Light Coats: Do’s and Don’ts for Keeping Horses Show-Ready Under Lights

by Matt

The fuzzy days of fall are upon us, when horses lose their show-ring sheen and begin to puff into mastodon models. If you’re showing this winter, or just plain don’t want to deal with all that hair, you might be tempted to leave the barn lights on late. Horses do grow their winter coats based upon the shortening of winter days, not the crisp chill in the air, but take a minute to review these do’s and don’ts of keeping your horse under lights. It would be a shame to pay that extra-large electric bill for nothing.

Do: Use timers to keep lights on late, and turn on early. You’re looking for about sixteen hours of daylight to mimic summer sunshine — many horsemen add three hours to the morning and three hours to the night with lights. Timers will save you from schlepping to the barn late at night and early in the morning to flip the lights off and on. You’re trying to save time with short coats, not lose sleep.

Don’t: Rely on heat lamps for light. You’ll need clear or frosted light bulbs to mimic daylight. Colored heat lamps are great for keeping your short-coated horse comfortable in an uninsulated stall, but they won’t stop hair growth.

Do: Be sure your lighting is strong enough. One rule of thumb is to make sure there’s enough light in the stall to read a newspaper — and not a backlit tablet, either, but real newsprint with real tiny letters! To be technical, you’ll need ten light candles for a twelve-by-twelve stall. Generally speaking, a pair of 8” fluorescent tubes, or a 200 watt incandescent bulb installed 10 feet above the stall floor, will provide that amount.

Don’t: Let your horse get cold! You’ll need a collection of horse clothing to make up for your horse’s summer hair-do, even in warmer climates. Have light, medium, and heavy blankets on hand, know what temperatures they’re rated for, and check your horses frequently for chills or sweating. If you live in a particularly cold, climate, be sure your barn is insulated against arctic drafts and plunging temperatures, so a sudden extreme won’t set your horses to shivering.

Do: Groom your horse frequently. Long hairs have probably already begun to grow in by the time you put your horse under lights, and you’re still going to have to help your horse shed. A nice strong session with a curry comb will stimulate a beautiful coat (bonus points if you have a horse who loves a good curry comb massage).

Don’t: Get impatient and give up. It takes about 60 days to fully implement an artificial daylight program. Like most things in the horse world, you’re going to need dedication and determination to see this thing through (especially if you decide to skip the timers this year).

Good luck to you this winter! Keeping a horse’s coat short can have many benefits for the hard-working horse, as well as horses moving from a cold climate to a warm one. Follow the steps, make yourself a solid plan, and stick with it — you’ll have a shiny pony all winter long!

24 responses on “Light Coats: Do’s and Don’ts for Keeping Horses Show-Ready Under Lights

  1. Christie says:

    Will LED lights provide the right type of light for this? Thanks in advance.

    • Matt Johnson says:

      Great question. Since LED light bulbs produce some light on the UV spectrum, mimicking natural light, it is considered as effective as incandescent or fluorescent bulbs. As long as you can read a newspaper in the stall, you have enough light to effect a response on your horse’s hair growth.

  2. Sally says:

    What if you leave the lights on all night, every night?

  3. Catherine says:

    I show on the AQHA circuit year round around the US. My horse has always been at the trainers before and never had a winter coat. However, he came home this winter so I can ride more. He’s under lights, but still has a fluffy coat. He’s never had this issue. He’s turned out at 9:00 am – 1:00 pm. From 1:00 pm – 9:00 am he’s under lights. What can I do?

    • Matt Johnson says:

      Thank you for contacting us. In response to your question, your horse’s fluffy coat is a natural response to the winter season, but it isn’t conducive to year-round showing. While lights may reduce the coat growth a bit, they’re generally more effective in terms of regulating mares’ cycles. The strength of the lights may also play a role in how effective they are. Other options include blanketing your horse to reduce coat growth, though this needs to be implemented in the fall at the onset of cold weather. If these options don’t restrict winter coat growth enough, then you may need to clip your horse, at least just before a show.

  4. Trent Z says:

    What wattage LED light is sufficient enough?

