Last Updated on March 18, 2022 by Allison Price
My friend blankets her horse every night as soon as it gets cool in the Fall. As the winter progresses, she adds and removes blankets. Her gelding must be shiny and slick for the winter show circuit. What about horses we ride to clinics, work cattle, or train? What can we do to ensure that they are comfortable and warm in winter?
Blanketing still has its place. The artificial horse overcoat helps our companions get through winter without having to grow thick hair. If you want to compete in winter shows, blanketing is essential. If you plan to work your horse hard all winter, blanketing is a great idea. It all comes down to the frequency. It’s worth it to get your horse sweaty enough to make it worthwhile to cover him. Your horse doesn’t need to be covered to keep him warm and comfortable in winter.
Long-haired Winter Workouts When you work horses hard enough to sweat, the horse’s long winter hair retains that heat and moisture. This means that you will need to spend extra time making sure your horse is dry and cool before you leave and before it gets cold at night. You’ve probably experienced this feeling if you have ever done a workout and then sat in the cold in sweaty clothes. Soon you will feel uncomfortably chilled. The horse would immediately change into dry clothes. The horse must cool down and dry his coat. Walking him after you have unsaddled him will allow his coat dry through a combination heat and air flow. To speed up the process, brush your hair in any areas that are sweaty to encourage air circulation. You can also use a towel to rub his hair dry and a dryer to dry it. If his body is at the same temperature as his shoulder and feels his forelegs, it’s okay to leave him alone. If you prepare for it, this extra cool-off dry-off is just more time with your horse.
Your responsibility to cool and dry your horse after exercise will not be diminished if you choose to blanket him for winter. A horse that is still warm or damp will feel uncomfortable if he is blanketed. He will perspire and his inner blanket will become damp. Although it is easier to dry a shorter-haired horse than a longer-haired one, it can still take some time to cool him down and bring his core temperature back to pre-exercise levels.
The long-haired horse can be made to cool down by having his chest, sternum and centerline cut close to the skin. Because the lines of the trace are cut close to the horse’s cart, this is known as a trace clip. If you aren’t familiar with how to clip hair, there are some techniques that work but must be learned. Although you can clip many different styles, it is best to use a blanket to cover any additional hair loss. You shouldn’t clip the body in spring because it will affect the incoming summer coat. However, it can be done during winter.
Blanket or Hair?
Horses grow thicker hair as the temperature drops. The horse’s winter coat traps heat and keeps him warm with its loft. The horse’s body heat can be retained by the fuzzy insulation, which acts like a fluffy down parka. To avoid overheating on warm days, the horse can either slick down his blanket and lie in the shade or on the ground. A blanket’s actual purpose is to replace the horse’s natural insulation with synthetic insulation. To help your horse, a blanket must offer more insulation than his coat. The horse will still grow winter hair if you cover him lightly.
We can’t stop blanketing once we have started. We need another blanket in case the blanket is damaged or torn. The horse will not be able grow thick enough hair to compensate for the loss.
However, it is not a problem to add a blanket to a horse who hasn’t been blanketed in cold weather. Just limit its use to cold hours. You can do a trial run to make sure the blanket feels natural to your horse.
Blanket layers & cost
Blanketing can be expensive. A moderately cold weather blanket can cost between $50 and $150. You may also choose to add features that will increase the price to $200-$300. Horse owners who blanket their horses use a thicker fall/spring blanket and a thicker winter blanket. They may also use an inner blanket liner. The liner adds temperature versatility and can be washed easier than the blanket. It also keeps the horse’s skin cleaner.
It is an art. The blanket size in inches is determined by measuring from the middle of the horse’s chest horizontally to his tail. Horses have different bodies so a blanket too long between the chest, withers and tail will rub.
Blanket rubs can be a challenge. You may have to try many brands before you find the one that suits your horse. Even the best blankets can rub your horse’s shoulders and withers. You can use a stretchy inner liner to cover the area. Line the friction areas with sheepskin or satin. Or, you can buy a blanket without a rubbing lining.
You should check the belly straps frequently to make sure they are not too short or too long. This can cause the horse to be restrained and could catch his hind hoof when he lies down. Crossing the straps between your horse’s legs if the blanket has hind leg buckles allows you to adjust the straps a bit longer while still keeping them in place.
