There are many protocols for horse sperm cryopreservation, but results are inconsistent; sperm survival after freeze-thawing is usually poor; in consequence, fertility is low. The objective of this work was to see whether slow cooling before freezing to minus 3 °C instead of +5 °C, the traditional target temperature, could improve horse sperm cryosurvival, capability to carry out capacitation and the acrosome reaction induced by progesterone. Spermatozoa from five stallions were packaged in straws and slowly cooled to +5 °C. Half of the straws were frozen directly and the other half was further cooled to −3 °C before freezing. Progressive motility, viability, plasma membrane integrity, acrosome integrity and capacitation status were assessed. After thawing, there were no differences between cooling treatments on motility, viability, acrosome integrity and capacitation status; however, there was difference (P < 0.05) regarding plasma membrane integrity. Acrosome integrity decreased as incubation, without or with progesterone (2 μg ml−1), progressed, but there were no differences between cooling treatments regardless of progesterone. Both capacitated and acrosome-reacted spermatozoa increased as incubation progressed, but there were no differences between cooling treatments regardless of progesterone. Slow cooling to −3 °C before freezing did not improve horse sperm cryosurvival or capability to undergo the acrosome reaction.