Does Your Horse Need a Horse Blanket This Winter?
Some owners blanket their equines at the first drop in temperature, while others believe they don’t need any extra help to stay warm because they have winter coats. There are good arguments for and against using a horse blanket. So how will you know whether or not your horse needs additional protection this winter?
The Pro-Blanket Arguments
Under certain circumstances blanketing is advisable.
The Clipped Horse
Clipping your horse in winter makes him easier to keep clean and he dries off faster after work.
However, having lost most – or all – of his winter coat, he’ll need a blanket. The amount of warmth it should offer will be determined by how much hair has been removed.
The Older Horse
A horse that is getting on in years has a harder time keeping warm during cold weather than his younger companions. His metabolism is slower, so his body has to work more to generate enough heat.
Increasing his feed will help, together with ad lib forage. But when the temperatures start to drop it’s time to consider putting a blanket on him.
When the Weather Gets Cold
When the thermometer dips below freezing, your horse may need extra protection.
Katherine Blocksdorf writes, “Horses can be left un-blanketed in very still, cold weather-4F (-20C), and they may be fine.” But very windy conditions blow away the body heat trapped in the horse’s hair.
He should have shelter at all times with access to forage to help him stay warm. Water (unfrozen!) is another must: dehydration is big danger in cold weather.
You will be able to tell from his behavior if he’s uncomfortable.
When freezing or below freezing temperatures combine with rain or sleet, (and the wind) your horse will start to feel miserable without extra help. The constant pounding on his coat makes it unable to stand up and trap the hot air from his body to keep him warm, a process known as pilorection.
Once he is warm and dry, you can turn the back out with a heavy duty turnout blanket until the bad weather passes.
The Anti-Blanket Arguments
Negative Effects of Regular Blanket Use
In the same way that constant driving rain and sleet flatten a horse’s coat, so does a blanket. If he wears one constantly, his coat hairs lose their ability to spring up and trap air.
The horse then has to wear a blanket all the time in order to stay warm, which isn’t good for him. If an unclipped horse wears one only in extreme weather conditions, his coat will protect him adequately the rest of the time.
How to Avoid the Negative Effects of Regular Blanket use
An Australian company, Macs Equine has developed a blanket to circumvent this issue. It’s called a ‘cool heat horse rug.’ Strips on the underside raise the blanket off the horse’s back and allow the hairs to stand up normally.
The company ships worldwide, and blankets arrive within 8 – 12 business days. This makes the cool heat horse rug worth considering if you want to blanket regularly without inhibiting pilorection.
The Unclipped Horse
If a horse with a full coat can get out of the wind and driving rain or snow, he is unlikely to need a blanket. Possible exceptions to this are if he is very old or sick.
Even if he is in work, as long as you dry him off properly before turning him back out, he should be fine without a blanket. He’ll soon let you know if he disagrees!
Access to forage 24/7 is important to keep that inner oven working, and being able to move around helps generate heat, too.
But remember, when the temperature dips below freezing he may need a blanket.
Ill-Fitting Blankets & Other Crimes
- A horse in a badly fitting blanket is in worse shape than when not wearing one at all. It will cause soreness where it chafes, and loose fitting straps create a dangerous trap for legs to get caught in. It is extremely important to make sure the blanket fits that particular horse. This excellent video illustrates how to fit a blanket properly.
- Another common problem is horses being expected to live for months on end during the winter without ever having their blankets removed. Imagine wearing very snug (and possibly too tight) pajamas for the whole of winter, regardless of the temperature in the house, and never being able to take them off to have a bath or shower! Wouldn’t that be really uncomfortable?
- Blankets should be removed regularly to give the horse’s coat a chance to breathe. Brush him often to maintain his sense of well-being and not being neglected. Grooming also provides an opportunity to check that his shoulders and the inside of his hind legs aren’t getting rubbed. Be ready to switch to a lighter blanket if the temperature calls for it. Keep aware of day to day variations in the outside conditions – there’s no ‘one blanket for all weathers.’
- Save the heavy duty one for really cold spells, otherwise your horse will sweat uncomfortably. According to Intelligent Horsecare, “Overheating doesn’t only cause unnecessary discomfort but reduces movement and can cause skin complaints.” Anhidrosis is another negative result from incorrect blanketing.
- Don’t get lazy and add turnout blankets on top of stable blankets when the horse goes out. (Yes, people actually do this!)
The decision to blanket is based on many factors, and no one answer fits all horses. Common sense is key here. As Ms. Blocksdorf says: “Let your horse’s behavior and physical condition be your guide.”
Each winter let him tell you whether he needs a blanket or would prefer to be left au naturel. Monitor him daily throughout the cold season and be ready to add extra protection if necessary.