To Blanket Or Not To Blanket

Feb 02, 2010 10 Comments by

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.

Featured, Horse Care, Horse Ownership

10 Responses to “To Blanket Or Not To Blanket”

  1. Katharine Swan says:

    Great post! I blanket Panama when it snows and under a certain temperature — this year, 20 degrees. Last year I blanketed under 15 degrees because he had access to a better shelter (a completely open barn), but this year he has only a run-in shed that he shares with two grumpy old-timers who seem to enjoy driving him away.

    Panama seems to get cold faster than other horses — he’s always the first one into the shelter, and will actually give up food in favor of staying dry if he doesn’t have a blanket on. He seems to grow a fairly thin winter coat, even when compared with other horses who are blanketed, which may be why he gets cold so easily.

    I should mention that we are in Denver, so we get snow but we also have a lot of warmer, sunny days in between.

  2. OnTheBit says:

    I blanket both boys…but more because it makes me feel better than any other reason! I think Ace looks ADORABLE in his blankie! I hope all is well with you!

  3. Stacey Adams says:

    I have a 28yo TB who was never blanketed until about 8 yrs. ago. Unlike other TBs, he and I lived in VT (can you say REALLLLLYYYYYY cold?), then in IN and now in upstate NY so he’s never been exposed to a light winter. And atypical for some TBs, he has always gotten the winter coat to make a bona fide Shetland Pony jealous. Hence, I didn’t blanket. That was, until he contracted Lyme Disease in the summer of 2002. After that, we started noticing that he wasn’t putting on weight like he used to and that as winter came, he was chilly (shivering). And so, while he has had a rebout of Lyme but in general seems in good health and spirits – we take no chances and he too has the fantastic Rambo blanket that covers him from his ears to his dock.

  4. Michelle says:

    Believe it or not, I actually DO blanket here in Central Florida – although not often. The problem here is that while our winters are mostly very mild, we always have cold snaps a few times each winter. It is not unusual for our temperatures to plummet 50 degrees in the space of one day, and the horses are just not acclimated to it. Tiny still has a very sleek, short coat and during our last cold spell she just couldn’t get warm enough. So we always blanket (with a midweight) when it drops into the 40′s – sometimes even doubled up with a sheet!

  5. Jessica says:

    This was really interesting. Presenting both sides of the argument and giving examples of when to blanket or not was really helpful.
    Thanks.

  6. Michelle H says:

    I have an OTTB who is 5 years old I just got her a week ago. I am used to dealing weith drafts, quarter horses etc. What I am wondering is what will be best for my girl. I do not know how often if ever that she has been blanketed. She is an easy 1100-1200 lbs and solid muscle still. Her coat is still very short but we are early in the season still. I would appreciate any feedback of suggestions.

  7. Jane W says:

    I also recently adopted a OTTB weighing in at 1100 (hoping to get her up to 1200 though, she is 17hands)… i’m really struggling with weather to blanket or not. i’m NOT a fan of blanketing, however i do want whats best for HER.
    all of my previous horses grew thick winter coats, but i’m not so sure if she will or not…
    i’m in MD, and currently our nights are getting around 50 degrees. she gets a high fiber pelleted feed, 12% protein, and 7% fat, with corn oil mixed into it. she also gets 4 big flakes AM & PM. she is turned out 24/7, but the way the barn is set up, she can go in and out of her stall as she pleases (most of the time she stays in though.)
    someone told me that i should blanket her just because she is a thoroughbred. personally, i prefer keeping things as natural as possible…
    if we go with NOT blanketing, besides providing her with plenty of hay and stuff, how else can i help keep her warm and comfortable?
    under what conditions should i absolutely blanket her??
    lilmama66639@yahoo.com

  8. Jackie says:

    Michelle,

    I think a lot of when/how to blanket depends on your preferences and what you do with your horse.

    The first winter I had my TB Ace, I did not blanket. Really, the only reason was that he was turned out in an arena with horses who would have destroyed a blanket faster than you can say “Weatherbeeta.” He grew a winter coat like a yak, and was perfectly fine. We were also doing very light work that winter with his early training, so I didn’t have to worry about him getting that sweaty.

    I have blanketed him every winter since, simply because I tend to ride hard enough on a regular basis that if he grows a thick coat he sweats like crazy and takes hours to dry. I wait until December-ish when the temps are consistently in the 30′s and he has established a good base winter hair coat before I start blanketing.

    Horses, even thoroughbreds, and designed to adapt. Most will be just fine without blankets and will grow plenty of winter hair for their climate. Providing shelter and constant access to hay to munch should do the trick for most horses.

    Jane,

    There is no reason why your horse can’t grow a good winter coat just because she’s a TB. Yes, they are thin-skinned and little more sensitive – but that doesn’t really affect their hair coat. My TB grows a winter coat like a champ here in NE Ohio. (It’s also like saying TB’s can’t go barefoot, which is a load of bull – but that’s another rant).

    Another reason I like to blanket my TB’s is that they have generally been hard-keepers and tend to drop weight in the winter. I blanket so that they don’t have to expend energy keeping warm, helping to keep that weight on.

    Keep in mind that blanketing can sometimes be counter productive because it causes the hair to lay flat, instead of fluffing out and creating a layer of insulation around the horse.

    As long as your horse’s weight is good and she’s comfortable, there’s nothing to worry about. Watch for shivering, and check your horse’s ears. If her ears are still warm, it’s a good indication that she is perfectly fine.

    That’s just my two cents as an experienced TB owner!

    Jackie

  9. Dana says:

    I just bought a 4 yr old QH mare, she has a very short coat…like hasn’t even started to get a winter coat yet (looks that way); at present I live in Granbury, TX…so I am getting use to the different needs of horse compared to living in WA state….Her shelter isn’t quite finished yet so I bought a weatherbeeta lite waterprof /breathable horse sheet for her….I keep it on if it is 50 or under and /or raining, cold windy….a portable shelter so to speak…once her shelter is done and she can get out of the elements, I won’t blanket her as often unless it just gets way to cold (still not sure on that one yet). In WA I always blanketed during rainy season and when very cold…so it is an adjustment for me….I go and check (feel under her blanket) bout every couple hours (I know…kinda paranoid about it…lol) I just want her to be comfortable….not use to a horse with such a short coat this time of year…. Love, Light & Peace <3

  10. Dana says:

    oops….no edit button…lol

    ‘waterproof/breathable’ & no polyfill, 600 Denier Outer Fabric
    ‘needs of a horse’

    I am originally from OK and my horses always had a least a fuzzy coat by now… :)

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