Now that it’s officially October the winter season is coming upon us quickly. As horse owners in Upstate New York we are all faced with the winter dilemma.
Does my horse need a blanket?
When should I blanket?
What weight blanket should I get?
What is denier?
What blanket is best?
How do I know what size blanket to buy?
Do not fret.
There are SO MANY ANSWERS and the problem is MOST are probably right.
Blanketing often comes down to preference and lifestyle. Do horses need blankets? Sort answer?
Not all the time and not all horses.
Blanketing is very case-by-case basis and it varies from barn to barn. Each horse has different requirements.
I know that really doesn’t make it easier to understand but let’s get into it some more and see if it helps.
If there’s one thing I want you to understand today it’s that horses are NOT humans. We don’t have the same nutritional requirements and we don’t have the same environmental adaptations. We are different species!
Do wild mustangs in Montana, Colorado, and the Dakotas wear blankets in winter? No. They live outside 24/7, they don’t have cozy barns, and they don’t have doting owners to blanket them.
Horses have evolved over millions of years. They evolved and adapted to the environments in which they live. Many features of our beloved equine enable it to survive treacherous weather.
FUR: In the winter horses grow thick winter coats. In the northern hemisphere our days begin to shorten after summer solstice (June 21st). By September the days are noticeably much shorter. The decrease in daylight hours trigger horses’ systems to begin preparation for winter. Summer coats shed out and longer, thicker winter coats grow in. In the cold weather you’ll often see their fur looks “puffier” as the fur stands up to provide more insulation.
HEAT: The horse’s digestive system is remarkable. It’s often referred to as a furnace. I know I haven’t fully covered the digestive system on this blog yet, but as a brief overview, food enters the body through the mouth and it gets to the stomach. The stomach processes food quickly and passes it into the hind-gut. The hind-gut continues to process high fiber foods like hay.
Lets use a comparison; the stomach burns kindling. It is quick and doesn’t last very long. Kindling doesn’t provide heat. The stomach is where grains are processed. Te $30 Triple Crown, Safechoice, ProForce Fuel, Blue Seal, Crypto Aero feed you’re giving is processed here. Forage is a fibrous feed…hay is like a nice hardwood log. The hardwood log is what you choose to burn in your fireplace or log stove. It burns long and slow and provides good heat over a period of time. In the same thought process hay provides a long slow burn to help the horse maintain it’s temperature in even the coldest temperatures. The colder it gets the more it needs to burn to keep warm. Therefore as the temperatures drop offer MORE HAY.
Horses have a much lower thermoneutral temperatures than humans. Think about yourself a moment. What temperature do you usually begin to shiver? What about when you begin to sweat? Do you notice this changes the more you are used to that particular weather?
For example…I usually begin to shiver in the mid 60s, and sweat in the higher 80s. In the springtime, however, I am happy to lose my jacket once it reaches 50. Why? Because my body has adapted to single digit temperatures. In the fall I might need a jacket before it reaches 70 because I have been accustomed to 90 and 100 degrees.
The range of temperatures between shivering and sweating is what we call the thermoneutral zone. In other words your body doesn’t need to do any extra work to keep itself comfortable.
Meanwhile, think of a friend who might wear shorts all winter and never complain. Or grandma who always has the heat on to 85 degrees and never thinks it’s warm enough.
We are all quite different.
Horses are similar, however their thermoneutral zone is generally much broader and cooler. On the low end it can range from 5-41 degrees and the upper limits from 68-86 degrees. This wide gap in temperature reduces their need for blanketing. Most healthy horses can handle it!
So who needs a blanket? A shivering horse is a ood indicator that you should give them a blanket.
I prefer to blanket mine with chilly precipitation.
Older horses have greater need.
Underweight horses should also be blanketed as they need the calories for putting weight on, not staying warm.
Lesson horses may benefit from blanketing to keep their winter coats from growing too long. This helps them cool out easier between lessons and not get too sweaty.
Any clipped horse should definitely be blanketed since their natural defenses were taken away.
There is absolutely a time and place for blankets. My horse prefers his rugs as he doesn’t grow much of a winter coat. This year I am putting him to the test and allowing him to go longer than usual naked so he has more time to grow his winter defense.
Stay tuned as I continue to go in depth about blanketing and review a few of the purchases I’ve made over the years.