Why Put a Blanket on a Horse Anyway?


Depending on who you talk to, there can be some strong opinions on whether a horse should wear a blanket or not.

With the fall season approaching, we thought we would ask our local expert, the Wisdom Pony, to share why she thinks that blanketing a horse is beneficial to your horse (and your pocket).

Here’s the Wisdom Pony with more information:

1.  By providing extra insulation, you will help to keep weight on your horse during cold months. A cold horse uses energy to keep warm, so blanket up and feed less! (See, there’s that pocket savings I was referring to…)

2.  A blanket means that you will spend less time cleaning and grooming to keep your horse clean. In fact, you can add a blanket with a neck design for maximum coverage.

3. A good quality turnout blanket will provide extra protection if your horse should get kicked, bitten or have an argument with a tree or a fence post! (As a human, I’m sure it’s unimaginable to you what those trees and fence posts can possibly say to get us so upset, but trust me, it’s NEVER our fault!)

Thank you, Winged Pony of Wisdom!

~~~

At Action Rider Tack, we get asked a lot of questions. Sometimes the questions get asked on the phone, other times, it’s when we’re at shows or simply in our everyday lives. We would like to share the questions and answers here on our blog. (Be assured, as needed, we’ll always confer with our Winged Ponies for their particular areas of expertise.) Please let us know if you have any questions that you would like to see answered here.

Simply email: deidre@actionridertack.com

  • http://ActionRiderresource Lynn Hays

    As for the blanket issue. Yes I have always used a blanket but I have also messed up my horses natural Thermogenics by doing so. My older mare especially now shivers when its cold.
    One thing I do differently now is let them grow a long coat first and then use the blanket.
    I do find I use less feed and you are correct, grooming in winter is a lot less, but remember to take it off periodically (daily is best) to check over their body. Things can still happen even covered with a blanket as I have learned with experience.

  • Suzanne

    Blanketing a horse deprives him/her of being able to keep warm naturally. The tiny muscles that raise the individual hairs in their coat to provide insulation lose their ability to do so when a horse is kept blanketed. Unless a horse is ill, or elderly, or in an area where it is 20 degrees or less, I believe a blanket is not only not necessary but is detrimental to their health. Blanketing a horse so you have to feed less is just wrong. We really need to think of horses’ inherent nature and needs more and less of our own projections on them. Let them be their natural selves as much as possible and you’ll have happier and healthier horses. Mine live in pasture 24/7 and have access to roomy, sturdy, three sided shelters. I can tell they are very content, and they are very healthy. They are also barefoot and I ride them in a treeless saddle and a bitless bridle.

  • Margretta Dahms

    I never blanket my horses. They have stalls to use when it is cold and/or rainy. Many times they choose not to use them. I’ve seen them standing /w snow on their backs and their freshly dressed stalls empty. They don’t drop weight if I feed them right. I think Wisdom Pony is all wet and trying to sell blankets for Action Rider.

  • Missy

    We have an arab and rocky mtn horse. they are pasture horses 99% of the time. We presently live in SE Virginia where the winters are wet, windy, 20-35 degrees. they have a run-in they can opt to use. We also trail ride thru the winter. Here’s what we’ve learned about their needs over the years:
    The arab, Tim, springs a winter coat the first night it drops to the 50′s (really). We do encourage him to grow it. He becomes a woolly mammoth.
    The RM, Dusty, won’t start his winter coat for another month if not 2. His coat isn’t much compared to Timmy’s.
    We only stall them if it’s “The Big 3″: wet, windy, cold. Otherwise, we blanket them for windy & cold. We’ll find Timmy shivering if he’s wet & cold, despite his winter coat.
    BUT!- now we’re moving to FL (near Ocala) and will have to relearn everything!!

  • http://www.celieweston.com Celie Weston

    I agree with blanketing the horses in the colder months. However, I have also experienced horses losing their natural thermogenics and being unable to handle the cold without the blankets, even when given time to grow a longer fur.

    I own several breeds with very long and thick winter coats such as the Icelandic horses, and I often have to clip their fur to avoid them sweating too much during work. Once their coat gets wet from sweat they take a long time to dry and cool down properly, so I’m always clipping them and blanketing to protect the horses from catching a chill and potentially getting sick.

    At the end of the day I think blanketing depends on the thickness of your horses own fur, the climate you’re in as well as the work load of the horse as to whether it’s necessary or not.

  • http://www.deidrehughey.com Deidre Hughey

    Hi Margretta,

    We think it really depends on your horse, your weather conditions and pasture. In fact, a horse’s normal winter coat is much more insulating than a blanket. However, if your horse has been clipped (show horses are often clipped), ill, elderly, has no access to a windbreak, a cold snap comes earlier than predicted (prior to your horse’s winter coat coming in or if your horse has been moved to a colder climate during winter months, a blanket may be just what your horse needs.

