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What to do if you’re concerned about a horse’s welfare in the winter

PUBLISHED: 10:00 26 December 2015

If you're concerned about a horse's welfare, there are plenty of things you can do

If you're concerned about a horse's welfare, there are plenty of things you can do


The British Horse Society gives a guide

During the cold, dark months of winter concerns are raised about the welfare of horses and ponies out in the field. ‘Aren’t they cold without a rug?’, ‘That one looks a bit underweight,’ or ‘I haven’t seen the owner tending to that horse for days.’

In the majority of cases there is nothing to worry about. But what makes for a real welfare concern and who do you contact if you have one?

During winter, horses naturally lose weight and this can be helpful for those animals that need to lose a proportion of fat before the arrival of the rich spring grass. Be aware however that a horse’s natural thick and hairy winter coat or a rug can hide its true condition. An underweight horse can be identified by protruding or visible ribs, hip bones or vertebrae.

If horses are lacking access to water, that is a concern. All horses should have constant access to fresh, clean drinking water. Owners should make sure that during the colder months water supplies aren’t frozen and the horse has easy access. A horse without safe access to water can be a cause for concern and should be monitored.

During winter it can be hard to judge whether horses and ponies are being properly cared for, as owners may be visiting their animals in the darkness before and after work. Look out for strands of hay left on the floor; it will indicate that supplementary feed is being left regularly for the animal.

We all know what it’s like to go out in winter without a coat on, and a horse without a rug may look a concern. However, many breeds of horses and ponies have evolved to cope with harsh winter weather. Some breeds do naturally have a thinner coat and a rug may be used periodically to keep off the wind, rain and snow.

If you do have a genuine concern about a horse, contact the British Horse Society welfare team for advice on 02476 840517 or email

To make a donation this Christmas and do your bit to help to tackle horses in crisis by supporting our Forever, for the Horse campaign, visit Just a small donation will help support the British Horse Society’s team of dedicated welfare officers who help horses in need.


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