Winter is creeping up on us this year very quickly. We (In Georgia) had an uncommonly mild summer with more rain than we have had in years, so I can only assume our Winter will be extra harsh. Harsh from what we are used to here of course, in south Georgia. So the question is, do we blanket or don’t we? Let’s talk about some of the pros and cons of blanketing your equine friend.
Most of my experience has been that the blanketing industry has targeted our needs and comforts and not necessarily what our horses need. Blankets are made in every style, color, and fit you can think of. Does your horse really care what his blanket looks like? Does he even really need one?
Nature has given horses an internal ability to grow hair according to seasons and to adjust that hair according to how cold a particular day is. So is blanketing our horses for our comfort or ours? Let’s talk facts first.
This blog is referring to unclipped horses. I would never advise clipping a horse in the winter unless you plan on providing him with warmth when it’s cold. (Just to clarify) Also a weight compromised horse, old, or in any way unable to keep himself warm should be considered when blanketing. But for the horses who are allowed to grow a natural coat, stalled or pastured, should you blanket? I have never been one to body clip except when I lived in South Florida because our horses would get a coat, then sweat most of the winter. So in that case we clipped and then blanketed when nights were below 50 degrees. Now that I live in Georgia, I have looked at this whole idea in a different manner. I cannot tell you how many mornings that it was still below 50 and I felt under my guys' blankets and they were sweating already. This prompted me to do some research.
Just like people, not all people need a blanket at night to keep warm, hence why most heating blankets have two sets of controls right? You may like your side hotter than your partner. So as for horses, who cannot speak, how do we know if our horses actually enjoy being blanketed? And if so, do we use light, medium, or heavy weight? Or nothing at all? Horses are quite capable of regulating their temperature and actually enjoy much colder temperatures that most humans find cold. In addition to that, a horse’s winter coat has the ability to fluff up, the hair literally standing on end which creates a warm layer of air around the horse. Guard hairs, which are longer, actually create a barrier for snow and rain. As long as your horse can stay dry and isn’t in direct wind, even though it’s cold out, an average horse in good condition, eating plenty of roughage, and wearing his own hair coat is probably going to stay warm. If you blanket, you actually squish down your horses’ natural “blanket” and accommodate him with store bought version. Is this more to satisfy our need to nurture our horse than to actually help our horse? Now there are times to consider blankets, like I spoke of before. Geriatric, underweight, horses that do not have constant roughage intake, horses with no shelter from wind and rain and body clipped horses may need extra warmth in the winter. But in my opinion less is better. My big guys seem to be more comfortable and stay quite warm despite dropping temperatures.
If you do decide to blanket your horse, be consistent. You can actually do more harm than good if you blanket one week, then not the next. It screws up their body’s natural ability to regulate themselves. Horses do not do well with extreme temperature changes. It can lead to less drinking, colic and many other problems. So if necessary, blanketing is fine as long as it’s done consistently and according to each individual horse’s needs.
Even on a good day, you can come home to a horse that has shredded their blanket, rolled in mud, or some other crazy scenario. Then what do you do, do you keep a blanket on standby while your other is washing or being mended? Or do you opt for naked? So there are a good bit of things to take into consideration when blanketing your horses in the winter. I will be honest this is my first winter without blankets, and it will be hard for me to not give in for my own piece of mind. But if it is better for my horses then I am always willing to try. As for my rescues, there will be a few blankets in the field on the colder nights to help my skinny guys compensate! Hope this helps someone decide on blanketing this winter.
P.S: The horse in the photo is Chrissy and was extremely underweight when this was taken and needed to be blanketed. She would shiver uncontrollably if left without. Even though some shivering can be normal in the body's ability to warm, but hers was what I considered uncontrollable and not normal. She had no body fat to help insulate her from the elements. Feel free to check out Chrissy's Facebook album and her Youtube video!
Again thanks for reading.
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