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A white horse stands behind a white fence with two brown horses in the background.
Horses enjoying the warm weather before winter hits.

Veterinary Viewpoints: Winterizing Your Horse

Monday, March 4, 2024

Media Contact: Kinsey Reed | Communications Specialist | 405-744-6740 |

Winter weather is a major change for animals who live in the seasonal hemispheres, where winter weather occurs. Physiological changes occur within your horse’s body to get it ready for the Oklahoma winter. Although the winters here may not be as harsh as the more northern states, we all know the temperatures can swing widely resulting some pretty cold days. Along with that may come frozen precipitation. So, here are some tips to help you and your horse get ready for winter and to get through it.

Health check: It is a good idea to make sure your horse is up to date on vaccines, deworming and dental care. Although the biting insects that transmit the blood borne diseases may be gone for the most part after the freezing weather sets in, like mosquitos and horse flies, however, even with a temporary rise in temperature with the change in climate, they may emerge for a short period of time. The airborne respiratory diseases though are still out there and can cause havoc when horses are stalled in close quarters to each other. This is especially a concern with a newcomer to the herd or stable facilities. 

Be sure your horse is free of intestinal parasites. Have your veterinarian do a check. Your horse is going to need more energy to maintain body temperature, which for some that can be robbed by intestinal parasites.

Get a dental checkup for your horse. With dry roughage being a key component of a horse’s winter diet, good chewing for digestion is important. Your horse will be able to better utilize the roughage.

Have your veterinarian check for age-related joint or tendon issues. As a horse gets into their senior years, winter weather can have impact on their ability to move around. It may make it more difficult for them to get to water and feed. So, keep a closer eye on your older horses. If you notice them having a more difficult time moving about in the pasture, it would be a good idea to bring them into a shelter, i.e stall or loafing area where feed and water can be more readily available during the harsh winter days. Your veterinarian may also prescribe medication to ease the discomfort.   

Feed and water. If your horse is out on pasture, with the loss of grass and more dry roughage is consumed, their water intake is going to increase. It is important that a readily supply of water is available. Otherwise, intestinal issues may arise, like an impaction. Multiple days of below freezing weather will result in freezing of a water source if the water is not heated or constantly flowing. Prepare accordingly. Electric water trough/tank heaters work well during the Oklahoma winters. But this does require a close source of electricity. Running an electric cord comes with some risks. If you decide to place a water heater in your horse’s trough and an electric cord is used, avoid placing it on the ground where your horse walks as this may result in it being stepping on it, cutting the insulation resulting in an electric shock. Secure the cord along the fence. This will keep your horse(s) from stepping on it and reduces the chance of grabbing and chewing on it. Heated water buckets are also a good idea for stalled horses, though they are a bit more expensive than the conventional water bucket. If you have available electrical outlets stall-side, they can save time of having to break and remove ice. If you do not or cannot use water heaters, be sure and check your horse’s water source at least three times a day during the subfreezing days for over freezing.

Shelter. With the windy conditions of the Oklahoma winters, your horse will be much happier and able to better endure it with shelter to serve as a wind break. Even a simple wall will be sufficient for horses that live out on pasture. If there are multiple horses, it is a good idea to have ample shelter to reduce overcrowding otherwise the low horse on pecking order could be without shelter.

Blanket or not to blanket. It has been a question as whether horses need to be blanketed in the winter. Most horses can endure the Oklahoma winter without being blanketed if they have shelter when the weather is harsh. However, older senior horses would benefit from a winter blanket. Keep an eye on the forecast, if your horse is blanketed and there is a rise in temperature, you will want to remove the blanket or your horse will sweat under the blanket. Speaking of sweating, if you do work your horse into a sweat or decide to hose/bathe, make sure its hair coat is dry before putting the blanket back on. Otherwise, a skin issue may result.

Foot care. It is easy to forget or put off foot care, especially for pastured horse that are not being ridden. Maintain your horse’s foot care the same as you would during the non-winter time. This may ward off potential issues.

Nutrition. I am not nutritionist, so I am not going to venture in what is best to feed your horse. However, keep an eye on your horse’s weight. During the harshest part of winter, your horse is going to need more energy for body heat, especially if out on pasture. Consider providing a free salt source as well. It is best not to add it to their water source as this will often result in reduced intake. Consumption of salt will entice water consumption.

These are a few trips to consider when getting your horse ready for the Oklahoma winter. And I heard this one could be a harsh one. Your horse will fare better and give you piece of mind.

About the author: Dr. Daniel Burba is a professor of Equine Surgery Veterinary Clincial Sciences at Oklahoma State University's College of Veterinary Medicine. 

Veterinary Viewpoints is provided by the faculty of the OSU Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. Certified by the American Animal Hospital Association, the hospital is open to the public providing routine and specialized care for all species, as well as emergency care. Call 405-744-7000 for an appointment or see more information at

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