Top 5 Cold Weather Hazards for Horses

Guest post by Liv from Professional Equine Grooms

Cold weather brings lots of great things into our barn lives…pumpkin spiced horses, the end of hot and humid rides that create horrible helmet hair, and wonderful things to admire like autumn leaves and blankets of snow.

And here’s the BUT…. colder weather can be a challenge for horse health and barn management. And the two usually go hand in hand!

Top 5 Cold Weather Hazards for Horses - Winter Horse Care

Here are some things to watch for:

1. Proper Hydration and Frozen Water.

Keeping your horse properly hydrated is something to keep tabs on year round, but in the winter we have freezing temps to consider.

Your job is to check your horse’s gums daily. They should feel slippery and wet. Gums that are dry or sticky indicate dehydration.

Then make sure that frozen water won’t be an issue. Heated tanks, buckets, and troughs are all available. Use two just in case, this gives you a back up.

You can also consider soaking meals to encourage additional water intake.

2. Weight Loss or Gain

This is common in cold weather! We have a tendency to predict our horses getting cold, so we rush to add more forage. Some horses will pack on the pounds this way!

Other horses, the hard keepers, struggle to maintain weight and often lose weight. The best thing you can do is use a weight tape to track your horse’s weight week to week.

Top 5 Cold Weather Hazards for Horses - Winter Horse Care

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3. Frozen and/or Icy Ground

Nothing says “tragic Vet bill” like a horse slipping on icy ground. Find alternatives to letting your horse out when the ground has ice.

For frozen ground, painful bruises and perhaps even laminitis can be caused by the trauma of frozen ground.

If the ground is uneven or bumpy or rocky, the dangers are even worse as your horse won’t have any “give” below theses uneven surfaces.

4. Colic

There’s great debate about weather changes directly causing colic. The verdict is out on this – but we often change our barn management routines in cold weather, which can definitely impact our horses.

Changes in turnout routines, feeding patterns, and exercise levels all play a role in your horse’s overall health. If your horse also struggles to stay hydrated, this can impact his ability to properly digest food.

Top 5 Cold Weather Hazards for Horses - Winter Horse Care

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5. Laminitis

In the fall, your horse’s own body starts to produce more ACTH, which is a hormone that ultimately increases insulin in your horse. Insulin is directly linked to laminitis.

Your horse’s pasture can also start to become stressed in the fall. As temps and sunshine fluctuate, the sugars in the grass can spike, also triggering laminitis in some vulnerable horses.

Use grazing muzzles, and adjust turnout routines to minimize risk.

All of these situations can be managed with daily attention! Know your horse’s hydration levels, monitor his weight, and know his colic and laminitis risk.

For more check out 5 Winter Horse Care Tips

Liv Gude is the founder of Professional Equine Grooms, an online resource for horse owners. After years of working as a Professional Groom for Olympic Dressage riders, Liv saw a need to create a space for horse owners to learn all of the horse care skills that are required of top Grooms.

Top 5 Cold Weather Hazards for Horses - Winter Horse Care


  1. November 14, 2018 / 9:41 am

    Great info to keep in mind for preventing bigger issues later in the season especially for those of us that live in areas with along cold winters. :-)

  2. Debbie Terra
    November 10, 2020 / 10:21 am

    During the Fall, Can planting winter rye for horses to eat cause laminitis in older horses

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