It's becoming that time of year again when it starts to get cold, wet and just plain nasty in the valley. There's mud that starts sucking at your boots when you go to catch your horse to bring it in for the night and gives your horse a nice brown color when he rolls. So you start to think, should I blanket my horse?
Well, that just depends; it depends on who you ask, what the horse is doing, metabolic problems the horse may have, if your horse is clipped or unclipped, if their is shelter available and the list goes on and on and on... So, biologically a horse has an exceptional way of keeping itself warm.
Now, I could go into the science behind this, but I'm already tired this morning and don't need to fall asleep at work. Basically, horses have evolved to be in the cold (and heat). They do this by growing their hair longer or shorter and it depends on two things; one of those is the amount of light a horse receives and the other is temperature. Sometimes, it's a combination of both while other times one factor influences the horse more than the other.
The horse is able to regulate its body temperature rather easily without a blanket, they do this by "puffing" up their hair or lowering it. Now, you may have noticed that in the morning your horse is a big fluff ball, but by mid-afternoon they have nice sleek coat, how did that happen? Well, when the horse puffs out their hair, they create an insulating layer that captures warm air and holds it against the body. When they get warm, this hair will lay down flat against their skin and allows cool air to move over the body.
This also allows the horse to get quiet shaggy in some instances (see Fig. 1). And that's alright, but if the horse is working, it may be time to consider clipping (see Fig. 2) and/or blanketing (see Fig. 3). Both of these are ways to help cut down on cool down time and to bring nicer horses into the show arena.
Fig. 2: Different body clip patterns
Fig. 3: A horse with a stable blanket
- SmartPak's Blanketing Guide (They have a smartphone app as well!)
- The Long and Short of Equine Coats by Christine Barakat
- Should I Blanket My Horse this Winter? by Dr. Lisa Nesson
- Blanket Fit by Leslie Potter
- Increase Hay Intake for Winter by Peggy M. Auwerda (Doesn't talk about blanketing but still a good resource for winter care of horses)