When to Blanket a Horse
by Parelli Natural Horsemanship on Nov 23, 2022
Blanket season is right around the corner as cold temperatures arrive, leaves start falling, and winter months are looming. For horse owners, choosing to blanket or not blanket their horse is more complicated than it seems. We've broken down the important pieces to making the best decision for your horse this year.
Why do Horses Grow a Winter Coat?
A horse's winter coat begins to grow when the days get shorter. The reduced daylight triggers the horse's brain to prepare for a changing season. During this change, your horse will start growing a winter coat while shedding out its summer coat. Many horse owners appropriately name this the Fall blowout because it usually happens around October. Horses in warmer climates tend to grow shorter winter coats than those in northern parts of the country.
Will Blanketing Prevent a Horse's Hair from Growing?
A common myth in the horse world is that blanketing prevents horses from growing natural winter coats. While blanketing does not prevent a winter coat from growing, blanketed horses will not produce a thick winter coat because the blanket provides warmth for the horse. The weight of the blanket will also flatten the coat, giving it a smooth look similar to the summer coat. You can blanket a horse one year and decide not to blanket them the following year. The first year of blanketing won't impact the coat growth during the second year.
When do Horses Need Blankets?
Deciding on what blanket weight your horse needs, if any, might seem daunting. Many horses are very comfortable through the winter month with their natural winter coat. With a natural winter coat (no clipping), horses can be comfortable in temperatures below 30 degrees. Horses living in extreme temperatures, with no shelter, are older, or are body clipped may need a blanket to keep them warm.
What does light-, mid-, or heavyweight mean?
If you have shopped for blankets, you've probably noticed some different terminology. Blankets come in light, mid-, or heavyweight. These terms refer to the insulation factor. As the name implies, a lightweight blanket has little to no insulation, while a heavyweight blanket has more fill and provides greater warmth. Knowing which blanket to select depends on the environment and your horse's coat, body condition, and lifestyle.
What size blanket does my horse need?
Blankets come in standard sizes, with some slight variations between brands. You can check the sizing guidelines for specific blankets on the manufacturer's website. Measuring your horse for a blanket is very simple. Stand them squarely, place a soft measuring tape at the center point of their chest, and pull the tape around the widest part of the shoulder to the point of the buttocks. The total length will give you the correct blanket size.
How do I know if my horse is getting too warm?
You should monitor if your horse is getting too warm as the temperatures change. It's obvious when your horse is sweating under a blanket, but not all signs are easy to spot. Feel under the blanket, checking for sweating or dampness. If your horse is wet, they can quickly get cold and shiver under the blanket.
6 Questions to Ask When Considering Blanketing your Horse
1. Is your horse's body clipped?
If yes, horses will need a blanket to keep them warm. This can depend on the type of body clip and the environment.
2. Does the horse live inside?
Horses living outside with no shelter may need a blanket to keep them warm, especially during cold rain, sleet, and wind.
3. What is your horse's body condition score?
Horses on the thin side may need the additional warmth of a blanket during cold months.
4. Is your horse a senior?
Senior horses cannot process nutrients in feed as efficiently as younger horses. This reduces the heat produced by their bodies to keep them warm. Older horses can benefit from winter blankets in many cases.
5. Is your barn set up for daily blanketing?
Some barns routinely blanket horses or remove blankets as the temperatures fluctuate during the day. Other barns do not have the staff to provide this service consistently. If blanketing is inconsistent, blanketing might not be a good choice for your horse.
6. Will you show over the winter months?
Many show horses are fully or partially body-clipped for the entire year. Body-clipped horses will need a blanket to keep them warm as the temperatures lower. Blanketing can also keep the hair flat, making it look sleeker for the show ring.
Challenging Weather Conditions
Most horse owners dislike winter weather conditions. Between the rain, sleet, snow, and cold wind, heading to the barn, doing chores, and working with horses can become pretty miserable. In many cases, horses feel the same. Rain and wind are two of the most challenging elements for horses to weather. The wind pulls away body heat more rapidly than any other element, and rain can quickly cause a chill.
If your horse is regularly in these conditions, choosing a waterproof blanket can help them immensely. Waterproof blankets protect them from wind chill and prevent water from getting on their hair.
Blanketing After Work
It is critical to cool down your horse after training properly. It is even more important not to throw a winter blanket on a sweaty horse. After your horse is cooled down, use a cooler with moisture-wicking material to pull moisture away from the horse's coat. Some horse owners will put on a cooler while walking out the horse to help speed up the process. You can also use a towel to rub down their legs, neck, and anything not covered by the cooler. You can put their blanket back on when your horse is completely dry.
To Blanket or Not to Blanket?
Deciding on a blanket or not becomes much easier when you understand the whys and hows of blanketing. Blanketing will depend on the individual horse, climate, turnout periods, and much more. As a horse owner, you are in the best position to make a good choice for yourself and your horse. Remember, you know them best!