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Horse Facts and Tips
First Posted: Nov 7, 2008
Jan 12, 2014

Blanketing Your Horse

by Debora Johnson

Many of us have the dilemma of whether we should blanket our horses or not. There is no pat answer to that question. It depends on your horse, what discipline you enjoy with your horse, what kind of environment is provided for your horse, your horse's age and health, etc. The following may help in the decision making process.

Facts

  • It takes a horse 2-3 weeks to acclimatize to weather.
  • Horses develop thick undercoat for cold weather.
  • The undercoat stands on end and traps warm air to help keep the horse warm-"Hair is a great insulator, and it fluffs up to warm the horse... Heat rising from the body warms the air, but that air doesn't go anywhere because it's trapped between the hairs." Michael Foss, DVM
  • Horses follow warm air thermals to help them stay warm.
  • Horses huddle together to maintain warmth.
  • If windy, they will turn their butts to the wind to help stay warm.
  • Horses conserve energy to help to stay warm.
  • Horses also play more to generate heat.
  • Horses use shelters more in the winter.
  • Increased hay helps horses produce more heat. Digesting hay gives off a lot of heat.
  • Mature well nourished horses can withstand temperatures as low as 5 degrees F.
  • Clipped horses should be blanketed below 40 degrees F and some may need it below 60 degrees F.
  • Horses will shiver to stay warm.
  • Check your horse, if blanked, to make sure there are no blanket rubs or chaffing. Also, look for any loss of weight, lumps, bumps, etc.
  • How to Measure Your Horse & Find the Proper Blanket Size for a Correct Fit
  • Should I Blanket My Horse?
  • Check your horse to make sure that there is not too much weight loss.
  • If you choose to blanket make sure the blanket is water proofed.
  • If you choose to blanket be consistent. Blanketing a horse impacts the coat growth for the winter by reducint the horse's protection.

"...Our horses are not blanketed unless the temperature is really cold, if it is raining or sleeting, or very windy. We try to let the horses stay out because there is so much shelter for them and they are hardy, healthy, fit and well nourished with good quality hay. Their breeds are Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse and Kentucky Mountain Spotted Saddle Horse which are both quite hardy. We trail ride our horses. We do not show, compete, or fox hunt. Also we do not clip our horses. They get really shaggy in the winter and grow a wonderful coat that protects them. Our horses are also younger (8 and 9) and do not have any problem metabolizing their food. When we do blanket, the blankets fit properly, are waterproof and clean inside. We do have them professionally cleaned and waterproofed as needed. The outside is another story!

Some of you may already be eyeing your horse's blankets, wondering if you should put them on now. Most of the time, blanketing your horse does more for your peace of mind than actually helping the horse stay warm. A well-nourished, healthy horse can maintain their body temperature down to around 20 degrees F before they need 'help'. At that point, help can come in the form of shelter, extra forage, blankets, or a combination thereof.

Horses will adapt to colder temperatures in approximately 2 weeks. At first, you'll see them huddling with other horses, turning their hindquarters to the wind, and possibly using shelters more frequently. Their winter hair will stand on end, creating an airspace that traps heat next to their skin. In no time at all, however, their metabolism will shift and they'll be comfortable again.

Well-meaning owners who improperly blanket horses can actually cause the horse to feel colder. A blanket forces the hair down against the body, removing the natural insulation. If the blanket has inadequate insulation, the horse will actually feel colder than if he didn't even have the blanket on!

Tips on When and How to Blanket: (Virginia Tech/Mare Center News/November 2010, Volume 1, Issue 2)

  • Horses that are clipped or kept under lights to discourage winter coat growth should be blanketed if it's raining and below 60º F or if it's below 40º F.
  • Horses with a moderate to heavy haircoat will be fine without a blanket down to 20º - 30º F. Even then, they may be able to get by with a little more shelter or forage.
  • Horses that have recently moved from a warmer to a colder climate may benefit from blanketing the first winter, particularly if they come in when the weather's already cooled.
  • Older horses, thin horses, or those that don't move around much may benefit from blanketing.
  • Remove the blanket on a regular basis to check for rub marks, skin conditions, and body condition score.
  • Make sure the blanket is waterproof. If you reach under the blanket, the horse should feel warm and dry."

For More Information:

Blanketing Questions and Answers

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