    I understand not using a blanket. I grew up in Virginia and I never put a blanket on my horse. However, I also only rode my horse for pleasure and competitive rides, so my horses were never “clipped” to remove their natural protection. (And boy, did they get fluffy in the winter!!) Not everyone has their horses in such temperate climates and sometimes a cold snap can come prior to a winter coat coming in. Having a blanket on hand can certainly help in these circumstances.

    We’ll go check on the Wisdom Pony and dry her off…

  • http://www.deidrehughey.com Deidre Hughey

    Hi Celie,

    Yes, we agree. Blanketing simply to blanket is not the answer. However, the fact that you clip your horses is a perfect example of why someone would need to blanket (also if your horse is ill or elderly). In addition, you bring up a great point about taking into account the workload of your horse.

    Thank you for your feedback!

    Deidre

  • http://www.deidrehughey.com Deidre Hughey

    Hi Missy,

    Having grown up in Virginia, I have seen my own horses become woolly mammoths! I love your tip about “The Big 3″. Thanks for commenting!

    Deidre

  • Maureen

    First I have to say that blanketing to save money does not work out it you pay to have your blankets cleaned/re-waterproofed each year. My two morgans live outside year round with a run-in shed. I only blanket when the weather is stormy (really cold rain or snow)or exceptionally cold. And as for using some calories to stay warm, that is a good thing when you have Morgans that look at food and gain weight! LOL

  • http://www.deidrehughey.com Deidre Hughey

    Hi Lynn,

    Agreed. Natural Thermogenics will be altered with the utilization of blankets, but there are times when it is necessary and there are many considerations (illness, age, workload, climate, surrounding protection, horse coat, etc.). I think that your allowing your horse to grow a long coat first and then utilizing a blanket is a wonderful idea.

    Thank you for the reminder to take the blanket off and check your horse!

    Deidre

  • http://www.deidrehughey.com Deidre Hughey

    Hi Suzanne,

    Yes. Blanketing a horse can change the horse’s natural ability to warm themselves. However, there are also people that have to clip their horses because of shows. In those cases, a blanket is necessary to replace what would have otherwise kept them warm. We certainly agree that you should not blanket with the idea of being able to feed your horse less, rather that it is a potential bi-product of the process.

    Another item to be thinking about is that if a horse is blanketed too warmly, they can become overheated, sweat and become chilled which would certainly be worse than allowing the horse to grow a coat and protect himself against the elements.

    However, just as you stated, there are times when a little extra protection is a good idea and everyone should consider the horse’s age, the climate, available protection, workload, thickness of coat, etc.

    We are HUGE proponents of barefoot riding, treeless saddles and bitless bridles. Good for you!

    Thanks for stopping by and adding your comments…

    Deidre

  • http://www.deidrehughey.com Deidre Hughey

    Hi Maureen!

    Cleaning and waterproofing can add up! Not sure how you’re cleaning your blankets (and using your washing machine at home can take a real toll – might even cost you a new washing machine over time). However, here’s a suggestion:

    • Drape the blanket over a fence and using a shedding blade to remove as much hair as possible
    • Brush the entire blanket with a stiff brush to remove loose dirt
    • Hose the blanket with water and scrub it with a good detergent – we recommend Rug Wash by Nikwax (they also make a very nice waterproofing product – Rug Proof by Nikwax)
    • Rinse thoroughly
    • Allow to completely dry before storing

    The biggest thing to watch out for is making sure that the blanket is completely dry before folding and putting away.

    Thanks for coming by and commenting…and enjoy riding the weight off those horses! LOL!!!

    Deidre

  • http://actionridertack janet

    On the blanketing issue – I will always feel it’s best to let the horse live as naturally as possible. But if they are clipped for showing (usually not in the dead of winter) you will have to help them stay warm.

    I let mine grow wooley, but I also live in California where it is temperate in the valleys. I keep a turnout waterproof sheet and a medium weight waterproof blanket for camping in the mountains, illness, etc. You should always have one on hand even if you don’t clip or stall your horse.

    If I start showing, I will need to use at least a sheet, depending on the season – but I will always let them grow long at first, just so their body does not forget how!

    There is nothing that replaces the horses natural ability to have a good coat that “lofts” well.

    Janet

  • http://www.deidrehughey.com Deidre Hughey

    Hi Janet,

    Thanks for coming by and adding your comments! We agree…natural is always best. Enjoy your temperate weather!

    Deidre

  • Helen

