Baby it’s Cold Outside!! Does my Horse NEED a Blanket?
So now we have gotten into how to properly select a blanket…I probably should backtrack and answer a few questions before we move a head with what blanket to put on and when!
Usually after people ask me what I recommend for a horse blanket for their horse, I typically get the….”Does my horse even need a blanket?” (Most likely a sticker shock response), and my response is (typically) “well, tell me a little about your horse?”
- Active (and as in active, are your riding daily or 3-4x/week), competing, or fox hunting? If so, that most likely means you have clipped your horse, or your horse may be warm when you finish your work out. In which case, I recommend you use a cooler until the horse dries and cools down. Only blanket a DRY horse. If you have clipped your horse, it is suggested to blanket your horse on cold days, or cold nights. (suggested temps below)
- Horse’s characteristics: Older, hard to maintain weight? Thin Coat? Does he grow in a thick coat? Ever been diagnosed with Cushing’s? If you answered yes to the first two questions, my suggestion would be yes, a blanket would be nice. An older horse will have a harder time holding weight, if they are exerting a lot of their energy to stay warm.
Lastly, my typical answer to someone who has a huge heart, and feels really bad for their horses having to stay out in the cold, even if they are off for the winter or just on very light hacking work… A blanket interferes with the horses natural ability to protect itself in the cold, wind, rain, and snow. Therefore you should always blanket responsibly, and remember that in many cases, not blanketing your horse is the best idea. -Check the blanket 2x/day or at the least daily! Things move and twist that may cause rubs, wounds, hazards that legs can get caught in. -Pick the right size, -Pick the right weight and do not over blanket.
Sometimes Keeping it Au Naturale is BEST!
A horse has a natural ability to stay warm with their coat. We may feel cold, but the typical horse prefers cooler weather! Their coat as the ability to stand on end, fluff and create a warm layer around the horse. These hairs help protect the horse from rain and snow. But these hairs also help to protect against wind. In most cases and with the typical healthy horse, the hair does a great job at supplying the necessary warmth to survive the winter (they have survived winters in the wild without blankets for hundreds of years!)
Another great suggestion is to make sure you have plenty of hay available. This will help your horse to make heat, kind of like feeding a furnace and keeping it burning. ALWAYS REMEMBER, that if a horse is eating a lot of hay (and even when it is not), a horse NEEDS PLENTY of water YEAR ROUND! Make sure to keep that ice off of water, and keep water easily accessible to horses! (Tip: put hay in run in shed or a stall they can get into and out of, not only will this prevent the hay from blowing away and scattering, it will also provide a shelter for the horse to eat out of direct wind and the elements, allowing them to create more heat).
So you face 20 degree winter weather, your horse is older, slender, has trouble keeping on weight even in the spring and summer, fuzzy coat? There is none. Health concerns? Possibly. Well, here is where you may want to consider blanketing. BUT REMEMBER: BY BLANKETING YOUR HORSE, YOUR INTERFERE WITH THE HORSE’S NATURAL ABILITY FOR THE HORSE TO PROTECT ITSELF! HEAVIER is NOT always BETTER and horses do not adapt well to rapid changes in climate. I do NOT recommend you stop reading, run outside in this 40 degree Fahrenheit weather, and go put that heavy weight blanket on your 26 year old OTTB!
Signs your Horse may Need a Blanket
- 1.If you notice that your horse is shivering…this is your first very obvious sign that your horse is cold (keep in mind this could be related to other factors, such as illness, if in any doubt call that vet!) .
- Is your horse a hard keeper, and to your surprise over the past 3 weeks as the temperature has dropped, that hard keeper is becoming HARDER to keep? This may be another clear sign. Horses are going to struggle to put or keep weight on when they are exerting all the calories they eat, and even using reserves to help stay warm and generate heat. Increase hay or forage, make sure you have plenty of water (AGAIN!) It may be also beneficial for you to take a weight tape to your horse at the end of fall and monitor throughout the winter to gauge.
