Fat horses, cold weather

Two easy keepers in northeast NC. Didn’t realize they had gotten so fat this summer. Have both of them muzzled and they are eating ration balance and winter rye grass/pasture.

We built barn for ventilation rather than warmth but they do have access to the barn 24/7 and the north and west sides are closed off to wind.

Maybe because I haven’t had them on hay yet, their winter coats are coming in great. We’ve had nights in the 30’s and they aren’t cold or showing a need for rugs, yet.

Still warm days here, usually 50’s or above. But forecast shows a few nights in the 20’s coming up next week.

I’ve never had horses this time of year not already on hay. Just curious for input on how to manage them the next 4-6 weeks while rye grass is still viable. Would you hold off on hay and blanket for good measure on the chilly nights? Or start feeding a few flakes at night? Or some other combination thereof?

I’ve put a call in to my vet but haven’t had a reply yet. Curious for your insights. Thanks in advance!

I don’t think the coats have anything to do with the hay or lack thereof. I would probably start to put out hay in small quantities and increase it if they clean it up.
I wouldn’t worry about blankets for unclipped healthy horses with good shelter unless they seem to need them, other than maybe something light like a sheet or 100g when it’s cold and wet.


Definitely no reason to blanket. If you throw a couple flakes out over a couple dad and they’re cleaning it up, it’s time to start gradually upping the hay. If they are super fat, slow feed nets. I’m in NE PA and we JUST started hay for real. You’re probably a week or so behind climate-wise, if the pasture holds, congrats! Don’t feed hay :slight_smile:

Horses mostly get cold when they get wet and/or wind chilled. Coat growth is function if sunlight driving melatonin production, not temperature :slight_smile:


As they are out 24/7 and have access to shelter, I would not feed hay at all as long as your winter rye grass is available.

I have a very similar situation to you with two horses about 300 pounds over their target weights and I am about a hundred miles further south in the other Carolina. My vet and trainer both advised me to omit hay as long as decent forage is available.

My winter rye grass is good all winter. Last winter they got no hay at all, 1 pound of Win N Grow ration balancer daily, and the rye grass. The vet and I were pleased with their conditions. This winter is the same plan, but I had to feed each 8 pounds of hay daily for a few weeks during the gap between coastal bermuda dormancy and the winter rye starting up due to lack of rain. They were on their own foraging to make up the other 12 pounds.


Winter coats are a function of shortening daylight hours, and to a lesser extent, temperature.

If they were cold, I’d be investigating health issues :slight_smile:

Regardless of what grass is available, start putting a little bit of hay out each night, when it’s colder and they’ll be more likely to eat it, if they want it at all.

I’m in north central NC, with weather similar to yours, though we’re supposed to be 23 tonight. I started putting hay out about 10 days ago, less than 1/4 of their full Winter ration, at night, and it’s been eaten more on the cooler nights, less to not at all on the warmer nights.

They are unblanketed, and I wouldn’t be blanketing yours, from your description.

Mine start eating more hay, less grass, on the colder nights - they know it will keep them warmer.

Winter Rye grass is pretty high in sugar, both as a function of the grass it is, and the fact that grows well in sunny days/cool to cold night conditions. It’s easy to make and keep a horse too fat on it, so keep that in mind



Thanks, everyone for the helpful replies.

Let me explain my comment about their winter coats and you can all tell me if you still think I’m daft. :joy:

I usually have a gap between summer grass and winter rye during which I give hay. This year I managed to sow early and didn’t have a gap. Coincidentally, I’ve noticed their coats seem to be coming in better. In my brain, I thought maybe the hay I gave previous years made them warmer earlier, and their bodies didn’t crank out as thick a coat. Does that not make sense?

I live in SC My horses are never entirely off of hay since I dry lot them for part of every day. I started augmenting my fading pastures with hay in late October. Both horses have full and heavy coats this year - even the thin skinned chestnut (unusual for him). I’m wondering if the horses know something I don’t. I hope we don’t have an unusually cold winter.

So, no, I don’t think eating hay has anything to do with growing coat.


If it meant not clipping I would start feeding hay in August!


Oh how interesting that yours are coming in fuller, too. Thank you for explaining. I see what you mean. :bulb:

I was hoping for a mild winter, too! Don’t ever remember having to drain hoses in November before!

Mine are stalled at night since I have a senior that I like to be up when its below 30 out, so they get hay at night in the stall or lots weather dependent. Do you have any drylot areas where you can ration their hay with nets and force them to lose/ shiver off some lbs if you want them to go down in weight a little bit? I have rye right now too but to preserve it I keep them off it in the am when its fragile and frosty, plus sugar is highest around that time so they pick thru their drylot when they finish their hay. Then after 12 (senior has time for bones to warm up n stretch) thru about 9pm they go in the pasture, senior eating all the grass n pony muzzled since he is like yours, fat n hairy n happy! I know not everyone has the time to move horses 2 to 3x a day but try to save / ration the hay if you can and preserve the grass when its frosty out and can be damaged easily.

I am in NE TN and we have sunny n 50ish out days but bouts of 25 or so at night times right now. I have a feeling this winter is going to be baadd. Wooly worms are all black n that’s always a sign of a cold n harsh winter coming! :cold_face:

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Correlation != causation :slight_smile:

The vast majority of the Winter coat growth comes from shortening daylight hours.

A smaller % comes from external temperatures. While the coat is growing, if it’s warmer than normal, or you are blanketing a bit more (which increases skin temperature) you’ll get less of a coat

It’s just coincidence that in the same year, your hay situation changed :slight_smile:

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I’m in central NC and my horse got FAT in the fall due to a long plush grass growing season and stepping on the clip of his shoe taking him out of work for several weeks. We had a long grass season this year. We started feeding hay about 2 weeks ago but my guy gets “on the minimal” side hay until he loses some weight. He’s out in his own well maintained 1.5ish acre pasture and has stuff to munch on.

We broke out blankets last night. I ride/train through the winter so he gets blanketed. I find horses grow less of a coat when they’re blanketed and he doesn’t grow much of a coat anyway. He also only gets balancer now. He gets hay but limited hay right now. NOT nutrient rich hay. Try a flake of hay twice daily to give him something to eat while he still has grass. Maybe 2 light flakes twice daily. I let my horse graze on the lawn when I can and he appreciates it. I’ve worked with my vet on his feeding plan for the last 8+ years now and had his pasture professionally analyzed to balance his diet. He used to need TONS of calories as a young horse and now he needs so little. He was doing so well until the fall weather and his clip snafu! He ballooned but now with the change in weather and work he’s losing weight. He’s got a way to go to make my vet happy!

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My mare gets her winter coat on the same schedule every year. But the winter she spent on a field she got extra guard hairs in January that she doesn’t get in the barn. And probably more hair overall. You dont see the hair starting to grow in September until you get a crisp day and she horrpilates (puffs up).

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I’m in Virginia. It’s getting cold at night here now, but our grass is still greenish and I have a lot of it. And I also have porky horses. I will be holding off on hay for a little bit so we can drop some weight before everyone starts spending all night snacking on hay. If you can do that, I would as long as no one has any health issues AND you actually have grass. When I lived in NC (though a different area) I always struggled with getting grass to grow nicely, so I had to feed hay 365 days a year. But it was sandy soil.