It’s winter and there’s a magical scene of frost coating the stable roof; the paddocks have a fluffy layer of snow lying across them; perhaps sections of the pasture have frozen over entirely.

When faced with a frosty forecast, the first instinct for horse owners might be to barricade your horse inside the warm stables in a well-made fortress of hay, underfloor heating and a mound of blankets. However, as much as this sounds like the ideal defence against the cold, it’s not the best course of action.

Making sure your horse keeps warm over winter involves continuing with a frequent, slightly diluted exercise routine, regular upkeep of stable conditions and using high quality horse blankets.

So to answer the blizzard of questions around the topic – What happens to my horse’s coat in winter? Is blanketing really necessary? Does diet need to change radically? How warm should my stable be? – at Country & Stable we’ve put together a handy guide to winter wellbeing.

What happens to a horse’s coat in winter….

When temperatures plummet, horses really come into their own resilient selves. Even without the aid of thick rugs and blankets, horses can stand temperatures of up to -4F perfectly fine.

As part of their miraculous body clock, they shed their light summer coats as early as August to make way for a thicker coat full of weatherproofing natural oils, which will keep growing right through to around 22nd December.

You will also recognise the bushier “puffed” up effect of horse hair in winter too, which is actually a fundamental process called piloerection. What happens here is individual hairs stand on end and create a warming, fuzzy canopy beneath which are air pockets that act as a heat-trapping layer.

And when you realize that horses have two coats, an outer ‘guard’ coat and closer inner coat, with around 3,200 individual strands in total, this can be pretty cozy even in an onslaught of cold air.

Horse in winter in the snow

Stable management in the winter….

All of these thermoregulatory processes are incredible, though it’s still important to support this with some actions in the stable. Owners should still keep all sleeping quarters tidy, hygienic and well-ventilated with a regular change of bedding. A potential blind spot to be flagged would be to ensure that all drafts or pasture-facing doors are covered up in advance to prevent chills creeping through.

You can invest in heating for horse stalls, though this can cause some confusion when horses are acclimatising to different temperatures: the cozy stable and icy outdoors. And if your horse is roaming around the field, independent outdoor shelters, separate to the main stable, could be an effective way to offer a safe haven against wind-chills.

Using blankets and horse rugs for insulation…

For a species dependent on oversized winter hats, wooly scarves and mufflers, it should come as no shock to us that a great way for horses to warm up at winter is by wearing a good quality protective horse blanket or rug.

Certain ages, like foals or senior horses, or horses with certain coat thicknesses, say if you’ve had your horse clipped for the season, will particularly need some extra help from a cosy wrap-around. Though regardless of age or coat condition, if your horse is shivering or looking distinctly uncomfortable in the blustery conditions, then you’ll know to start searching for a cushy, quilted blanket.

Fortunately, at Country & Stable we have a range of outdoor turnouts and stable rugs to choose from, from weatherproof turnouts to denser thermal fibrefill blankets.

Finding the right blanket…

If you’re still keen to get out and keep up with a healthy routine of warm-up lungeing sessions or some ground schooling exercises, then a quality turnout blanket is the best choice for facing the outdoors. For example, the Horseware Amigo Bravo 12 Plus Turnout 400g has sturdy fibrefill lining and waterproof outer layer, which is perfect for staying warm during any seasonal athletics.

Stable blankets aren’t really ideal for outdoors pursuits – they would just soak up any sleet or drizzly downpours – though they are better-suited for indoor use. A quilted rug, like the Masta Avante 120g Fixed Neck Stable Rug, is great for a snug padded fit, and its anti-rub design means your horse can move around freely without aggravating any sensitive skin patches.

With any blanket it’s vital that straps aren’t fastened too tightly and the material fits nicely, which you can test by being able to slide your palm comfortably in between your horse’s coat and the body-facing blanket side.

Horse in winter wearing a blanket

Is there a risk of over-rugging?

With any equine health and well-being topic there’s always a few qualifying recommendations to be aired, and here it’s the issue of “over-rugging”. Undue chafing, irritation, sore patches all down to sweat build-up can develop under the heavy weight of blankets, so it’s imperative that they are removed every day.

Once again there are products out there to step in and help: A high calibre stable blanket like our Horseware Rambo Ionic Stable Blanket 200g has been purposefully crafted to increase oxygen flow to skin tissue to tackle the problem of surface moisture.

Taking the blanket off at regular intervals not only gives an opportunity for the skin to breath but offers a chance to inspect for any irritations. Also, routine grooming or even using an under bib as an intermediate layer between skin and blanket are good ways of sustaining an even, nourished coat in the harsher climate.

Stocking up for the big chill…

Finally, and with the gift-giving spirit of Christmas in the air, a generous helping of forage is the best way to keep your horse’s internal temperature steady.

By dint of natural evolution, horses will graze for roughly 19 hours every day and their digestive systems are key to generating natural heat through the fermentation of fibre, increased blood flow and gut contractions as food moves through the body.

So as long as you stock-up on supplies, ensure constant hydration – you can even combine the two by offering winter-warmer meals like bran mashes – and watch out for any harmful winter foods in the field, your horses is sure to brave the winter with happy smile.

Do you have any further ways of keeping your beloved horse cosy in winter that we haven’t covered?

If you’re eager for further advice on effective well-being and stable management tips this winter, try scanning through our other winter-orientated guides:

How to keep your yard and stable safe in winter | Guide to buying stable rugs for your horse