Does my Icelandic Horse get too cold in the winter?


Some of the most common questions we receive are: Does my horse get cold in winter? When should it wear a rug? How thick does the rug filling need to be? Is it cold with the clip? We have collected all the answers here and hope to be able to clarify the topic for you.

Autorin: Marie-Theres Conen

How the thermoregulation of Icelandic horses works

When the thermometer drops below 10 degrees, we get out our thick winter jackets and from 5 degrees most of us are only at the stable with overalls, thermal breeches and lined shoes. And we often think that our horses, despite their thick coats, must feel the same way and are also cold.

Comfort temperature of horses: plus 25 to minus 15 degrees

But this is not the case - at least not most of the time! The comfort temperature of horses in mild climates (i.e. ours) is between plus 25 and minus 15 degrees. At 5 degrees, the metabolism functions optimally - assuming dry weather. For comparison: for us (naked) humans, it is between 25 and 30 degrees!

Healthy horses kept in open stables can cope well with dry cold due to their body's thermoregulation. Only at temperatures below minus 15 degrees do horses need an increased feed ration to maintain their body temperature. From: Wearing a Rug permanently: Yes or no?

Humans and horses have very different temperature perceptions

How horses warm themselves

  • Through the horse's skin: It consists of several layers and, together with the subcutaneous fat, forms an insulating layer. The horse's skin contains numerous sensory nerve cells, such as the thermoreceptors, which register cold and heat.
  • Constriction of the blood vessels: When these receptors register that it is cold, the heartbeat slows down and the blood vessels contract. In this way, less blood is pumped to the surface of the body, so less heat is lost. If the vessels are constricted, the blood flow in the ears, hooves and legs is reduced, and the blood is instead used more to protect the vital internal organs.
  • With the coat:In addition, the hair muscles of the cosy undercoat receive the command that they should raise the hair. This creates a warming layer that keeps the horse warm in addition to the already existing coat. You can observe this very well on cold winter days, when our horses are always particularly plush. The greasy top coat protects this layer by repelling water.
  • Metabolism: When it is very cold, the metabolism speeds up and generates more body heat. For this reason, it is important that horses have more roughage available in cold temperatures.
  • Skeletal muscles: Horses warm up through contractions in the muscles. This can also be perceived as trembling.
If the weather is cold and dry, the horse does not get too cold. If it's cold and wet, things can look different.

This means: A healthy Icelandic horse does not get cold in dry, cold temperatures. You can see that the heat isolation in horses works excellently from the fact that snow remains without melting on a healthy horse with a thick winter coat.

Wet rainy weather, however, is something completely different. The problem arises when the undercoat gets wet and can no longer stand up. Then the warming effect of the coat is lost. This can be caused by continuous rain or by heavy sweating. Most horses are also well protected in the rain, but of course there are always horses that have a predisposition to freeze in the wet.

These factors play a role in the predisposition to getting cold

  • Coat thickness
  • Little subcutaneous fat tissue. The horse is thin.
  • Low-ranking. It is not allowed to shelter. Always stands alone, not in the warming herd.
  • Back problems
  • Health status, metabolism
  • Age

If you are unsure whether your horse gets too cold when it rains, you simply need to observe him on a cool rainy day. Freezing is most common in the transitional period. This is because horses are changing their coat and often have particularly thin coats and are very stressed by their metabolism.

Cooling down in the rain can occur in the summer coat from below 15 degrees and in the winter coat from below 5 degrees.

Whether a horse tends to freeze depends on many factors.

How can I tell if my horse is cold?


  • high unrelaxed back
  • tight lips
  • trembles
  • wet down to the undercoat
  • pinched tail
  • sullen and unwilling, withdrawn, introverted

Over Time:

  • Tension occurs exceptionally often: Is your horse tense more often than usual when riding or lunging after cold nights, rainy days or after a new shearing? This could be a sign that he is freezing. Important: Check the cause. Am I particularly tense, new shoes, new equipment?
  • The horse gets thinner and looses muscle a lot over the winter: has to invest a lot of energy in keeping warm.
Important: Always keep a close eye on your own horse. In the picture Silva Ochsenreiter-Egli

What do I do if I find my horse shivering in the paddock when it rains?

This is not the end of the world at first. Shivering is a muscle mechanism that horses use to keep warm. This usually happens in the transitional period or on cold summer days. In summer and during the coat change, horses have thinner coats that are less able to protect them from moisture.

  1. Get it out of the paddock.
  2. Put on a sweat rug: Best would be a thermo-regulating woollen rug. However, you should change it immediately if it gets soaked. If you don't have a roof, then put a rain blanket over the Cooler Rug.
  3. Don't brush the horse: Remove only the wetness with the sweat knife. Otherwise the risk of rubbing the wetness into the undercoat is too high.
  4. Go for a walk: The horse's thermoregulation works best when it is on the move. So don't let it stand around for long, but rather go for a walk immediately. Afterwards, lunging/free running is also possible.
    Just let the horse do what it needs to do. If it wants to run faster, you can let it run. If it doesn't want to run, you don't have to push it. We always have the feeling that the horses know best what they need in such situations. The important thing is that they are relaxed and listen to you.
  5. Solarium: If there is one, it is of course also good for your horse. For about 15 minutes.
  6. Feed it: Shivering is a considerable energy expenditure. The deficit has to be made up, and eating is relaxing.
  7. Put on a Breathable Rain Rug : he horse does not have to be completely dry for this. However, the rain rug must be breathable so that the moisture can evaporate. Of course, it must not accumulate under the blanket and allow the cold to return. At the same time, it must protect against new rain.
Horse is shivering: Put on a warm blanket and go for a walk.

