Windbreak considerations for horses

Farm Forum

Horses are very hardy animals, and with quality shelter from wind and moisture, most horses will not need additional shelter except during extreme weather occurrences such as blizzards. Horse owners will have less labor and happier animals if horses can be kept outside during the winter months, whether in a large corral or winter pasture. In addition to shelterbelts and farm buildings, there are three main types of windbreaks:

Recommended materials

Windbreak fences and/or buildings are protecting an animal that can pack a punch with their hooves; therefore, the sturdier the construction, the safer for the horse. One VERY important point to remember is that steel walls must be constructed with a heavy enough gauge that horses cannot kick through it. We recommend super steel /steel decking, guard rail, or treated wood at least 2” thick for any type of windbreak that a horse will be using other than a shelterbelt. Avoid exposing sharp metal edges.

Fence Windbreaks

· Solid Fence: A solid fence windbreak with no roof will cause the wind to go up and over or around the fence. This action causes a vacuum on the downwind side of the windbreak and therefore snow to fall directly on either side of the fence. This might work well for slowing snow down near a feedlot, but if your horse is on the direct opposite side of the solid windbreak, he might be standing in deep snow.

· Open Fence: Open fence windbreaks should be mounted off the ground about 12 inches to allow wind to blow the snow downwind from the fence. Windbreak fences with spaces between panels are more effective in controlling wind than solid fences. By allowing some of the wind to pass through the windbreak:

* Vacuum effect is minimized.

* The wind actually speeds up through the spaces, causing snow to blow out further away from the break, resulting in shallower snow drifts.

* Fence openings can run vertically or horizontally. For the safety of horses, openings should be small enough to prevent hooves from getting caught. Using the strong steel is also very important for this reason.

Three-Sided Shelters (See the iGrow series: Materials for Horse Corrals and Shelters)

You have probably noticed that horses prefer to stand with their backs to the wind. For this reason, the open side of a shed should be opposite the prevailing wind. Shelters can be constructed with the same materials as windbreaks, and should be 9′ high at minimum at the back wall for the average-sized quarter horse.

· A 4- to 6-foot overhang (or larger) at a pitch of 3” high for every 12” horizontal will help prevent rain and snow from blowing into the shed and will allow moisture to roll off the roof.

· Because of runoff potential, sheds should be located so they have adequate drainage.

· The shed opening should be at least 12′ tall. Make certain that the roof’s edge is high enough that a “rearing” horse could not catch his neck on sharp roof trim, or cap it with a smooth (wood) product.

· It is recommended that 3-sided shelters provide each horse at least 80 square feet of standing space.


Haystacks made of either small or large bales can serve dual purpose as a temporary windbreak when located near a horse pen. For the upper Midwest, these are usually located on the north and west sides. This may cause some drifting to occur on either side of the stack. A windbreak height of 8 to 10 feet can be accomplished with a stack of two to three round bales high. The bales can also be stacked side-by-side to provide a more solid windbreak barrier. Usually these stacks are placed behind a fence line from the horse lot, so that animals cannot eat on the stacks.

Other Considerations

· Blizzards: Blizzards are not uncommon in our region. The extremely high force winds and

snowfall that occur during a blizzard can cause excessive drifting that can bury livestock standing behind a windbreak. Fortunately, modern technology can provide us with sufficient warning so that we can get animals out of the elements and placed in barns if possible.

· Water Availability: When livestock, especially horses, are trying to keep out of the elements, they may go long periods of time without water. This can cause impaction colic in horses. For this reason, a stall situation may be the best option for your horse to receive adequate water. If this is not an option, then place water tanks inside shelters – or deliver water frequently to horses standing at a windbreak – if a significant weather event is in the forecast and access is possible.