Rain, Shelter, Horses

By Terry Golson

We’ve had a stretch of truly miserable weather. It rained on and on. Sometimes there was a fine mist enveloping the world. Sometimes a cold driving downpour soaked everything it pelted. In the morning there was a dusting of snow, until that turned into more rain. It seemed like it went on like that for days.

We are miserable out in such weather so our inclination is to keep our horses inside, cozy and dry. But what do the horses think? Scientists have studied equine preferences. They looked into under what conditions horses seek out protection from the weather. What they’ve documented is that horses care more about shade when it is blazing hot, and shelter when insects are bothering them. But when it’s just raining? Horses prefer to be outside grazing. You can read this research here. (For those of you with long ears, read it. They studied that too. Donkeys’ preferences differ from those of horses.)

Keeping horses, though, is fraught with compromises. We have limited land. We need to have our horses stabled together so that we can care for them. We have to deal with manure and water.  We need them dry and clean so that we can put tack on them to ride. Some horses need to have their fur clipped so that they don’t overheat when ridden in cold weather. Which means they have to wear blankets, which require attention and care. It’s complicated!

One of the pluses of where I board Tonka is that they have large grass paddocks for all of the horses, so that everyone has ample daily turnout. However, if the horses are turned out when the ground is sodden, then the turf is quickly ruined and it’d all become dry lots. So when the weather is wet, the horses are kept in. They’re given extra hay, which keeps the horses sated, but it’s not optimum. I try to add extra time to my barn visits to hand-graze Tonka. I have bought myself a very nice raincoat! (Take a look here.) Tonka also has a waterproof jacket.


Tonka is one of the fortunate horses to have an in/out stall. Yesterday when I arrived the heavy rain had briefly abated, and he and his neighbors were all out in the drizzle.


These small runs have very good drainage, but even they couldn’t keep up with the amount of water coming down. Compared to his stall, this runout looks like a miserable place to be, and yet that’s what Tonka preferred. Fresh air and landscape to look at.


Tonka stayed out in the rain until lunch hay was fed. That was worth coming in for.

During this inclement weather I keep in mind that Tonka is moving a lot less than usual, so I make a point of starting my rides with loose rein walking, and I don’t pick up contact until I feel him swinging his back with some energy. It can take a full 15 minutes, and even then I gradually ease him into more athletic work. Sometimes a bounding canter, done in a big oval around the ring, (no corners, no fussing) is just what is needed to shake off the cobwebs.

We’ve got a couple of days of sunny weather in the forecast. The ground remains a wet mess, but I’m hoping that I can ride outside and squish our way around the fields. If not, we’ll ride in and then go for another hand-graze. Which is okay by me. There’s something so satisfying listening to a horse eat.


How’s the weather in your area? Under what conditions does your horse want to come inside?

12 thoughts on “Rain, Shelter, Horses

  • Laura allemand

    Great minds…I just took a video of my horse eating by yesterday so I could listen to it anytime.

    We have a run in shelter in our pasture for our horses which they are fed in, but free to enter and exit as they wish. I find they prefer shade from sun and shelter from flies, more than from a little rain. That being said, when it’s pouring, they definitely seek that shelter. There are lots of pastured horses where I live, and as much as they sometimes look pathetic standing around in the rain, I feel worse for those that have no shade in the hot summer.

  • Kim

    It has been a challenging November here in New England for sure! I am lucky to have a flexible schedule and a husband willing to handle our two horses. We get them out whenever possible, but the changing weather frequently has periods of high winds in between the good and the bad. Our pastures are wide open, and we don’t have a shelter so the wind is definitely the deciding factor for us. We aim for 16 hours out if possible, if not we do what we can- every little bit helps! Thank goodness for today though. It’s just glorious!

  • Shaste

    I came from the east coast (MD) where we never blanketed and the horses lived out year round, to the rainy pacific northwest (WA). Moisture management is a way of life here!

    We use rain sheets or turnout blankets depending on the horses coat. We leave blankets off as much as possible when the weather is drier so they can air out. Dirt is actually helpful in cleaning their coats assuming it’s cleaned off daily. We turn out daily, pretty much no matter what. But we rotate pastures between winter and summer and plant them back with each rotation which is a lot of work and expense.

    Our horses all have 30 foot sloped mud free runs attached to their stalls. Some will choose to be out regardless of the weather. Some will hang in their stalls when it’s bad out. Even the ones that prefer to be in will be standing with their heads and necks out their doors 🙂

  • Ashley

    I love this post and My one horse looks like your paint does. And my barn does not have any stalls so my horses can go in and out as they please.

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