Should you Blanket Your Horse?
Sometimes, as horse owners, it just makes us feel better to look out from our warm house and see our horse all snug and cozy in his blanket. But are horse blankets or sheets really necessary? I’ve looked into the issue and here is what I’ve found.
A horse has three main natural methods for staying warm in the winter:
1. A thick, winter coat: Most horses grow an adequate winter coat if they’re allowed to do so (consistent blanketing will inhibit coat growth). The hairs in the coat will actually stand on end, creating natural insulation from the cold. If you blanket a fuzzy horse, the hairs will be flattened, thus reducing the horse’s ability to keep himself warm.
2. Increasing body oil production in the winter: This helps protect the horse’s skin from moisture.
3. Consuming more forage: The act of eating helps a horse to create internal heat. Forage takes longer to eat than concentrates, and thus helps to keep the horse warmer over a longer period of time. A good rule of thumb is: for every 10 degrees F it is below freezing (32 degrees), increase your horse’s hay ration by 10%. If a horse doesn’t have enough to eat during cold weather, he will burn calories by shivering in an effort to stay warm.
Provided they have access to some form of shelter to protect them from wind (a barn, shed, or thick grove of trees), most horses do just fine without a blanket. In many cases, it may be counterproductive to blanket a healthy horse with a good winter coat. However, blanketing can be a good thing for some horses during cold weather.
- Older horses who have trouble keeping weight
- Ill horses
- Horses that do not (for whatever reason) grow a good, winter coat
If you are using blanket, make sure it fits the horse well and does not rub (especially in the chest or withers area). Waterproof outer material with a breathable liner is best since we want to keep water out, but allow moisture from the body to dissipate.
So in the end, good judgement is important in the issue of using a blanket or sheet on horses. We tend to humanize our horses instead of letting them live comfortably in their natural state (I, too have been guilty of this!)
For more information on the blanketing issue, I recommend reading To Blanket or Not to Blanket by the University of Maryland College of Agricultural and Natural Resources.