The Blanketing Dilemma

By Dr. Renee Wanner
As horse owners we are often confronted with the question of how to or should we blanket our animals. The challenge increases when we are confronted with warm days and cool/cold nights.

There are several factors to consider when making this decision which are outlined here. Of course, this is just an outline to help guide in the decision making. Factor into the equation the horses’ environment, temperatures he is exposed to, fluctuations in temperature, whether or not he is an easy keeper, his work load and his coat.

In general, horses are more comfortable in cooler temperatures. This may seem obvious, but it is common to see horses over blanketed because if the owner is cold, her horse must be cold too. This often leads to horses sweating under their blankets then becoming cold because their blankets are now wet. When making your blanketing decision, and feel caught between two choices, it’s typically best to choose the lighter option. Horses would much rather be a little chilly, then to be sweating under their blankets.

If your horse lives in a barn with little draft, clearly he needs a lighter blanket then a horse living in a similar temperature that is more exposed. Even if the exposed horse has complete cover, the wind factors in and he does not benefit from the warmth created by horses that he may be stabled with. If your horse has a longer coat, blanketing is usually not necessary. However, if this horse lives outside, a lightweight waterproof sheet to help keep him dry during rainy or snowy events is warranted. The unclipped horse does become a challenge if they are working. If they are sweating then left standing, they easily become chilled in colder environments. The unclipped horse with a naturally light coat that is an easy keeper usually can forgo a blanket or suffice with a light sheet. This same horse that is not an easy a keeper will benefit from a heavier sheet or blanket. These horses may also benefit from extra feed as they burn off calories keeping warm.

In my opinion, the biggest challenge is the warm day and cool/cold night. This is where good husbandry comes in. In a perfect world, the blankets go on in the evening, not at 4 PM, when it’s still 55 degrees outside in anticipation of a cold night. The reason for this is obvious and mentioned above. If this is a challenge, then opt for less, rather than more blankets.

Now you have considered what your horse will wear at night, but don’t forget to factor in when those blankets are coming off in the morning. Again, err on the side of a lighter blanket, if you can’t make it out to the barn early to remove his clothes.

In summary, blanket each animal as an individual considering his specific needs in his environment.

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