Around the Barn: Winter Preparations

Even though this is a horse nutrition blog, nutrition is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to keeping your horses happy and healthy.  As we head in to cold winter months, I thought I’d share some of my favorite tips for prepping your horse and some of the gear that goes with him!

  • Blanketing:  In general, horses adapt well to decreasing temperatures by growing an insulating hair coat.  As long as they have shelter to get out of wind and precipitation, and are able to meet their increased energy (calorie) requirement, they do quite well and can tolerate sub-zero temperatures. 
    • Keep in mind, the insulating value of the hair coat is compromised if it gets wet.  As temperatures drop below the critical temperature which is around 50°F on average, horses require more energy to stay warm, which is best provided by increasing the forage in their diet, not grain. 
    • Blanketing may be a good option if:
      • There is no shelter during turn out
      • The horse’s hair coat is clipped
      • You have a very young or very old horse that might not be efficient at maintaining body temperature
      • The horse is under-conditioned or under weight
    • Finding a blanket that fits well, is waterproof, breathable, and the proper weight (light, medium, heavy fill) based on the conditions are important considerations. 
    • If you already own blankets, dig them out before you need them and check to ensure they are clean, in good repair, and still fit your horse properly. 
    • Never blanket a wet horse, or put a wet or damp blanket on a horse.
  • Don’t forget to periodically remove the blanket and assess body condition, and check for any rub marks that the blanket may be causing.
  • Winterizing the barn and trailer: Fall is a good time to prepare your barn and trailer for colder weather.  Cleaning, installing or checking insulation, replacing screens with windows, ensuring ventilation is adequate, insulating water sources, cleaning and safety-checking heaters and electrical systems, are recommended.  
    • In the barn:
      • Check the roof for structural integrity and leaks
      • Clean gutters and install snow slides if needed
      • Plan for snow removal and de-icing walkways, if applicable.
    • In the trailer
      • Check the floor, lights, brakes, and tires and replace or provide maintenance as needed. 
      • Put together an emergency kit for you and your horse in the event of a break-down in winter weather. 
      • If you are on the road frequently, consider road-side-service for equestrians in the event of an emergency. 

Good luck, stay safe, and take a moment to enjoy the site of your horse playing in the snow if you are lucky enough to see some!

Hay Shortage Has Horse Owners Looking at Alternatives

Severe drought leaves hayfields and pastures brown and dry, and animal owners searching for replacement options.

Following the most extensive drought in 25 years, horse owners are facing hay shortages, increased prices and pastures in poor condition.1 We asked an equine nutrition expert about alternatives to feeding hay and what horse owners can do to help fill the gap left by these unusual and difficult conditions.

To get a complete picture of why hay is important to horses’ diets, Jolene Wright, Consumer Service Specialist, Nutrena, responded to some commonly asked questions.

Q. What does hay in a horse’s diet provide?

A. Hays and forages make up the majority of a horse’s diet and provide necessary complex carbohydrates they need, as well as protein and vitamins and minerals. Complex carbohydrates include hemicellulose, cellulose and lignin. These complex carbohydrates form in the cell wall in plants and provide fiber in the horse’s diet.

Q. How much hay does a horse need?

A. Horses require one to two percent of their body weight in forage daily, depending on their activity level and life stage. For a 1,000-pound horse, that would translate to 10 to 20 pounds of hay per day. Growing, breeding and working horses need additional supplementation to meet daily nutrient requirements.

Q. Is any hay okay, or are there things a horse owner should look for when choosing hay?

A. Horse owners should always seek out good quality hay. If it is coarse and stemmy, it’s a sign that the hay was baled when it was too mature and has high levels of lignin, which is not readily digested and has no nutritional value. This can increase the risk of gastric disturbances and distension of the digestive tract.

Q. Why has the drought impacted the hay crop?

A. When there is insufficient rain, the plant doesn’t get enough growth to cut at the proper stage for optimum nutrient levels. Cutting and baling hay at the proper nutrient stage varies from one type of forage plant to another and is also dependent on the climate and weather.

