Should I Blanket my Horse or Not Blanket my Horse
That is the Question
I think I get the question “should I blanket my horse” more than any other question during the winter season, so I thought I’d address it in this issue to help everyone out. Blanketing horses is a very controversial subject. It seems that those that believe in it don’t want to even think of having their horse go “au naturel” at any point after the first leaf falls to the ground. The same goes true for the die hard “my horse will never see a blanket no matter what” person. I believe that in most situations we have to look at the individual horse and the kind of set up you have to answer this question best.
So when should I blanket my horse?
My take on this is that we should blanket our horses only when it’s necessary, and when there’s no chance for your horse to taking shelter. I will first go into the research that has gone into this subject because ultimately, I think horses have the best bet of maintaining proper temperature when allowed to do that on their own. Horses can raise their hair to different levels to accommodate different weather conditions and temperatures.Horses are able to raise their hair, much like we attempt to do when we shiver and our hair stands on end. These incredible animals are able to trap warm air to their body and prevent themselves from being cold. By the same token on a warm day their hair flattens to their bodies to release the heat. As much as possible, we do not want to interfere with this delicate mechanism by putting on heavy blankets that prevent them from doing so. Their hair will adjust minute by minute to the temperature fluctuations. Unlike a blanket which can either be too hot for them or not enough and they start to get cold. They have no options with a blanket on and can overheat easily.
Now, the above applies to cold dry temperatures. When we start to have rain and wind this mechanism works a lot less efficiently. This is when we normally find our horses shivering or moving about nervously to keep warm. Some people believe this is perfectly natural and still do not feel the need to interfere. For the most part I do agree with not interfering, unless you have a horse that is older or has a chronic illness that may be fighting something. In that case, any time they shiver they are using up precious energy to stay warm forcing immune functions to go down. This leaves them open and more likely to getting sick, so that’s when we need to blanket horses. Also, if you have a thin horse you will find a much harder time keeping or getting weight on them if they are constantly cold.
In the wild horses are moving constantly. In a paddock situation, especially our winter sacrifice paddocks, they have little room to move so they stand at their hay all day. A wild horse would very rarely get cold, just because the muscles are constantly moving. Our domestic horses in my opinion can use a bit of help so sometimes we need to blanket our horses. Ultimately giving them access to your summer pastures (hopefully there is still grass underneath the snow for them to dig up) in the winter for exercise is great in order to prevent them from getting cold and bored. Spreading out hay in the winter is just as important, which is another reason I’m not a big fan of round bales, they do not encourage movement.
Please remember even if you have a shelter… not all horses use them or are allowed to use them. Let me explain. Some horses get very territorial over their shelter and will only allow certain members if any in that shelter. And yet others make the other horses stay out to be out guarding and do not allow them inside. This means some horses will never get access even if there is a lot of room. Keep an eye out for your horses’ dynamics in the group to make sure everyone gets equal amounts of hay and water.Especially if you put both in the run-in area, some will be left out.
Lately we’ve been having milder winter temperatures than normal. Actually this means the animals are colder because it’s wet or damp and windy. This kind of weather is really not a good combination for our horses. So if you’ve determined your horse is in a smaller than ideal area and can’t or won’t move around much, has little or no access to shelter and is either a mature or ill horse, then I would blanket my horse.
What kind of blanket is best to blanket my horse with?
If you are going to invest in one blanket only, it should be a good quality rain sheet. Buy the kind that can breathe not the plastic ones. You will know when you touch it, what I mean. The plastic types are okay if your horse is completely dry underneath, however if he’s not dry he will stay damp and get cold. A better option is to get a good weather proof fabric that prevents rain from coming through, however allows moisture to evaporate out from the horse if they are damp to start with. Light rain sheets are good because they do not interfere with the “hair raising” in order to allow the horse to be warm if it needs to be. This style of blanket keeps wind and rain off the horse, but allows for the horse to keep himself warm if he needs to. I only blanket my horse if I know it will be raining all day and the weather will be bad. As soon as I see it is dry out, off comes the blanket. You should always be finding reasons why to take it off the blankets rather than to leave them on.
Is there any place for a heavy winter coat?
Again this should be asked for each individual situation and horse.Some horses do not get a proper winter coat, period. This could be attached to poor nutrition as well, so please contact me about your individual situation if you suspect that’s the case. If they don’t have the proper building blocks, proteins etc. in order to grow a proper coat they simply won’t. So there are many factors to take into account when you should blanket your horse. For the most part the answer is, no do not blanket. However, if you have a geriatric horse with very little coat that moves very little and is cold, of course the answer will be yes please blanket your horse. Blankets are always good to have as a back up in your barn. You may need your blanket only once or twice a season, however it’s good to have it if you need it. I’d rather blanket my horse and leave them out in bad weather, than not blanket my horse and have them inside a stall for hours on end. If horses could talk they’d tell you they’d much rather have the blanket and be outside.
So to summarize, blanketing your horse should be judged upon what horse you have and what set up the horse is in. We are mainly talking about horses that are out 24/7, but this applies to any horse really. If your horse is at all elderly, immune compromised or weakened in any way being subjected to cold, wet, windy weather would be bad for them, so to blanket your horse might be the kind thing to do. Just remember to take it off as soon as it stops raining! Leaving a soaked blanket on or one that the horse is baking in because now the temperature has gone up, isn’t much better. Look at your forecast and think ahead. If it’s going to be warmer and better by mid day and you have to go to work, it’s better to skip blanketing your horse if it means he shivers for an hour or two. If your horse is boarded and blankets are not taken on/off daily you are better off skipping it all together. Horses deal with cold much better than over-heating. It is not good for an animal to wear a coat (and in some cases several) for days at a time under any condition with no break! I’ve seen this situation many a times and the horses are miserable, so at these times I would not blanket my horse. Best thing to do is put yourself in their shoes and think horse not human then decide should I blanket my horse or not!