Do I need to blanket my horse?

Posted: January 24th, 2008, by Melanie Merrow

I am not against blankets in anyway, I own and use them when needed. When I had horses in Timmins Ontario, I would put blankets on them in the -20 to -40 days. But my horses had a good coat and only needed the blanket on windy days as a result. In the wild, horses will use trees and other cover to help block out the wind. If they are allowed to choose between a treed area or a run in shelter, horses will always choose to be outside.

The length of hair, current temperature and whether or not the horse has been clipped will factor into making the correct decision about when to put a blanket on your horse. Take clipping for example, it is a common practice to clip eye lashes, ears, muzzle, legs and the body of most riding school horses. Consider the temperature related impact of this aesthetic choice:

  • Clipping the legs, even if it is only at the back of the pasterns, it will cause heat loss.
  • Clipping the eyelashes reduces their ability to pull water and tears away from their eyes. They also act as whiskers to help the horse avoid foreign objects in their eyes.
  • Clipping ear hair eliminates the pocket of warm air which is needed to keep the entire ear warm.

What should a natural coat look like?

Dry insideIn order for a horse to be comfortable outside 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, they should have a long, thick coat. These photos were taken after some rain and snow (8 cm) with daytime temperatures below -8 degrees. Up until November, Duffy was inside the stable at night so his coat was not where it needed to be. A horse who spends all nights in a stable will never have the opportunity to grow a full winter coat. It took Duffy approximately two months to grow this thick coat, but horse hair grows at a different pace depending on their environment. During this period, he only wore a turnout blanket on one occasion when the weather was really bad.

How does a winter coat keep my horse warm?

ice friendsThe undercoat traps in warm air and the long hair wicks away water and allows the horse to dry from the inside out. A quick body brushing gets rid of the little ice friends; a little fluffing of the coat and your horse is ready to face another chilly winter night. Allowing a horse to have a nice full winter coat means the horse will be comfortable in all weather in the winter, spring, summer and fall. I like the look of a nice fluffy teady bear horses over shiney short coated ones any day.

DuffyWet horseBy comparison, blankets are a lot of work which in my mind really does not help a horse in anyway if used 100% of the time. Consider the amount of money it costs to purchase turnout rugs, stable blankets, coolers, bug sheets, rain sheets, slinkies, liners, show sheets or summer sheets. That is money going into someones’ pocket, and it’s not yours! What’s more, blankets can rip, they get dirty, need cleaning, get wet, require constant checking and if not fitted properly will cause rubs and sores.

Will my horse be sweaty when I ride as a result of a winter coat?

No. I work Duffy out daily in an indoor ring and he does not get sweaty with his winter coat. I will normally warm him up and work for ten minutes, give him five minutes of walk or break and then work him again for ten minutes. I find breaking up your work like this builds up their endurance and avoids a sweaty horse. It also gives the horse a mental break.