Feeding horses in cold weather: tips & advice for this winter

Chestnut horse in a blue rug stands in a snowy paddock next to a timber fence and a large round black water tub. The horse is facing the camera, with ears pricked forward.

Why does the changing temperature affect horses?

The changing weather influences various aspects of horse behavior, health, and overall well-being. Horses are highly sensitive creatures, and fluctuations in temperature, humidity, and atmospheric pressure can trigger a range of responses. One of the primary reasons changing weather affects horses is the direct influence on their thermal regulation. As temperatures rise or fall, horses must adapt to maintain their core body temperature within a narrow range. During colder weather, horses may expend more energy to stay warm, leading to increased alertness and reactivity.

Furthermore, variations in weather can impact the quality and availability of pasture, affecting a horse’s dietary intake. For example, lush spring grass might be rich in nutrients, potentially leading to weight gain or digestive issues, while sparse winter forage may require additional supplementation. Horses are sensitive to changes in their diet, and alterations in weather can influence the nutritional content of the available forage.

Behaviorally, horses often respond to changing weather with shifts in temperament. Sudden drops in perature, gusty winds, or atmospheric disturbances may make horses more alert, potentially resulting in spookiness or increased energy levels. Conversely, extreme heat can lead to lethargy and decreased activity as horses seek relief from the discomfort.

Feeding horses in cold weather

As the weather changes, it brings with it new feeding considerations. Some horses will drop weight over winter, whereas others will becoming incredibly excitable.

Think about your forage

Forage, such as hay, remains a crucial element in a horse’s diet during winter. Beyond serving as a source of essential nutrients, forage also plays a vital role in maintaining a horse’s body temperature. The process of digesting fiber generates heat, helping horses stay warm in cold weather. Therefore, providing ample forage is fundamental to supporting your horse’s overall well-being.

Choose hay that is free from mold, dust, and contaminants. The nutritional content of hay can vary, so it’s advisable to have it analyzed to ensure it meets your horse’s specific requirements. A mix of grass and legume hay can offer a well-rounded nutritional profile, providing the necessary fiber, protein, and energy.

Horses should have access to forage throughout the day, ideally through multiple feedings. Dividing the daily forage ration into smaller portions helps mimic the natural grazing behavior of horses, promoting a steady intake of nutrients and sustaining warmth.

As horses get older, their general dentition becomes poorer and they can struggle to chew long fibrous hay and grass. In these cases, hay replacers, like Pure Meadow Mash can be used to help increase forage intake. Meadow Mash is a high fibre, low sugar and starch, hay replacer that soaks down to form a palatable mash in under 5 minutes! 

Vitamins & minerals

The nutritional value of grazing decreases in cold weather and horses are often on restricted turnout in poor conditions. As a result, through this time of year, our horses can lack some of the essential nutrients in their diet.

How do I top up my horse's essential nutrients?

A feed balancer containing all of the required vitamins and minerals alongside high-quality amino acids, such as Pure Balance, should be included in horse’s feed to ensure they are receiving a fully balanced diet. Alternatively, any feed from our core range already as our Premium Balancer included! Meaning your horse will be recieving everything they need. 

Handful of pellet feed - Pure Balance includes the essential vitamins and nutrients important for your horse's health

Does my horse need more calories when it gets cold?

Horses typically require more calories during cold weather to maintain their body temperature and overall well-being. When temperatures drop, horses expend more energy to stay warm, especially in windy or wet conditions. The process of thermoregulation, where the body maintains a constant internal temperature, increases their metabolic rate and, subsequently, their calorie needs.

To address this increased energy demand, it’s important to adjust your horse’s diet during the colder months. If your horse is struggling to maintain condition, you may need to move your horse onto a feed with a higher oil content such as Pure Condition; a fibre-based feed perfect for horses that may have dropped off in weight over winter.

Feeding horses in cold weather: boost calories, minimise fizz

A high oil feed can also be added to our horse’s diets to increase their calorie and protein intake. Linseed is perfect for the job as it is low in sugar and starch so won’t cause diet-related excitable behaviour but will provide extra calories to support weight maintenance.

Most of your horse's energy should still come from forage!

Don’t forget that hard feed and supplements should only provide up to 30% – 40% of the horse’s energy requirement. What is often overlooked and must not be marginalised is that the balance of 60% to 70% needs to come from hay, haylage and grazing.

Free equine nutrition advice

Any questions? You can contact our friendly nutrition team on 01458 333 333 Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm, send us an email or get a free bespoke diet plan.

Send us your nutritional questions

Request a free diet plan

More Posts

Great Value Complete Horse Feed

Easy to feed. It’s everything your horse needs nutritionally, all in one convenient bag.

Find out why Pure Feed is such good value and can SAVE you money compared with other horse feed solutions.

Horse Feed

Share us on:

Customer Case Studies

The Pure Feed Story

What to feed an underweight horse

Feeding Plans for Your Horse or Pony