Should Horses Have Shelter in Winter?

Feb 22, 2024

Author: Lisa Smith

When winter approaches, with its colder temperatures, rain, snow, and wind, horse owners often ponder a crucial question: should horses have shelter during this season? This question is particularly relevant in places like New Zealand, where the climate varies significantly across regions. Understanding the need for shelter for horses in winter is vital for their health, well-being, and safety.

Understanding the Horse's Natural Coat

Horses are remarkable animals with a natural ability to adapt to colder temperatures. Their winter coat provides significant insulation against the cold. This coat traps air close to the skin, which is warmed by the horse's body heat, forming an insulating layer. However, the effectiveness of this natural coat can be compromised by factors like rain, wind, and the horse's overall health and age.

Horse blankets and rugs also help horses stay healthy, warm, and well-groomed. These are available in different types including waterproof blankets. Choosing the right type subject to the weather and temperature is important for the horses health and well being and they should be changed to suit the weather conditions.

Shelter Needs in Different Climates

In New Zealand, the climate varies from the far north's mild winters to the more extreme conditions of the South Island. According to the New Zealand Animal Welfare Act, horse owners are responsible for ensuring their animals have proper shelter and care.

North Island

The North Island of New Zealand experiences a milder climate. However, prolonged rain can lead to issues like mud fever and rain scald. In these areas, providing a shelter that offers protection from rain and wind is advisable.

South Island

The South Island can experience much harsher winters, with snow and cold temperatures. In these regions, horses require a shelter that can provide warmth and protection from snow and frost, especially for older horses or those with health issues.

Types of Shelter

Natural Shelter

In some cases, natural shelter like trees or landscape features can provide adequate protection. However, these may not be sufficient in more severe weather conditions.

Man-Made Shelters

Man-made shelters can range from simple three-sided structures to more complex stables. These shelters should be well-ventilated, dry, and large enough to accommodate all horses without crowding.

Health and Well-being Considerations

Horses that are old, young, or have health issues may require more protection in winter. A horse's health can deteriorate quickly in cold and wet conditions, leading to issues like weight loss, respiratory problems, or worsening of existing conditions.

How do I know if my horse is cold?

  • If they are shivering which is a natural response to the cold.
  • Their temperature is below 37.4°C. To measure your horse's temperature, use a rectal thermometer.
  • They are huddling together with other horses.
  • Direct touch, they feel cold.

Legal Requirements in New Zealand

The New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries provides guidelines on animal welfare standards, including those for horses, which emphasise the importance of appropriate shelter during adverse weather conditions. Under New Zealand law, failing to provide adequate shelter can be considered a welfare issue.


Providing shelter for horses in winter is not just a matter of comfort but a vital aspect of their health and well-being. The need for shelter varies depending on the horse's health, age, and the local climate. In New Zealand, with its diverse weather conditions, horse owners must assess and provide appropriate shelter to ensure their horses are protected during the colder months.

Outpost Buildings provides a quality range of durable kitset horse shelters and stables. These are available in a wide variety of sizes to suit horse numbers and property sizes. They include assembly plans and all the required fixings and can all be delivered NZ-wide to your property. To learn more about kitset horse shelters and options, reach out and talk to us about which one will suit your property best.

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