As the days get colder the question of whether or not to blanket your horse always comes up. Should I blanket at all? If so, what kind should I use? Does it need to be all of the time? Or can I take it off during the day? What if I don’t plan on riding during the winter?
For those unfamiliar with blanketing, it can be a bit overwhelming. That is why I have decided to talk about it today. After reading this article you should be able to identify exactly when you should blanket your horse and when he is better off naked.
When Not to Blanket
A good place to start in the discussion of whether to blanket your horse is when NOT to blanket your horse. In some situations a blanket is not needed and may even be a bad thing.
If your horse is healthy and able to develop a full winter coat, he may not need a blanket. What is the definition of a healthy horse? There are several indicators to look out for:
Appetite – When healthy, a horse will eat consistently from day to day. They will eat what is provided to them. A change in appetite may indicate a problem. Think about when you get sick. Your appetite usually decreases. The same is true for horses.
Vital Signs – A healthy horse will have the following vital signs:
Body temperature between 99 and 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit
Heart rate of 28 to 44 beats per minute, depending on the size of the horse
10-24 breaths per minute
Gums should be moist and pink
Capillary refill time of 2 seconds
Water Intake – A healthy horse will take in anywhere between 5 and 10 gallons of water depending on the weather and exercise.
Coat – You can tell when you look at a horse whether it is healthy or not. Their coat will be shiny and relatively soft. A dull coat is a sign of an unhealthy horse.
Manure – A horse should pass manure anywhere for 8 to 12 times a day.
A healthy horse is able to produce a sufficient warm coat and is able to generate enough body heat to keep itself warm.
As a general rule, if the temperature is not going to be falling below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius), then you do not need to blanket your horse. You need to remember that horses are made for the outdoors. They are not unable to handle the elements.
During the early winter and at the start of spring I am constantly taking off and putting on my horse’s blanket. When it is warmer during the day I will take his blanket off. In the evening it will be put back on as the temperature dips overnight.
If your horse is indoors, he does not need a blanket. You can put a blanket on your horse when he needs to go outdoors but there is absolutely no reason to have one on inside. In fact, your horse could even overheat if you blanket indoors, which isn’t fair to the horse.
When to Blanket Your Horse
Now that we know when you may not need a blanket, we can begin to discuss when you should blanket your horse.
As noted above, if it is fairly warm out (i.e. above 50 degrees), you horse likely does not need a blanket. This assumes that he has a bit of a winter coat, is used to the climate, and is healthy. However, when the temperature starts you drop, you should begin to consider putting a blanket on your horse.
Check the weather forecast before making your decision to blanket. When a horse gets wet their hair lays flat. This wrecks some of the insulating power that their coat will have. As such, that nice winter coat may not be as warm as a day without any precipitation. If there is rain, sleet, or snow in the forecast, consider putting a blanket on your horse.
Horses that are either very young or very old are more likely to need a blanket that those horses in between. Young horses tend to be a bit on the thinner side and may not generate a sufficient winter coat. The same goes for older horses who may have difficulties keeping weight on and are otherwise on the decline health-wise. These types of horses will need to be blanketed sooner than others.
Even if there is precipitation in the forecast, that does not necessarily mean you need to blanket your horse. If your horse has access to a shelter, this may remove the need to blanket.
Of course, this assumes that the horse will use the shelter. Early this winter we got a good dump of wet snow. My horses had access to a shelter. It is the same shelter that they used plenty of times during the summer to get out of the sun. For whatever reason, they did not have the sense to come out of the snow to stay dry. I ended up with two very wet ponies.
This is where knowing your horse is important. If you know your horse might not use the shelter or if he doesn’t have access to a shelter, blanket.
I’m from Canada. While I don’t like super cold weather I can handle it. I put on an extra layer or two of clothing and continue on my way. By the time late March rolls around, what used to feel cold now feels like a super nice day. It’s all a matter of what you are used to.
The same case is true for horses. My horse who has never stepped foot out of Alberta will be much better able to handle the conditions here than a horse who has spent its life in Phoenix. A mild day here would feel terribly cold to that Arizona horse. Similarly, my horse would probably die from the heat of an Arizona summer.
Take this into consideration when deciding to blanket your horse. Is your horse used to the climate? If not, you may want to blanket him sooner than you would a horse who is suited to the climate.
In summary, you most likely need to blanket your horse if:
The temperature is below 50 degrees Fahrenheit
Your horse is very young or very old
It is snowing/raining/sleeting
Your horse has no access to shelter
The horse is not used to the climate
Your horse is shivering
The horse is underweight or otherwise unhealthy
Take off the Blanket
If you horse is sweating under the blanket, take it off. Your horse is too hot and that is not fair to him. You can easily take a sweater off when you get hot. Your horse has no way of taking off his blanket (unless he wrecks it, of course).
Additionally, always take a blanket off when your horse is indoors. In most cases, an indoor facility will be about that 50 degree threshold. As such, if your horse is in there for any length of time, he will likely start to overheat and become uncomfortable.
Finish Line Thoughts
I know it can be tempting to throw a blanket of your precious animal the moment that it gets cold out, but hold your horses. What you consider a favor could be a disservice to your horse. Assess the situation and blanket your horse accordingly.
And remember, it’s always a #gooddaytoride.
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