Good ole Punxsatawney Phil saw his shadow this morning, predicting another six weeks of winter and thus more cold weather, snow, and frozen ground to deal with in our horse keeping. One of the biggest questions we tend to deal with this time of year as horse owners is whether or not our horses need blankets.
The answer? It depends.
Like much with horse keeping and training, you can go easily either way on the blanket issue and have a perfectly healthy, happy horse. Last year I didn’t blanket Ace. This year I did. And for us and what we had going on at each time, those were good choices. Here are some reasons to considering blanketing … or not blanketing … your horse during the winter.
Reasons NOT to Blanket Your Horse
Horses are built to do just fine in cold weather. When left to their own devices, horses will grow the most amazing shaggy coats that will easily protect them from winter elements. Their bodies will acclimate as temperatures drop and most of the time they’ll be quite comfortable. Often, the biggest reason we blanket our horses is to make us feel better.
Honestly, unless your horse requires a blanket for any of the reasons listed below, he’s going to be better off without one.
Keep Your Horse Warm Without A Blanket
Here are a few quick tips to keep your horse warm in winter if he isn’t wearing a blanket (and even if he is!):
- make sure he has access to plenty of hay. Constant grazing (forages like hay, not grains!) helps horses to raise their internal body temperature in frigid temperatures. You will need to increase their hay intake in winter. This is also better for their digestive systems.
- make sure he has access to shelter. If your horse is turned out without a blanket, be sure he has access to a shelter to protect him from wind or snow if he wants it.
Reasons TO Blanket Your Horse
It’s always better to err on the side of underblanketing your horse. Blankets that aren’t appropriate for the temperatures can interfere with a horse’s natural insulation (hair standing on end to create an air pocket that traps heat). Also, if he starts to sweat under his blanket, the moisture will be trapped and actually make him colder than if he wasn’t wearing a blanket at all.
That disclaimer being said, here are some reasons you should consider blanketing your horse:
- he’s clipped. If you do a partial or full body clip, he’ll need a blanket to help stay warm.
- prevent excessive hair growth. If you show throughout the winter or if you plan to train hard, a normal winter coat will cause your horse to sweat easily … and will take forever and a day to dry. It’s much easier to keep him blanketed for warmth than deal with an overheated and sweaty horse in the middle of winter.
- he’s old. Senior horses have a harder time maintaining their body weight and temperature in the winter.
- he’s cold. If your horse is shivering, it’s a good sign that he doesn’t have enough natural insulation. You can also feel his ears for a good measure of his internal temperature.
- he lives indoors. If you horse lives in a protected, warmer barn, he may need a blanket during turnout to stay warm enough. A horse who lives out full-time will grow a more protective coat.
My thoroughbred Ace grows a pretty fantastic winter coat when left alone. Because he was only in very light work last winter (and was turned out with horses who would have destroyed a blanket in 3 seconds), it made sense to let him go without. He had plenty to eat and was sheltered from the elements.
This year he’s at a different barn, and is far enough along in his training that I’m keeping him in heavier work. I wanted him to have a decent winter coat because I prefer that he is turned out as much as possible. But I also wanted to prevent it from getting quite so thick and long so we could avoid sweat issues when we worked.
I started blanketing Ace in early December once the temperatures here in Northeast Ohio started getting below 35 degrees. He has one mid-weight Weatherbeeta blanket (I LOVE their blankets) that he’s been wearing consistently since then. He has a decent coat, but his blanket has kept it on the lighter side. Except for the few days where temperatures have reached into the 40′s, his coat has been just right for keeping him warm but not getting too sweaty during work.
So, what are your thoughts on winter blanketing? If you do, why? If you don’t, why not? Be sure to include what conditions are like in your area and what you do with your horse.