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To blanket or not to blanket? What you need to know about blanketing horses

It’s getting chilly! Or is it?

Fall is here and winter is stepping on its heels, as temperatures drop people are beginning to think about the comfort and safety of their horses.  However, your discomfort for the cool weather does not necessarily transfer to that of your equine pal.  Horses generally feel comfortable between 18 and 59 degrees F with a natural winter coat.  If the are dry and their isn’t any wind, they can tolerate temperatures around 0 degrees F!  It’s all based on how the hair coat works.

A horse of many colors coats

Horses typically grow two separate hair coats a year based on the winter and summer solstice.  That means that long before you started thinking about pumpkin spice and bonfires, your horse was busy getting ready for winter.  The winter hair coat will continue to come in until the shortest day of the year.  Day length stimulates the hair to start growing, which is also why horses in ‘colder climates’ have longer winter coats (the days are shorter).  The winter coat works by standing up and ‘trapping’ air to create a sort of insulation.  As long as the hair is allowed to stand up, this is a great source of natural blanketing provided by the one-and-only Mother Nature.  However, in the event of wind or rain, the hair is forced to lie flat and cannot trap the air successfully.  In these situations, shelter or a waterproof blanket are necessary.

The Good, the Bad, and the Unnecessary

Blankets are most commonly used by well-meaning horse owners to keep their horses comfortable.  However, inappropriate use of blankets may cause more damage than good.  For instance, if blankets are used too early in the season, it may impede the natural growth of the winter coat.  Blankets also make the hair lay down, stopping that air trapping ability and possibly making the horses.  Blanketing is also a commitment, as you can easily make your horse too hot by not removing the blanket in a timely manner.

On the flip side, you should definitely blanket your horse if:

  1. The horse is body clipped
  2. The horse is older
  3. The horse has a lower body condition score (not as heavy as it needs to be)
  4. The horse has moved from a warmer region to a colder region- it generally takes a year for the horse to adapt.
  5. The weather will be excessively cold/wet/windy for an extended period of time

Additional resources:

  1. Caring for your horse in winter
  2. Equine winter hair coats 
  3. Blanketing horses: do’s and don’ts