In this area, horses typically do not need additional heating in their barns. “It doesn’t get cold enough to justify having a heating system in the barn,” said Mark Russell, assistant professor and equine extension specialist at the University of Arkansas. “In the northern part of the U.S., where temperatures dip below 0 degrees more commonly, it may be something to consider.”
If heating is used, it is best if they are above the aisle and stalls and face the inner parts of the barn. When discussing temperatures, Russell recommended a range between 55 and 60 degrees is optimal. “Research has shown that horses do not require the same temperatures to remain comfortable as humans.”
Care should be taken when heating a barn to ensure that fire codes are met and that air exchanges in the barn are maximized. “Heated barns usually have less ventilation and, if this isn’t watched carefully, can lead to respiratory illnesses due to excess ammonia and bacteria,” said Marci Crosby, equine program coordinator for the University of Missouri’s Animal Science Division. “This is why in general, barns with open windows and doors, even in cold weather, are actually the best for the horse.”
Crosby added that portable heaters and heat lamps should be used sparingly, especially without supervision.
Regarding the need for a horse to be in a barn in the winter, it depends on location and elements. “If it is blowing snow and windy, horses are generally better off inside a barn,” Russell said. “If it is 20 degrees, but still sunny outside and with little wind, horses are better off outdoors.”
When it comes to using horse blankets, they are over-used for the most part. “If a horse owner is attempting to keep a horse slick for show purposes, then a blanket is necessary,” Russell said.
If a horse owner decides to heat their barns, it is very important to allow for air flow in the barn. “Many horse owners enjoy a heated barn, and in doing so, restrict air flow for the purposes of trapping hot air,” Russell said. “At some point during the day it is critical to open doors to allow fresh air in and blow ammonia out. This can also be accomplished by utilizing a fan system.”
“Most horses do great outside during the winter as long as they have access to shelter (trees or a lean-to) and are fed adequate amounts of roughage or hay to help them generate body heat,” Crosby said. “Most horses that live outside should be allowed to grow a normal winter hair growth, but can be blanketed if this isn’t the case.”
According to Crosby, a horse that is allowed to grow a heavy winter hair coat has tremendous insulation against the cold weather. “The hairs actually stand up to help trap warmth against their bodies,” she added. “A wet hair coat has less natural insulation. If a horse has a thick winter hair coat, adding a blanket actually compresses the undercoat and the horse will lose its natural insulation.”


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