5 Winter Health Challenges For Horses

Winter is here, the weather outside is less than delightful, and we are not spending as much time with our horses as we would like. Limited horse activity and been kept penned up comes with specific challenges. Here is our look at the five most common winter health challenges for horses.


Most people only worry about dehydration during the hot and humid summer months. Keeping your horse hydrated when it’s cold outside can be a challenge as well. Freezing water is an issue as well as resistance to drinking the cold water. Dehydration can contribute to serious health issues such as an increased risk of colic.

If you are using a water trough or stock tank, there are several varieties of heaters available to prevent the water from freezing. You can also hand water using several 5-gallon buckets filled with warm water or use a heated water bucket. Regardless of the method you choose, remember that it is important to keep a vigilant eye out for signs of dehydration when the weather is cold. Look for an increased resting heart rate, frequent, shallow breathing, skin elasticity (pinch test), look at soft tissue as it should look moist and shiny and check their gums by pressing on them. They should turn pink or white when you press, but color should return quickly when you release.

Hoof Health

Hooves are one of the most common things that horse owners neglect in the winter. Sure, the farrier is visiting less because the hooves are growing slower, but that also means that any cracks and defects will take longer to grow out, even if the issue has been addressed. Many areas of the country experience wet and dry spells. These spells can cause the hoof wall to expand and contract allowing bacteria to invade the capsule and cause a painful abscess.

It is extremely difficult to keep them clean with melting snow and muddy conditions. Poor conditions lead to an increased risk of thrush or white line disease. Treating and preventing thrush requires a cooperative effort between the horse owner, farrier, and veterinarian. Try coating your horse’s hooves with an antibacterial/antifungal hoof treatment in an effort to reduce the risk of an issue. Also, finding a dry barn or an area that your horse has access to in poor conditions is also extremely helpful.

Joint Stiffness/Pain

Decreased physical activity during the winter months can cause a horse to stiffen up. When possible, limit the amount of time your horse must remain in a confined space. Movement helps to create heat inside the body and help the joints stay healthy and the body flexible. This is especially important for senior horses since once mobility is lost it is much more difficult to get it back. Stretching and warmth have been proven to relax and lengthen tight tissues. If your horse is suffering from stiffness, you can try to briskly massage your horses’ problem areas with a warming linament before exercise or turn out.

Horses experiencing joint stiffness or pain can benefit from an increase of Vitamin E in their diet. Vitamin E is a vitally important antioxidant but is not abundantly found in your horse’s diet. By November, there is no Vitamin E in the grass until springtime. Horses will become Vitamin E deficient in the bloodstream by December if they are not supplemented. Health-E is the most potent Vitamin E supplement on the market and contains all 8 forms of Alpha Tocopherol. To learn more about adding Health-E to your horse’s diet click here.

Respiratory Problems

Increased time spent indoors in the winter months can cause respiratory issues. Spending time in a dusty barn with limited ventilation can lead to an increased risk of developing an upper respiratory infection or aggravate chronic conditions such as COPD. Inadequate ventilation means dust and hay particles, mold spores and other airborne particles are in higher concentrations.  Be mindful when mucking stalls as disturbing your horses’ bedding will create dust. Try storing winter hay supplies in a separate building or shed separate from the horse so that moving hay does not create more dust. Providing turn out into paddocks or corrals more often, especially when the stalls are being cleaned is also helpful. Taking some simple steps can help prevent issues before they start.

Horses suffering from COPD often experience exacerbated symptoms if they are confined to the barn during the winter months. Adding Heave-Ho to their diet can help alleviate their symptoms in as little as 14 days! Heave-Ho contains natural herbs, high dose vitamin E, and balanced minerals to help in fortifying your horse’s immune system using phytonutrients, immune modulators, adaptogens to help deal with the stresses of breathing issues and anti-inflammatories. To learn more about adding Heave-Ho to your horse’s diet click here.


Many people think that the lack of activity and standing around a barn all day is going to make their horse fat. In fact, the simple act of staying warm burns a lot of calories. So, even though one might think they need to cut calories due to the decrease in activity, it is actually important to increase your horses caloric intake during the winter months so that they do not lose weight. A long winter coat can hide weight loss. Periodically feel his ribs to make sure that he is holding his weight. It is important to keep in mind that hay digestion, not grain, is what keeps your horse warm. This may be difficult for older horses who suffer from digestive problems or poor digestive health. Try to have free choice clean, dry hay available as well as some easily digestible food such as senior feed or soaked alfalfa pellets. If they’re still not interested, try adding some taste tempters such as apples, carrots, molasses, or applesauce to get them to eat.  

So while we are forced to reduce our equine activity in the cold, winter months, there are steps we can take to ensure the overall health of our horses, Should you notice an issue, keep in mind that we offer free veterinary consultations with our programs and offer a product to aid in preventing most of the issues we discussed.