Should you blanket your horse?
Temperatures are dropping and you’re wondering if you should put a warm winter blanket or “turn out the rug” on your horse. You sure feel like you need a sweater or jacket, but does your horse need an extra layer? If the weather is “winter” but neither windy nor wet, your horse probably doesn’t need a blanket. As long as your horse has access to good quality hay and fresh water, the heat from its digestive system and the natural protection of its thick winter fur may keep it comfortable in the weather, which will make you run for a warm one jacket.
Several studies seem to show that horses can function without a blanket. If they had to choose between the outdoors, a heated shelter, or an unheated shelter, they usually chose to be outdoors. So it doesn’t look like horses are as plagued by cold as we are.
when it might be wise to override
Although some people think you should never blanket your horse, it can be a good idea in some situations. Older horses or horses that may struggle to maintain their weight when the weather is nice burn a lot of calories to keep warm. These horses will benefit from extra feed and the added protection of a wind and water resistant horse blanket. All horses would benefit if there was some sort of windbreak or shelter from the direct impact of wind, rain or snow.
If the weather is very wet, the natural loft of a horsehair coat will be lost, and like a wet goose down coat, it will not keep out the cold. If the wind is strong, the body heat will be blown away. Horses can stay uncovered in very still cold weather, down to -4F (-20C) and they’ll probably be fine. Add wind chill or rain to the mix, however, and you can make a shivering horse in no time.
There is a danger of blankets and horse owners need to be vigilant.
bite the blanket
In a group of horses, there is often a game of “breaking the blanket”. This can be frustrating for you, especially if you just saved up to buy that particular blanket for your horse, and after the first day, there are big teeth marks on it. It’s also a hazard, as a torn blanket is more likely to entangle the horse.
Horses can also be hung on belly or leg straps. Coolers, sheets and stable blankets are not suitable for outdoor activities. They often lack straps and fasteners that keep outdoor blankets from moving. Therefore, the strap must be well maintained and properly adjusted.
Some fabrics can cause chafing and poor breathability
An ill-fitting winter blanket can severely chafe or cut a horse’s skin. If the winter blanket is not made of breathable fabric, the horse will sweat under it and become uncomfortable. Likewise, when the weather warms up, a covered horse can feel uncomfortable. Some blankets are made from layers that can be used individually. These are convenient, but can be problematic if the layers change.
Always keep the horse blanket dry
If you deal with wet weather a lot, it might be handy to have two blankets on hand. If one blanket gets soaked, your horse will have an extra blanket and the other blanket will dry out. Wearing a wet blanket is as bad as not wearing one, or worse.
Use your best judgment when deciding whether to cover your horse with a winter blanket. If your horse seems cold, it probably is. Not all horses respond to cold weather in the same way. Young horses, older horses, or thin-coated horses may feel cold more easily than thick-coated horses, ponies, and mature, healthy horses. Watch your horse. If they are shaking, or standing stooped and looking uncomfortable, it may be time to put on a blanket. If they’re having a hard time keeping up in cold weather, a blanket may help in addition to extra food.