Horses won’t last the whole season without soaking their blankets beyond use. Some horses can’t even manage to do it overnight! The oversized washer at the local laundromat is a popular solution, though owners and other users may object. To ensure that your laundromat allows this use, make sure you take the extra time to clean up. You can scrub blankets that aren’t machine washable by hand, or you can use commercial blanket cleaning.
Even in the best blankets, tears and strap failures are common. Horses are notorious for tearing blankets. With a heavy needle, carpet thread and some skill, you can repair the blankets yourself. Commercial services may be available for more complex repairs. Ask your local tackshop.
On a cold morning, if you don’t leave your horse covered after breakfast and it gets hot in the afternoon, the horse will begin to sweat. A damp blanket will keep your horse warm and dry when the temperature drops again in the evening. His skin may itch and scratch, so he can tear the blanket. This situation comes with obvious drawbacks. Most people can’t go home mid-day to change/remove blankets. There are many breathable blanket options on the market. These work in different degrees and can add to the price. A horse wearing a natural winter coat will also be warm during the day. However, he can adjust his temperature more easily.
Winter coats are designed to shed water, but not wet his skin. If you look closely at your horse after a rain, you will see water running down his sides from the barrel. This leaves his underside dry. Horses don’t need to be covered in rainy weather. They have been outdoors for hundreds of generations. A blanket that sheds water is necessary for horses that are going to be outside in the rain. There are many options on the market that will do the job. It’s difficult to find the right balance between water repellency, breathability, and style for your horse when you are wearing a raincoat. The best rainproof material can’t breathe and the best breathable material can’t completely waterproof. You can find the right balance. Talk to your friends about blankets to learn what works for you.
However, cold, wet weather is more difficult for horses to handle as he becomes very vulnerable to cold temperatures once he has been wet. Wind can make matters worse. These conditions are especially dangerous for older horses and young horses. You can forecast the weather and have the resources to keep your horse safe. In this instance, you don’t need to keep the horse warm; keep him away from the rain. Wild horses are forced to choose, but domestic horses do not seem to be able to make use of this offer. Our horses prefer to be outside in all weather conditions and can become very cold. These days are best to keep your horse inside.
A shelter that blocks wind and rain from your horse’s paddock or pasture is one of the best ways to keep him warm in winter. Your shelter should be easy to reach (near your house), higher than the ground surrounding it (to prevent water pooling) and oriented to block cold wind. It does not need to be closed. A barn that is tightly sealed against the elements is not only warmer, but also less healthy for horses because of the buildup of ammonia. To provide a healthy environment, the barn air must circulate and new air must be introduced.
Your horse will make the right choice and choose to be outside in all weather conditions. He will most likely take care of himself if you offer shelter that he can access at will and can be kept in when needed.
Heating the barn
While it is nice to be able to relax in a warm barn at night, we also feel like we are treating our horses well. Horses don’t need heated barns. If you are lucky enough to have heated arenas or heated barns, the problem is that horses must go outside eventually. It is difficult for horses to adjust between temperatures. Be sure to keep your barn cool. Barn fires can cause serious injury to horses.
Water is vital for horses’ health in winter, regardless of whether you blanket them. Horses need more moisture to digest dry hay than grass. It is also important to maintain the water temperature. Horses that drink too much water can become dehydrated and may experience impaction colic. You can solve this problem by checking the water frequently to ensure that ice does not form on it; adding hot water to warm it up at feeding time, but be careful not to heat it too much; insulating your water buckets to keep it liquid for longer (place it in a bigger container with insulation material between); or adding a tank heater to ensure there is no risk of electric shock. To ensure that your horse is drinking water, check the water level at every feeding.
Hay for warmth
You can provide blankets if your horse is likely to get cold. He will shiver when he is truly cold. He will shiver if he is truly cold. Heat can be created by eating roughage. The biological processing and chewing of hay can help to warm the body. The hay can be fed to the dog to increase his temperature and stop him from shivering. It must be high quality hay, without mold or dust. You don’t have to make it high in protein. The carbohydrates provide energy so you don’t need to use a more expensive legume like alfalfa. You can use grass hay. You can give your horse extra hay during colder nights or when the wind howls in the day to keep him warm.