When is it worth covering a healthy horse?

  • It is wet and sweaty: You have already put a Cooler Rug on it and the undercoat is still not dry? This can often be due to too much humidity, then the sweat evaporates bad. Of course, sometimes you just don't have enough time to let the horse sweat for more than 15 minutes.
    In this case, the sweaty horse must wear a paddock blanket to finish sweating. Otherwise it can cool down due to draughts, cold or rain and catch a cold or become tense. Make sure that your paddock blanket is really suitable for sweating off.
  • Large shearing: Does it have a shearing that also affects the belly or even a full shearing? Then it must be covered in the cold or wet.
  • During the coat change/with thin fur in continuous rain: Is your horse's coat very thin and does it tend to freeze? Then use a blanket as a precaution here too.
  • In Training Whether a horse freezes in heavy rain is something else again than when it has to give full performance in training after a cold rainy night. Many horses are more tense than usual afterwards. We are simply not fans of riding horses with cold backs. Then you spend the riding session loosening the horse up until it runs like it does on a normal day.
    Please only put a saddle pad on the cold back that does not get clammy when wet. The best is a Saddle Pad made of wool, which dries the back while riding. On such days, almost every horse is more tense than usual and has less pleasure in being ridden. Then it's better to do ground work or blanket the horse as a precaution. You don't have to ride every day. Tips for horse training in winter.
If you expect high training performance, you have to take good care of your horse. In the picture: Marleen Stühler

Rain Rugs can be used:

In summer coat in rain: Below 15 degrees

In winter coat with rain: Under 5 degrees

Dagfari and Hjörvar are shoren and don't get cold in winter. They're not wearing a blanket.

Friert mein Islandpferd mit einer Schur?

That depends entirely on the size of the shearing . If the horse is only shorn at the neck and chest, it will certainly not freeze, as the mane and thick skin of Icelandic horses still provide enough insulation. Besides, Icelandic horses have such a dense undercoat that you can't see the skin even on freshly shorn horses. On rainy days, you can even observe that the shorn areas stay dry. This is because the rain rolls off the short coat and the moisture evaporates quickly.

Even when the temperatures are below zero, we have found that they do not freeze despite being sheared. If the horse is shorn over a larger area, i.e. also on the belly, or has a full shearing, we would recommend covering the horse in cool temperatures. However, if you are unsure about which blankets and fillings to use, you should simply shear the horse over a smaller area.

Here is the full article on shearing

What makes a good paddock/rain cover?

  • It is completly waterproof.
  • Secure cut with a good fit: Does not slip, is elastic, does not hinder the horse's movements.
  • Closes well at neck and chest
  • No pressure point at the withers
  • No metal buckles or loose cords or ill-fitting belly guards in which horses can get caught and injured when rolling.
  • Breathable: Doesn't get too warm in nice weather, helps with ready sweating. Allows moisture to escape from the inside but not come in from the outside.
  • Repairable: Paddock rugs are subjected to a lot of stress, so things can sometimes break. The important thing is that they can be repaired.
A rug that meets all these conditions: ours Rain Rug Softshell

Is our softshell blanket enough to keep you warm, or how many grams of filling does a blanket need?

Yes. An Icelandic horse with a winter coat does not need an additionally lined blanket. Freezing is caused by wetness and draught, not by the temperature itself. Our blanket reliably keeps this out.

Wrong selected blankets that are too thick can cause a temperature that is far above the horse's comfort zone. More on this here.

Only horses with full shearing or very thin sick horses could benefit from extra filling.

A fun fact about this: The first prototypes of our softshell blanket were sewn for two 30+ year old mares to give them protection and warmth in winter. This means that they are definitely also suitable for covering old horses.

Does my horse need a rain rug with a neck piece?

It depends on the mane. If your horse has a very short mane and is also shorn at the neck, it really has little rain protection there. Otherwise, a high-neck rain rug is sufficient, as the mane offers enough rain protection that the horse does not soak through it.

Conclusion: When your horse will get cold and needs a blanket cannot always be answered in a general way. As the owner, you have to take a close look and find out what is good for him. Every horse is different, the stable is different, the climate conditions are different.

Not every old horse needs to be covered, not every healthy horse doesn't need a blanket. Observe your horse and look for signs if he is cold. A healthy Icelandic horse will almost certainly not freeze in sub-zero temperatures - as long as it is dry. However, in bad wind and weather conditions you can do it a favour by covering it up, especially if you want to ride the next day.

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Abschwitzdecken von Sportsfreund Studios
Sportsfreund Studios

The Sportsfreund Studios blog contains numerous tips on dealing with horses. From fitness training to the learning behaviour of horses - you can read it all here. The blog is written by Karolina Kardel from 360 Grad Pferd.

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