Q. What are some alternatives if I can’t find good hay that’s affordable in my area?

A. First, because hay provides long-stem forage which is ideal for the  horse’s digestive system, it is better to stretch the existing hay source instead of feeding all the hay first and then switching to a hay replacement product. There are many products available that can provide the fiber, protein, and vitamins and minerals a horse needs every day. Other forage options include hay cubes, hay pellets, compressed hay, chopped hay in bags and complete feeds with high levels of fiber that can be fed as a sole ration.

Q. Is there anything I need to do when adding one of these replacement type feeds to my horse’s diet?

A. It’s best to consult with your veterinarian to ensure a seamless transition. Then, make the changes gradually over seven to 10 days, following recommended feeding rates for the horse’s individual weight and activity level.

Q. In warmer climates where the grass doesn’t go dormant, can that make up for a lesser amount of hay?

A. Winter pasture can provide a level of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals. The quantity and quality of winter pasture will determine the amount of additional hay or hay replacement type product that a horse will need. Too many horses on a small amount of pasture will reduce the amount available to the horse and can deplete nutrient yield. Horse owners can get the suggested minimum number of acres per horse from the local agriculture extension agent for their specific area. For horses on winter pasture, it’s important for the horse owner to assess the body condition score of the horses and monitor their body condition through winter months. This will help determine if they are getting enough dry matter intake from winter pasture.


Jolene Wright has a master’s degree in Animal Science from West Texas A & M University, a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Business and Equine Industries from West Texas A & M, and two associate degrees in Equestrian Science and horse Science Technology from Black Hawk College. Wright is a two-time American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) World Champion and was a member of the West Texas A & M and Black Hawk College AQHA World Championship Horse Judging Team, West Texas A & M National Reining Horse Association Championship Horse Judging Team and West Texas A & M National Champion Equestrian Team.

©2013 Merial Limited, Duluth, GA. All rights reserved. EQUILGN1232

1United States Department of Agriculture. U.S. Drought 2012: Farm and Food Impacts. Available at: Accessed November 20, 2012.

Horse Nutrition Tips Heading in to Winter

Cooper and Ferris in a snowstorm

Ferris and Cooper enjoy turnout in the winter months; it keeps them fit and happy.

This is my favorite time of year!  It is a time of reflection and relaxation after the show season, when I have time to hit the trails and enjoy the fall colors without the bugs tagging along.   The leaves have changed and like it or not, Old Man Winter is right around the corner.  Shorter days and cooler temperatures are signaling our horses to grow their winter hair coats. 

With these seasonal changes, there are a few good management practices and considerations that can facilitate a smooth and stress free transition into the cooler months of the year. 

  • Salt: Make sure loose white salt along with fresh clean water is available to your horse(s) at all times.  Meeting this requirement helps keep your horse drinking, and may help prevent seasonally related colic episodes due to reduction in water consumption as the days get colder. 
    • Loose salt is preferable to a block, as horses are not partial to licking a cold block as temperatures fall, and may not consume enough to meet requirements.  However, a salt block is preferable to no salt at all.
  • Water: Provide water in an insulated or heated bucket/tub.  Research suggests that water kept between 40 – 65°F is preferable to cold water, and helps maximize consumption.  Make sure your water source is insulated or heated to prevent ice formation when temps dip down below freezing.
    • Check electrical wires and grounding to ensure everything is working properly and is safe.  All wires should be protected to prevent chewing or disconnection from the power supply.
  • Hay: Providing hay as an alternative to fresh pasture as grass goes dormant is a common practice to meet forage and increased energy requirements as it gets colder.  Stock up now!  Having a reliable source of good quality hay that will get you through the winter months is important. 
    • Long stemmed forage is the best, however hay cubes, complete feeds, hay stretchers or replacers can be good solutions if hay is scarce, too expensive, or of poor quality. 
  • Foot care: Having a chat with your farrier about your goals and your horses’ specific needs over the winter is advisable.  You may want to consider non-slip solutions or snow pads for horses that are shod, or potentially taking off shoes, and letting your horse go barefoot for a few months.  In any case, regular trimming and balancing should be continued throughout the winter months although frequency may go down due to slower rate of hoof growth during this time of year.
  • Check in with your veterinarian:  Fall is a good time to check in with your vet to make sure your horse is up to date on recommended vaccinations, dental care, and de-worming.

With a little extra preparation and effort, you and your horse can enjoy a wonderful winter together!