    • Matt Johnson says:

      Typically two 100-watt incandescent bulbs for a 12’x12′ stall offers sufficient light to keep coats shed out and horses ready for shows. This equates to 3,200 lumens (a measure of the total quantity of visible light emitted by a source), and a 25-30 watt LED bulb. It is best to review any LED bulb options and total up their lumens to reach 3,200.

  5. Rob Davidson says:

    I’m going to use led bulbs in my stall for the horses coat. What color output should I use. 3,000k, 4,000k, or ,5000k. Does it matter? The 3,000k has a yellowish output and the 4,000 & 5,000k have a bright white output. Thx

    • Matt Johnson says:

      Great question. Please see our responses above to similar questions.

      • Laureen says:

        Lumens and K are two very different measures for LED lights. Lumens compares to wattage (and converts to brightness of light) but is unrelated to K which is a measure of colour temperature. I’d personally go bright white (often called daylight or cool white) as it’s more naturally like daylight in appearance and psychological feel. But that’s not based on any research – or experience with having horses under lights – just knowledge of physics 🙂

  6. Jennifer Arnold says:

    I’ve been give two different opinions on stall light. I was told that to keep horses shed out the same light instructions as above. But I’ve also been told that horses need to be locked in their stalls with no view to the outside after dark. Then I was recently told that as long as I have the lights on in their stalls I could leave the top door open where they can hang their heads out. I’ve had issues with hair growth during the hot summer months. So confused.

  7. Kim says:

    Do you need to have lights on during the day when a horse is in a stall?

    • Matt Johnson says:

      The goal of light management is to expose horses to 16 hours of continuous light per day. If your horse’s stall has windows and is a naturally light area, then you don’t need to turn stall lights on while he’s indoors during the day. If your horse’s stall is very dark, then you may need to turn stall lights on for at least part of the day to establish that sense of continuous daylight.

  8. Calli Kaufman says:

    Is it ok for the horse to be able to see outside and see that it is dark out if the stall is lit?

  9. Rachael Ireland says:

    Hi, at my horse’s agistment they’ve just come in under lights (Southern Hemisphere). It’s not my property, we’re on agistment. At the moment they have no timers so are leaving the lights on super late at night but not putting them on early in the morning.
    It’s only been a week but I’m sure my horse is getting a winter coat, what do you think of their strategy?
    Many thanks

    • Matt Johnson says:

      Hello. Based on the information provided, it seems that it would still be a bit early to tell. If the lights are left on on late at night but not turned on early in the morning, they may not be on long enough to make a difference in your horse’s circadian rhythm (horses need 16 hours of light per day and 8 hours off for it to impact their shedding/growing coat cycle). Another point to keep in mind is that the lights may not be bright enough to make a difference. The standard lighting found effective is 200-watt incandescent bulb, or as a rule of thumb, just enough to read a newspaper in the stall. Lastly, with the above conditions in place, you would normally start seeing a difference in your horse’s coat after 2 months of using the new light cycle in the barn. It might be a good idea to continue observing and taking note of any changes in the following few weeks.

  10. Danielle says:

    Hi. I read your article on keeping horses under lights and was wondering if a chicken brooder with a 200W bulb would be sufficient at keeping my mare in cycle and her coat down? I board at a facility in the winter and cannot change their current lighting. However, the barn owner told me I could clip a chicken brooder lamp to her stall and run it on timers – so I was wondering if this is safe and effective?

    • Matt Johnson says:

      Hello. Indeed, the standard lighting found effective is 200-watt incandescent bulb, or as a rule of thumb, just enough to read a newspaper in the stall. Therefore, the 200W bulb should technically be enough to keep your mare in cycle and keep her coat down if she is able to get 16 hours of light per day. However, the concern would be regarding the safety and potential electrical issues of using a chicken brooder fixture. Attaching a lamp to a stall may cause it to fall or being knocked over and could potentially become a fire hazard. To prevent your horse from getting hurt, light fixtures should include a clearance of at least 10 feet. If you can’t hang fixtures above the stall or place them high up on the wall itself, you may consider installing them in the aisle outside the stall.

  11. Amanda says:

    I’ve got a show the beginning of March and my new mare has been out on pasture for a year. Best advise for getting the hair off as much as I can before then. Lights blankets etc…

  12. […] extra lights and heat lamps. According to, they […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *