Blanketing is a hugely talked about topic. Go to any chat room or Facebook horse group and you’re bound to find multiple threads on the subject.
“Should I blanket my horse?”
“What temperature to blanket my horse?”
“What do you all do for blanketing?”
By now I hope you’ve read I’m Cold Therefore My Horse is Cold (It was a while ago since I got distracted) so you’ll know that my opinion is quite minimalist on blanketing. When Blade had a stall he was blanketed regularly under 40 degrees Fahrenheit. He had a warm barn to return to at night and didn’t grow much coat. Now that I have him home and living outside I forced him to adapt. He isn’t ridden often so I don’t need to worry about him sweating/drying.
Horses that work hard all year may need to be clipped to help them cool out and stay dry during exercise. In those cases they definitely need blankets.
As the weather grew colder I pay close attention to him. If he shivers or if it rains I blanket. So far I have not seen him shiver; As we approach mid-January I reach my own comfort threshold before he begins to shiver. My personal threshold and mental capacity usually strikes once the temperature falls below 20°F. For the first time since I’ve owned him I can say he has a nice thick winter coat.
I have three thoroughbreds living with me and two are coming 21 years old. All of the amigos each have a sheet and a medium weight blanket (and of course I have backup too). The sheet comes out with cool precipitous weather or when the winds pick up. The blankets come out when I reach my own comfort threshold (as before usually it strikes below 20°F). By this point the horses are not shivering yet but they dive eagerly into the blankets (I keep the chest piece attached and put the blankets over their heads, surprisingly easy to teach even my neurotic horse.
In reality a properly grown out winter coat was its own moisture wicking properties. It allows the horse to breathe while trapping in heat and can also keep moisture out. Earlier this winter I came home to a surprise snow storm. It wasn’t terribly cold out and the forecast called for decent temperatures. The horses were naked. Did I panic and freak out?
We weren’t dealing with a downpour. Just a few flurries. The photo above of Blade eating was taken that very day. As the sun came up more I was able to get some decent photos of how the coat works. VaiVia and Zeno Bay both made excellent models as they slurped down their breakfast. Below you will see how the flurries collected on the coat. In response the outer hairs form a moisture shield.
Like us horses secrete oils from the skin (epidermis). These oils are picked up by the fur. As you may know from looking at your Italian Dressing bottle oil and water do not mix. Oil is what us chemists call hydrophobic. Think about oil being “afraid” (phobic) of water (hydro). On the other hand, water and fluids that mix with water is called hydrophilic. The oils coating the hair repel water creating a barrier that keeps the horses dry. The two photos below show a closer view of the winter coat in action. In the second photo I take a small section of coat and pull it back just enough so you can see the dry hair and skin beneath.
If I had blanketed the amigos early this winter they may not have grown enough coat. If I had brushed away their oils they may not have replenished them in time for the snowfall to keep them dry and warm. I brush them when they need it but in winter I find myself brushing less often. Instead they get even more love and kisses!
If the weather was colder and the flurries kept falling the horses still would have been alright. The water would have frozen, still keeping that undercoat and skin dry. From there snow would accumulate on the back of the horses. So if you see horses covered with unmelted snow you can rest assured knowing they are just fine!
If you listen horses will tell you whether or not they want their blankets. Mine tell me by showing interest in the blanket when it comes out. I have taken them out and they put up with me but they weren’t as eager to get bundled up; usually this occurs when the weather is mild but I know a storm is coming. VaiVia often walks away from me when he isn’t ready for it (but he gives up easily at least). Other times when the winds are chilly they come towards me and lower their heads into the blanket.
Regardless of whether you blanket or not it’s always a good idea to have one handy “just in case”. Your horse may become ill, severe weather may hit, other possibilities.
So how exactly do you figure out what to get?
You can’t just drive your horse to JC Penny, choose a couple outfits, and hit the dressing room. So how do you know what size you need? Are all sizes created equal? What brands work best? What weight should you get?
Stay tuned for the tips and tricks on how to fit a horse to the right blanket and more…