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Debating Whether To Blanket Your Horse Or Not

The Pros And Cons Of Blanketing

The leaves are changing, temperatures are dropping and there's even a little frost on the pumpkin. That can only mean one thing; it's time for horse owners to debate whether or not to blanket their horses this winter. As with everything equine, there are many schools of thought on what's best for the horse.

Horse Blanketing Myths

As we all know, blanketing horses is a relatively new phenomenon. Horses have lived for thousands of years without blankets and survived just fine. However, anytime you get humans into the mix a bunch of theories and myths come about. Before you decide how best to handle the winter weather with your horse let's address some of the most common horse blanketing myths.

Myth #1 – If you need a jacket, it's time to put a blanket on your horse.

You can't determine your horse's blanketing needs based on how cold you are. In fact, blankets often provide more comfort to horse owners and caregivers than they do the horse. Without blankets and a fresh clip job, a winter hair coat provides the horse with an excellent temperature control mechanism. Studies conducted in Canada show that healthy adult horses can tolerate temperatures down to 5° F without reducing their own body temperatures.

Myth #2 – Blanketing will significantly reduce winter hair growth during cold winter months.

Horses grow hair based on day length, not necessarily colder temperatures. It just so happens that with shorter days, comes decreasing temperatures in many areas. Horses that are blanketed without being clipped often have the appearance of having shorter hair. This is because the blanket keeps their fluffy winter coat pressed flat. Although the horse may not have grown as much hair as a horse sans blanket, it has still grown a winter coat. If you remove the blanket, the hair will puff back up in a few days.

Myth #3 – Any blanket is better than no blanket.

Some blankets can do more harm than good. Ill-fitting blankets can cause blanket rubs, chaffing and injuries if the horse gets tangled up in loose material or blanket straps. A wet blanket is worse than no blanket at all. Remember, horses are able to handle cold weather as long as their coat is dry. A wet blanket will hamper the drying process. Likewise, a blanket that is too heavy of a weight will cause your horse to sweat thus reducing his ability to maintain a proper temperature.

Blanketing Pros

  • Turnout blankets can help keep your horse clean when used in muddy or wet conditions. Make sure you use blankets made of waterproof and breathable materials.
  • You can keep your horse in regular exercise clipped for you to ride, yet provide additional insulation via blankets.
  • Blankets can help horses that have moved from warmer temperatures acclimate to colder weather.
  • Blankets help hard-keepers stay warm without burning too much extra energy, thus losing weight in the winter.

Blanketing Cons

  • Blanketing is a full time commitment. You need to make sure your horse has the correct weight blanket on for the given temperature to ensure they do not overheat. Your horse should also have a dry blanket available at all times.
  • Horses can become injured if they get tangled up in blankets that are ill-fitting or shift during wear.
  • Blankets experience wear and tear and can become ripped. Repairs and replacements can drain your wallet.

You should always blanket if your horse:

  • Is clipped
  • Has a hard time maintaining weight or is underweight
  • Is either older or very young
  • Does not have access to shelter from the elements
  • Appears to be uncomfortable in the colder temperatures

It's Up to You

As you can see, there's no easy answer when it comes to whether or not you should blanket your horse. Rather you have to determine what is best for each horse you care for. Prior to making your blanketing decision look at your horse's individual needs, housing situation and local climate conditions. By treating each horse as an individual you will ensure they stay happy, healthy and comfortable during the cold winter months.

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