Is it okay to leave my horse outside in super horrible bad icky winter weather? How do I know if I need to bring him into the barn?
Most horses will do just fine turned out during storms and bad winter weather if they have:
Access to shelter. A three sided shelter in a paddock is ideal, with the open side not facing the wind! Not all horses will utilize their shelters to hang out in, but the option needs to be there. You can also feed them inside the shelters so that their hay stays away from snow and mud.
Fun in the snow!
Some extra calories. Horses are amazing creatures - they produce heat when they are digesting! This is especially important at night when temperatures drop and time between feedings widens. Talk with your Veterinarian or Equine Nutritionist about how much extra hay you can feed, often it is a flake or two. If possible, you could add in a late night feeding as well. If your horse is on pasture, which is now covered in snow, time to add some hay to the feeding routine.
Water that is not frozen. There are loads of watering systems out there that resist freezing. Some are super duper fancy, others are just simple insulating jackets for water buckets. Some horse owners swear by putting a soccer ball in the trough to keep the water moving to prevent freezing. Horses will drink in the winter, but usually not as much as when their water is warmer. You can read more about dehydration in the winter here, and also how to entice your horse to drink here.
Supplemental blanketing. Without getting into the huge discussion about blanketing (It’s unnatural, it’s horrible VS. everyone should blanket, you must blanket) you need to look at your horse individually and decide if he needs help staying warm. I personally own a horse whose winter coat is a total of FOUR additional hairs. There is NO WAY he can handle temps approaching freezing without a blanket. If your horse is a senior, and a hard keeper, give him a blanket to help him out.
This may seem surprising, but keeping your horse outside during the cold winter may be best! During the day, the weather may also be sunny at times, which of course is a great way for your horse to stay comfortable. Sunny outside is often warmer than shaded stalls inside the barn. If he has buddies hanging out with him in the paddocks, they can huddle together for warmth. They also have the opportunity to move around outside, creating warmth.
There are a few reasons that I would consider bringing in the horses during horrible cold weather.
The ground/footing has become dangerous. Excessive mud is hard on tendons and muscles and can suck off shoes. It can also be slippery as snot. Frozen ground can have ice patches, which is a huge Vet bill waiting to happen. Remember that a chilly horse will move around to stay warm, make sure it’s safe for him to do so!
This winter wonderland is really an ice skating rink. Sheets of ice along the paths... so horses stayed in!
You are approaching the time when you physically can’t get out to the paddocks to feed and/or water your horses. Or, your outside water source is just too darn frozen and you need to use heated or insulated buckets in the barn.
The weather includes lightning and your barn does have a lightning rod. Horses in bad weather often stand next to trees and fences that lightning loves. Bringing your horses inside can be the best decision. Read more about lightning here and decide if your barn is safer than your paddocks during lightning storms.
At night, you may want to consider bringing your horses in, temps can drop rapidly and severely in some cases. At this point, the barn may be warmer!
What factors do you consider when deciding IN or OUT for your horses in the winter?