We asked equine practitioner and owner of Hedgerow Horse, Caroline Hearn, what her advice is when it comes to looking after horses in cold weather……

Caring for horses over the winter months brings many challenges, not least copious amounts of mud, frozen taps and bored horses confined to their stables. 

Here are a few helpful tips while we eagerly await springtime, which also comes with its own issues, but that is another story!! 

Forage and hard feed 

Horses are trickle feeders and are designed to have forage passing through their guts for most of the time. Eating hay not only provides warmth, as it ferments in the hind gut, but also reduces the risk of colic and gastric ulcers. 

Varying the position and ways in which hay is fed in the stable by tying haynets in different locations and also placing hay on the ground or in trug buckets, allows the horse to stretch down in a natural grazing position rather than constantly pulling at haynets, invariably from one side, causing muscle imbalance and soreness. 

Senior or dentally challenged horses can still get plenty of fibre by feeding the soaked hay replacer, this tops up hydration levels too. It also provides some variation to any horse’s diet if they are confined to the stable for most of the day. 

If your horse lives out then it may be necessary to provide hay, particularly if there is snow on the ground. If there are multiple horses then ensure there are more piles laid out than there are horses, as one horse can guard many piles at once, causing fights or stress to others. 

If the horse is not being worked then the hard feed will need to be reduced and more fibre added to the diet. 

Make sure there are more piles of hay than horses


This is a particularly important consideration in the wintertime and especially for the stabled horse. Adequate hydration is essential for normal digestion and how the food moves along the gut. Limited water intake can increase the risk of impaction colic.

To encourage drinking and correct levels of hydration, make sure all troughs are clear of ice, top up indoor buckets with hot water, include un-molassed soaked sugar beet in the feed, and steam or soak hay.

If your stable has automatic drinkers, put a bucket of water in as well so you can monitor the horse’s drinking. As a guide, a 16-hand horse will require a minimum of 6 gallons of water a day. Having free access to a salt lick is also helpful.   

Providing ample clean water is just as important in Winter as it is in Summer


Some horses spend huge amounts of time confined to a stable, dependant on their owners to ride or turn them out in a paddock. Even if your horse has daily turnout, the winter months can mean, due to floods, mud, snow and ice, that turn out is either impossible or very limited. 

Movement is needed for efficient digestion, to aid circulation, maintain muscle tone and normal joint function. 

If you are lucky enough to have a school then you can probably keep on riding if the surface allows or certainly work the horse in hand on the lunge or better still long reins. Allow more time for warm up before moving onto trot and canter to prevent injury. 

In hand walking is very valuable and you can allow the horse to pick at some grass and weeds and stretch their heads and necks down if they spend a lot of time eating from raised mangers and haynets. Two or three short wanders a day will also break up the monotony if they are stuck in due to the weather. Make sure the conditions underfoot are safe and clear any areas of snow and ice. 


Horses are social animals that are evolved to move, and in the wild will often cover 20 miles in a day within a herd. They are foragers, browsers and capable of forming close friendships and many are kept in an unnatural environment which is geared more towards what is convenient for us rather than what is best for them. 

Horses do suffer from depression and boredom if they can’t carry out some of their normal behaviour. This can be more so in the winter months as their routine changes. 

Horses can form lasting friendships with field companions and will miss the interaction when confined to a stable

We can help to relieve boredom in several ways, for example, making more daily visits to them or arranging a rota with other liveries, so each horse gets attention. A treat ball or small section of hay can be placed in the stable. Some horses love having the radio on, classic fm is a good one, calming music and some talking seems to be a good choice. 

Picking grass and herbs such as cleavers (great for lymphatic circulation) or dandelion leaves (urinary health) and tucking them in the hay can add interest as can hiding carrots, parsnips and apples tucked into haynets. Swedes hanging from string can provide hours of entertainment too. 

Hedgerow Horse has a seasonal range of herbs including an Autumn-Winter blend called Foragers Harvest which provides herbs and berries that a horse would naturally forage for if they had free access to them


It is important not to over rug your horse. Horses that are clipped, underweight or elderly will benefit from wearing an appropriate rug, both in the stable and also when out in the field. Make sure any rugs used are comfortable and fit well, but also remove them everyday to check they are not causing sores, particularly over the wither area. This is also a good opportunity to evaluate the overall bodily condition of the horse.

Skin issues

Unfortunately winter conditions are not kind to the skin. I have found Leucillin and Green Clay an absolute godsend for treating mud fever, minor injuries, skin complaints and preventing infection taking hold. A must have for your winter first aid kit. Both can be found in the Hedgerow Hounds shop with details on how to get the best out of using them.

Donkeys in winter

Donkeys are not designed for our UK climate but are perfectly suited to dry conditions. Their hooves can really suffer in the winter, either with seedy toe or generally crumbling horn due to standing in wet, muddy fields.

They need a dry, hard standing (with something to forage) where they can retreat to and shelter from the elements, as their coats lack the waterproof capabilities that horses have. A well fitting turnout rug which is changed when it’s very wet and replaced with a dry one will be important, especially if there is no shelter. An owner would probably need a few as a standby in really wet weather.

Donkeys are generally good doers and often look well on just hay and some oat or barley straw. 

Donkey hooves can suffer badly in wet weather & their coat isn’t as waterproof as that of a horse – they need hard standing, shelter & good rugs

Hang on in there ~ Spring is just around the corner !!

Useful links

Horse blogs

Blogs about the use of herbs

Blogs by Caroline Hearn ~ Holistic Healthcare for your Senior Dog ~ Holistic Healthcare for your Senior Horse or Pony

Caroline Hearn, MICHT, Dip. ICAT

Caroline is a Member of IAAT, the International Association of Animal Therapists. She is a sports, remedial and holistic massage therapist qualified to treat canine, equine, and human patients. Caroline has a lifelong obsession with dogs, a passion for holistic healthcare and natural nutrition, and a love for foraging in the countryside; all of which lead her to form the company Hedgerow Hounds which makes veterinary-approved nutritive herbal blends for dogs and other natural healthcare products. She has recently developed Hedgerow Horse.

Caroline also writes regularly for the holistic magazine Edition Dog and covers subjects such as raw feeding, canine therapies and the progress of the herbal sensory garden she created for her dogs.

Links for more information:

Caroline has recently developed the equine side of the herbal products and blog information that she offers. Find out more about Caroline’s horse work at : The Hedgerow Horse on Facebook and Instagram.

This blog was originally published on the Hedgerow Hounds website and reproduced here with thanks.

Disclaimer – Where blogs have been created by a guest author, CAM4Animals has reproduced this in good faith but cannot be held responsible for any inaccuracies of information in it or any use you make of this information

The veterinary Surgeon’s Act 1966 restricts the treatment of animals (usually other than your own*) by anyone other than a qualified vet. Always consult a veterinary surgeon if you are concerned about your animal’s health. *For full details visit the RCVS website