How do I know if my horse needs a blanket?
To blanket, or not to blanket. There is no easy answer here, except that it varies for each and every horse out there. I’m not a fan of the “blanketing is un-natural” argument for several reasons - one being that very little of what we do is “natural” for domesticated horses. So, we need to do what we can to make them comfortable and safe. And sometimes that includes blankets.
So. Much. Cold.
So how do you decide? You have a few things to consider here.
-How hairy does your horse get? If he’s crazy hairy, I would first start to wonder if he’s part yak and then I might call the Veterinarian to test for some metabolic issues that can be common in horses. If he gets hairy enough to keep him warm at night, is it too much hair for the daytime? If so, a clip job may be in order.
-What if he doesn’t get hairy at all? Many breeds have much “thinner skin” (a common saying and likely not based on much) and seemingly barely grow a coat at all. Add a cold climate and that makes for some very uncomfortable nights (and days!) My red headed horse's idea of a winter coat is three extra eyelashes and not much else!
The beauty of blankets is that you have tons to pick from - a solution for every horse!
-What’s your climate like? Are you inside the arctic circle, or can you wear shorts during the holidays? Remember that horses grow a coat depending on the amount of light in a day - not the temperature. Never have a night below 50? You may never need to use more than a sheet.
-Is your horse clipped? Many show horses are clipped so they can compete all year long. Competitions aside, if you are actively training your horse in the winter and sweat is a daily occurrence, you may consider clipping so that the drying time is vastly reduced and complications from overheating, etc. are reduced. If you live in Florida or many of the southern areas, a winter coat is just plain unfair as temps can still be in the 80’s during the day. If your horse is clipped - he needs a blanket!
-Is your horse a “hard keeper”? Horses that are naked during the winter must heat themselves from the inside, which means they need a lot more hay and food to produce that heat. This is not a viable option for many horse owners - pasture may be dormant, hay prices are higher now, the boarding facility may not be able to provide that service. Many older horses lose weight in an effort to stay warm. Pay attention and help with blankets if you can. You can learn more about "hard keepers" here!
-Now I’m really going to open a can of worms and address the “hair gets matted down under a blanket and effectively makes your horse colder as air can’t get in between the hairs and act as an insulator”. Yes, but if you use a thick enough blanket, you have no worries here. Layering a few thinner blankets will create a warmer environment also, and it makes removal easier as you can strip layers as the temperature allows instead of switching blankets. Bottom line is to use a blanket if your horse needs help getting and staying warm.
You will need to balance out his needs with what his natural coat can do. If he’s getting skinny, or overheated during the day, make some adjustments to his lifestyle to make it easier for him.
-Remember that every horse is different, and what works for yours may not work for your neighbor. There is no hard and fast rule here, except that you have a lot to consider during winter about how to help your horse be comfortable at night.
When considering using blankets in the winter, you can also reference these articles about blankets:
What other factors determine your use of blankets?