Why You Should Blanket Horses In Winter
Blanket horses? Don't blanket horses? Are you confused about this aspect of horse care in winter?
Studies in Canada found that the lowest temperature adult horses can tolerate prior to a drop in body temperature is approximately 5º F, provided they are well-nourished and have a thick coat. For temperatures lower than that, they will quickly lose body heat and need proper horse care in order to deal with the cold.
We can help our horses stay warm by providing shelter, extra forage, blankets, or a combination of all three.
But be careful how you blanket your horse. During cold weather, the horse's hair stands on end, which creates an airspace that traps body heat, enabling the horse to stay warm. Rain and snow cause the hair to lie flat, and wind blows away the trapped warm air trapped. When a blanket with inadequate insulation is put on a horse, it forces the hairs to lie flat, taking away the horse's natural insulation. If the blanket is thinly insulated, the horse can end up feeling colder than if there were no blanket at all!
Here are some simple guidelines that horse owners might find helpful in determining whether or not their horse needs the protection of a blanket:
BLANKET HORSE FACTS:
- Horses that are clipped or kept in barns under light to discourage winter coat production should be blanketed when temperatures drop below 60º F or when it is windy or rainy.
- Horses with a moderate hair coat can tolerate temperatures as low as 40º F. If they have a heavy coat, they can tolerate temperatures down to about 30º F. Wet conditions change these temperature limits, so keep that in mind when blanketing!
- A horse that has recently moved from a warmer climate might benefit from some external help. Once they've spent the 10-21 days being exposed to the colder weather, they will adapt and need less help, but you might find it beneficial to blanket them until the next winter.
- Very important blanket horse fact: Older horses that move around less benefit from blanketing in colder weather. Moving generates body heat which is why we often see horses' levels of exuberance rise with cold weather!
- Remove the blanket on a regular basis--check to make sure your horse is not losing body condition, doesn't have blanket rubs or injuries, and is not developing a skin problem such as rain rot under the blanket.
- When the weather is rainy, check to make sure the blanket is waterproof--you will be fighting a losing battle trying to keep a wet horse warm with a wet blanket! Place your hand under the blanket around the neck--your horse should feel dry and toasty warm.
Based on the article "To Blanket or Not to Blanket?" by: University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources
You can find horse blankets that I recommend by clicking here.
Copyright Denise Cummins, PhD January 2009; updated June 18, 2018