Winterizing Your Horse

Buckeye Horse Nutrition

Winter Management - Maintaining your horse’s body condition during the cold winter months can be achieved by paying close attention to their nutritional needs and making adjustments before body condition begins to decline. The first area to focus on is their energy (calorie) requirements. Horses who live outside, with an open shelter to the southeast and a body score of 5.5 to 6.0, will develop a wooly coat, and will not need to consume more calories until the temperature falls below 15° F. When the temperature falls below 15° F, your horse’s metabolic rate will increase by about 35% to stay warm. Shivering is the rapid contraction and relaxation of the muscles to create heat and combat cold temperatures.


Horses can obtain calories from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. The first step in supplying more calories is to increase the amount of forage (hay) fed. Your horse benefits in two ways:

1) The calories are needed to maintain body condition

2) Heat is generated during the fermentation of fiber in the hindgut.

Another benefit of continuous feeding of forage is its water-holding capacity inside the gut. Impaction colic is more prevalent in the winter when horses are prone to drink less water. Providing lukewarm water (35 to 45° F) is another good way to increase water consumption and help prevent impaction colic.

To Increase Calories

If your horse is eating a minimum of 2% of his body weight/day in hay and is not maintaining desired body condition, increase the amount of the appropriate grain mixture fed/day. For every 3° F below 15° F, your horse will need 3% more digestible energy, or calories. This amounts to an additional 1/3 to 1/2 pounds of grain mixture/day, depending on the amount of calories in your grain mix.

If you need more calories than this, start adding calories from fat. Fat contains three times the calories found in oats and four times the calories found in average grass hay.

Spring Time

To assist your horses in shedding their winter hair coat, start 1/4 pound of Shine’N Win or one pound of Ultimate Finish per 1,000/lb. horse to their diet the first week of March. This will assure rapid shedding with healthy skin and a shiny hair coat during the spring and summer months.

Reprinted with permission from Buckeye Nutrition
© 2004-2012 Horse Tack Review

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