hay which might have been cut when it’s a little more mature. Horses with average metabolisms will do better on good-quality grass hay, mostly free of weeds. Heavily exercised horses or older horses, thin horses, and horses recovering from illness might need a grass-legume mix or even a straight alfalfa hay.

 Pastured horses that eat hay in a group setting should be checked to make sure that low-status animals get enough hay. Very timid horses might need to be fed hay separately or in smaller groups. Space hay piles widely in the field and offer several extra piles to minimize this problem.


Concentrated pellets and grain products

Hay doesn’t have the same nutritional value as fresh pasture, so fortified sweet feed or a pelleted product should be added in the winter.

Concentrates also pack more energy than grass or hay, and horses that are eating plenty of good-quality hay and still losing weight will need additional calories from other sources in cold, windy, damp weather. Feeds containing beet pulp or soy hulls include highly digestible fiber along with more traditional sources of energy. Corn oil, rice bran, and other fat products also boost the caloric density of your horse’s daily feed.