- Has your horse decided that running and crazy activities are his new hobby? Running and creating a lot of activity tend to be a sign that your horse is trying to generate more body heat…but again sometimes, your horse is just celebrating the cooler weather.
- Touching ears and testing under blankets to determine if your horse is warm or cold…doesn’t determine a lot. There are so many factors that can throw this idea off. So stick with the hard signs your horse is cold.
So you have determined your horse is cold and could benefit from a blanket. Start with a light sheet. Horses do not like rapid climate changes. Nothing like going from nothing to a heavy something! So take your time and be patient, let him hang out in that light weight for a few days, or weeks. Maybe he is just fine in that! If it gets colder, you start noticing those cold signs again, then maybe go for a medium. Lets just say, when you were doing your daily blanket checks, you stuck your hand under the blanket and found that your horse was sweaty….what do you do? WELL YOU BETTER ADJUST IT!! Let the horse cool and hair dry, and put that lightweight back on. A sweaty body in the cold take much more heat, energy and calories to warm up and dry off! That blanket interferes with his natural ways, you now need to help!
**If your horse is losing weight non-stop, showing signs of illness, shivering, colicing (which mind you is huge in the winter! With climate change, changes in water and ice) YOU NEED TO CALL YOUR VET!
Unclipped Horses? 40-30 (degrees Fahrenheit): Light Weight 0-100g, 30-20 (degrees Fahrenheit): Medium Weight 200-300g, 20-10 and below (degrees Fahrenheit): Heavy Weight +300g.
Clipped or Older Horses? 50-40 (degrees Fahrenheit): Light Weight 0-100g, 40-30 (degrees Fahrenheit): Medium Weight 200-300g, 20-10 and below (degrees Fahrenheit): Heavy Weight+300g
**Judge based on your horses need**
Wet Horse Problems
A sweaty horse, or a horse that is blanketed without the opportunity to dry, or even the horse that gets wet from a blanket that either has no waterproofing, or the waterproofing has worn off…is on the pathway for other ailments. While having trouble keeping on weight is one problem, you may find yourself facing some skin bacterial, viral or fugal infections if your not careful.
RAINROT: A bacterial skin infection which may be caused by a few different things, but one of the biggest…PROLONGED EXPOSURE TO MOISTURE! You may notice scabs on boney prominence’s of your horse. Often these scabs/dandruff like flakes come attached with tufts of hair. Rarely does this require veterinarian attention, but some ways to prevent a severe case: *Groom your horse daily *Check under blankets *Reduce exposure and risks of wet/sweaty hair *Make sure you clean your blanket yearly and get it washed with an antibacterial soap, specifically made for horse blankets. (I do have a blanket wash that I manufacture, 100% US made, to help you out!) *Get holes and tears repaired ASAP! Plus the longer you wait, the bigger they get!
SO your horse is warm, and if your horse is outside in the elements you better make sure that blanket is waterproofed. A blanket is water-resistant up to a certain point, and there may be a time that you need to remove your blanket and hang it to dry. But your horse should not be saturated to the bone if it rains, even though the blanket looks wet! If it is, it is time to call your handy dandy blanket service and get that fixed. Again…by now you should know the answer of what happens if your horse gets wet under a blanket. **Waterproofing is easier to treat yearly and than it is to restore. Just because you bought a waterproofed blanket 7 years ago…i can almost guarantee it is not waterproofed today!**Why this is? That story is for a different day!! So Stay tuned!
Happy blanketing, and remember there is no definitive way to decide when the perfect time to blanket your horse is, or what blanket to put on and or even if determine if your horse is cold. So do your best and judge by your horse. Try to avoid wearing that blanket 24/7, allow some time for that skin to breathe and have a happy and healthy winter!
**This article is NOT for the replacement of any medical advice from your veterinarian. Make sure you consult a veterinarian for any concerns!**