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To Blanket or Not to Blanket? How to Keep Your Horse Warm and Cozy in the Cold Season

Blanketing horses in the winter is a topic that many horse owners and lovers are interested in. Whether you should blanket your horse or not depends on several factors, such as your horse’s coat, living situation, health, and the weather conditions. In this blog post, I will share some tips and advice on how to decide when to blanket your horse, and what kind of blanket to use.

First, you need to understand how your horse stays warm in the cold. Horses have a natural ability to grow a thick and coarse winter coat that insulates them from the cold. They can also fluff up their hair to trap warm air close to their skin, just like a down jacket. Additionally, they can generate heat by fermenting roughage in their hindgut, which is why it is important to provide them with enough hay in the winter.


However, not all horses can rely on their winter coat and normal calorie intake to keep themselves warm. Some horses may have a lower critical temperature (LCT), which is the lowest temperature at which they can maintain their core body temperature without using additional energy. Once the temperature drops below their LCT, they may need extra help to stay warm and comfortable.

Some factors that can affect your horse’s LCT are:


  • Clipping: If you clip your horse’s coat for any reason, such as showing or working, you reduce their natural insulation and make them more susceptible to cold. Clipped horses usually need a blanket when the temperature is below 50°F (10°C).

  • Age: Older horses may have a harder time regulating their body temperature and may lose weight more easily in the winter. They may benefit from a blanket when the temperature is below 40°F (4°C).

  • Body condition: Thin or underweight horses may not have enough fat reserves to keep them warm and may need a blanket when the temperature is below 40°F (4°C). On the other hand, overweight or obese horses may overheat more easily and may not need a blanket at all.

  • Health: Horses with health issues such as Cushing’s disease, arthritis, or respiratory problems may have a lower tolerance for cold and may need a blanket when the temperature is below 40°F (4°C).

  • Shelter: Horses that have access to a shelter, such as a barn, shed, or windbreak, can escape from the wind and rain and stay warmer than horses that are exposed to the elements. Horses that have no shelter may need a blanket when the temperature is below 32°F (0°C) or when there is wet or windy weather.

  • Adaptation: Horses that are used to cold climates may have a higher LCT than horses that are used to warm climates. For example, a horse that lives in Canada may not need a blanket until the temperature is below 14°F (-10°C), while a horse that lives in Florida may need a blanket when the temperature is below 50°F (10°C).

To decide if and when to blanket your horse, you need to consider all these factors and observe your horse’s behavior. If your horse is shivering, hunched up, tucked in, or restless, they may be cold and need a blanket. However, be sure that they are dry before you put the blanket on. If your horse is sweating, panting, or restless, they may be hot and need to remove their blanket.

You also need to choose the right kind of blanket for your horse’s needs. There are different types of blankets with different weights, materials, sizes, and features. Here are some general guidelines on how to choose a suitable blanket for your horse:

  • Weight: The weight of the blanket refers to how much insulation it provides. There are three main categories of weight: light, medium, and heavy. Light blankets provide little to no insulation and are suitable for mild weather or clipped horses. Medium blankets provide moderate insulation and are suitable for cold weather or unclipped horses. Heavy blankets provide maximum insulation and are suitable for very cold weather or clipped horses.

  • Material: The material of the blanket refers to what it is made of and how durable and breathable it is. There are two main types of material: synthetic and natural. Synthetic materials are usually more durable, water-resistant, and easier to clean than natural materials. However, they may also be less breathable and more prone to static electricity than natural materials. Natural materials are usually more breathable, comfortable, and biodegradable than synthetic materials. However, they may also be less durable, water-resistant, and easier to clean than synthetic materials.

  • Waterproof vs Water Resistant: Both horse blankets are designed to protect horses from cold, wet, and windy weather conditions. Waterproof blankets are treated with a special coating that repels water and prevents it from soaking through the fabric. Water resistant blankets offer some protection from moisture but are not fully waterproof and may leak if exposed to heavy rain or snow. Both types of blankets are made from durable materials, such as polyester or nylon, that can withstand wear and tear from the horse’s movements.

  • Size: The size of the blanket refers to how well it fits your horse’s body. A well-fitted blanket should cover your horse from chest to tail without being too tight or too loose. It should also allow your horse to move freely without rubbing or slipping. To measure your horse for a blanket, you need to measure them from the center of their chest to the center of their tail along their side. This measurement will give you the size of the blanket in inches or centimeters.

  • Features: The features of the blanket refer to the extra details that can make it more functional and comfortable for your horse. Some common features are neck cover, belly band, leg straps, tail flap, shoulder gussets, and buckles. A neck cover is an extension of the blanket that covers your horse’s neck and can provide extra warmth and protection. A belly band is a strap that goes around your horse’s belly and can prevent the blanket from shifting or lifting. (I would consider this feature for a mare but maybe not for a gelding or stallion) Leg straps are straps that go around your horse’s hind legs and can keep the blanket in place and prevent it from twisting. A tail flap is a flap that covers your horse’s tail and can protect it from wind and rain. Shoulder gussets are pleats that allow your horse’s shoulders to move freely and prevent rubbing. Buckles are fasteners that secure the blanket on your horse and can be easy or hard to use depending on the type and quality.

Blanketing horses in the winter can be a tricky decision that requires careful consideration of your horse’s individual needs and preferences. By following these tips and advice, you can make sure your horse stays warm, healthy, and happy in the cold season.

Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional veterinary advice. Always consult your veterinarian before blanketing your horse or making any changes to their care.


Sources:

1 https://horse-canada.com/magazine/equine-ownership/winter-blanketing-guide-yes-no-how-much/

2 https://www.horsenation.com/2021/02/02/winterize-your-horse-the-pros-and-cons-of-blanketing/

3 https://extension.psu.edu/when-to-blanket-a-horse


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