Ask an Expert

Horses in Winter

February 6, 2012

How do you handle a sweaty horse during the winter?

Question:

I’ve stabled my horses in the winter until we moved to northern Canada. They are outside this winter, and it is cold!

One of my horses barely grows hair at all and my other horse looks like a mammoth. I have blankets on them when I’m home. They are also groomed four to six times a week.

Is there anything else I can do? “Mammoth” takes two hours to cool down and dry after a ride, and both of them look scruffy and dirty. They’re on extra protein, hair shine vitamins and a good diet for older horses.

For an answer, we sought out native Canadian Patti Carter Pratt, a former AQHA Professional Horseman and judge, and now a full-time employee of AQHA in Amarillo.

Answer:

Horse care in cold climates is tricky, and your horses need to be monitored constantly. It is high maintenance keeping them outside in the winter time, and as you said, it gets very cold in Canada! Keep in mind every horse is different in its winter care needs, depending on its breed, age and other factors.

First, make sure you have an outside shelter for all of your horses. All of your horses also need lots of hay. They won’t have grass to eat right now, so hay will keep them warm and also keep them from getting bored and into trouble. Make sure you have a fresh water system so your water doesn’t freeze over.

As for their winter coats, if one horse hasn’t grown a thick winter coat, you’ll need to keep him blanketed.

The Mammoth horse probably doesn’t need a blanket, because it sounds like he’s well equipped to handle the winter cold.

When a horse has a heavy hair coat, you’ll need to make sure you allot enough time for him to cool down before you turn him back outside. He’s also going to get hotter quicker during your rides. Before you turn him back outside, he needs to be completely dry so he doesn’t get sick. Use a cooler to help him cool down.

Regarding their dirty appearance, heavy hair coats are definitely hard to keep clean. During my winters in Canada, we used a horse vacuum and lots of brushing on our horses. You don’t want to bathe them in the winter, even though it’s tempting because they look so scruffy.

Overall, continue to monitor each horse for their individual winter needs. If you have questions about the number and heaviness of the blankets each horse might need, find an AQHA Professional Horseman near you or ask your veterinarian.

Best wishes!

–Patti Carter-Pratt
AQHA Executive Director of Shows