    I would never use my white gelding in the winter if I didn’t blanket him. He would get muddy and it would take hours to get him ready, to say nothing of chilling him if water was needed. He is now retired and gets a lot of winter fur so am conflicted about it. He and others are stalled at night and pastured in the daytime in the winter.(So Oregon) My other two have little in the way of a winter coat so anticipate blanketing them as well. With a bad rt shoulder grooming them becomes a pain a few days later!

  • http://www.deidrehughey.com Deidre Hughey

    Hi Helen,

    Personally, I’ve never owned a white horse and hadn’t thought about the difficulty of keeping a white horse clean in the winter time! We’re located in Southern Oregon as well (Medford) and most of us stall at night and pasture in the daytime as well. For the most part, we have brown or chestnut colored horses which help to hide the dirt. LOL!

    Sorry to hear about your shoulder. That certainly makes grooming more difficult.

    Deidre

  • DeAnna

    Well, it does seem like one should do what fits the individual horse and the rider’s lifestyle best. It saves me hours and hours of grooming my gray horse that is turning white by putting a waterproof sheet or light blanket with an attached neck piece on her when its muddy or raining. The attached neckpiece keeps the blanket from rubbing her shoulders and putting pressure in the front when her head is down grazing. She has a free choice of paddock, pasture or stall and choses the stall when things are falling from the sky. When I purchased her she had a mild case of ‘rainrot’ the fungus that makes spots from being too wet. I don’t want her to get that again. The light blanket gets switched to the raincoat during the daytime. It did get down to 10 degrees here in the Siskiyou Mountains last winter and, of course, we do get snow.

  • AJ

    I have sheets and blankets of every variety for my 5 off the track horses; however, only two of them are in hard work, and get anything above 20 degrees. One is a lesson horse that teaches 1-2 hour-long lessons 5 days a week, plus foxhunts in the winter, and the other is my endurance horse, who trains 5-6 days per week as well as foxhunts. The endurance horse is a “hot” horse many days, resulting in sweat within the first 1/2 hour of work- even during the deepest cold of winter- and I need to keep him from chilling as well as keep his weight up. So, as contrary as this sounds, I clip then blanket him. His workload is so heavy it would take an hour or more to cool him properly, and even then taking a chance on him catching cold for having him cool down for that amount of time without any blanketing help. The clipping helps him regulate his heat while working, but of course then comes the blanketing.
    The 3 others (pleasure horses/ weekend warriors) get a sheet if it goes to 20 or lower, or is super wet below 35, and have additional layers if it goes down and stays below 10 for several day. (Ohio dweller here, where there’s about 2 weeks of this, along with windy… YUCK!)
    RE: keeping their bodies warm- we also feed free choice hay to keep the heat coming from the inside out, along with a good warm soaked beet pulp mash. (Forages are the best!)
    I love my blankets- natural? No, but neither is keeping these awesome partners in a confined pasture or stall, feeding them grain, or riding them. But do they give you their heart? You’d better believe mine do, and I want only what’s best for each one in return, whether it be blanketing them or allowing that soft, fuzzy, teddy bear coat to grow oh-so-beautiful and soft.

  • Sonia

    Suzanne,

    I totally agree with what you are saying and my horses are also pasture boarded with a loafing shed to get out of the cold, rain and wind. But like for anything, I think blanketing is a question of case by case; i.e. region you live in, age and breed. Take care.

  • Sonia

    There is a revolutionary blanket called Cool Heat Horse Blanket offered by Mac’s Equine in Australia; here is their website

    Here is an extract:

    “The Cool Heat blanket has rows of soft plastic insulators which run the length of the blanket , which lifts the blanket 12mm or 1/2″ up off the hair of the horse which prevents the flattening of the horse’s hair and hence protects one of the horse’s natural warming and cooling procedures, known as “pilo erection” which is a vital part of a horse’s thermal regulation process. Traditional rugs, no matter what material they are constructed of flatten the horses hair which seriously impedes pilo erection . This leads to the many problems which we will cover.

    The sole purpose of the Cool Heat blanket is to shield the horse from direct rain or wind chill and so acts like a portable stable, while under the blanket the horse controls it’s own safe comfortable inner core body temperature.

    When your horse feels cold when wearing a Cool Heat blanket it raises it’s hair follicles using it’s pilo erection process and this traps the body heat against the skin which slows down the dissipation rate of heat loss from the body. It also mobilizes it’s other important “thermal regulation” processes.”

    http://www.macsequine.com.au/Main.asp?_=CoolHeat%20Blanket

  • Debbie

    I live in Saskatchewan where winter can be very severe. My 24-year-old gelding was always stalled at night in the winter up until 4 years ago when we moved to a pasture-only barn. He was not always allowed in the shelter by the more dominant horses so once the temperature hit around -25 to -30 Celsius, I would put the outer shell of his Rambo winter blanket on him to cut the wind. I wondered about this at first as he always gets a really thick coat and I thought if the blanket flattened the hair it wouldn’t provide as much insulation for him, but he usually maintained or even gained a bit of weight over the winter so I thought I was on the right track. Last winter the barn had additional shelters available, so I didn’t blanket him. He seemed to hold his own up until around February/March, when I noticed him losing weight. Between fall and winter he dropped about 50 pounds – I will definitely be blanketing this winter!

  • http://www.deidrehughey.com Deidre Hughey

    Hi DeAnna,

    I would certainly want to avoid rain rot! While my horses have never had it, I understand that removing the scabs is painful for the horse (removing the scabs is a necessary part of the treatment process). You must have some incredible rides living in the the Siskiyou Mountains!

    Thank you for leaving your comment.

    Deidre

  • http://www.deidrehughey.com Deidre Hughey

    Hi AJ,

    Your horses are busy! Thank you for stopping by…it’s obvious that you love your horses and I love your word “partner”. We believe that’s exactly what our relationships are with our horses…partnerships.

    Deidre

  • http://www.deidrehughey.com Deidre Hughey

    Hi Sonia,

    We had another person stop by (AJ) and tell us that they use a blanket because their horse has had rain rot before and using a blanket helps to keep that from occurring again. There are certainly multiple reasons for using blankets. Thanks for your comment!

    Deidre

  • http://www.deidrehughey.com Deidre Hughey

    Thanks, Sonia – we’re looking into the blanket.

    Deidre

  • http://www.deidrehughey.com Deidre Hughey

    Hi Debbie,

    -25 to -30 Celsius? Holy cow! Now, that’s cold. I love that you experimented and watched your horse to ascertain what’s best for him. Thanks for your comments!

    Deidre

  • http://www.trishbroersma.com Trish

    I have found that my older horse actually developed rain rot with a blanket the one year that I tried blanketing him all winter to help him keep on some weight, an issue that has developed in his mid twenties. Big mistake. He did not have a winter coat underneath so I could not leave him blanket free for another several weeks. It was challenging to treat the rain rot because it does best with good grooming, sunshine and air. Now I let him develop his full winter coat and blanket him only when it’s rainy and cold. No more rain rot the past three years.

  • Vici Upton

    I have never been a huge fan of blanketing for “general purposes”. I truly believe it not only messes with a horse’s ability to stay warm naturally, but, deeper still, depletes the immune system, making them weaker in general. Admittedly, if one is showing in winter or is right there each and every day to blanket/unblanket horses, there could be a use, such as the “big three” (love that reply) , but in general, I dont agree. Neither does my 30 year old Morab, who, in her life has been in snow, rain, cold, you name it, and has used her run-in shed to escape weather when SHE felt she needed it. She is well and healthy. I enjoy everyone’s comments! :)

  • fern

    I live in North Texas, and my Arab starts putting on his winter coat very early, and also becomes a “wooly mammoth”

  • http://www.astelier.com Karen

    I’ve had horses in Montana for 6 years and I never blanket them in the winter. It gets well below 20 degrees here sometimes, but my horses sweat at 30 degrees.

    But I do/would blanket:

    - After an endurance ride. It got just a LITTLE chilly at night and started to rain. My horse was shivering and I needed to blanket her. I think she was tired and had burned too much energy to keep warm. Once I blanketed her, she was fine.

    - When trailering them home from a ride on a cold day and they are wet from sweat.

    - During injury recovery. I found my horse shivering one winter day, even though she was used to much colder weather. Maybe her energies were being used to heal rather than keep warm, plus she was doing a lot of just standing around, and was not eating good.

    I disagree with using a blanket as protection from tree branches!! It’s way more likely the blanket will get them caught up on something, than it will protect them. And if your horse is in a situation where they are getting bitten and kicked, they probably are also getting run off their food, and that situation should be remedied.

    Karen in MT

  • Beth

    I’d like to mention that stall confinement when its really cold is a good time to blanket your horse. A horse naturally moves many miles in a day/night as one of his ways to stay warm. When they can’t because of stall confinement, the cold weather is more severe for them. My morgan mares grow wooly coats and are fine most of the time. But if they are stalled and the temperature outside really dips, I use mid-weight, breathable blankets on them, and remove them as soon as the day/wind-chill gets above freezing.

    I also carry a blanket and waterproof sheet in my horse trailer “just in case” for horse camping, and for emergencies of horse or human nature. (Horse blankets are great for people too, when the temperature drops at night in the mountains. A clean one makes a great comforter!)

  • Shahker

    In our part of California it gets in the low 50′s at night in the summer. My horse is old and he loves his light fleece lined nylon sheet on cold, windy nights in the summer and his midweight sheet in the winter. He has shelter but no other horse to stand next to for body heat. Our vet stands by blanketing elderly horses.