Here comes winter! Well, it’s starting to feel like fall in many parts of the country, and that means shaggy horses. If you’re clipping winter coats, you’re probably starting to go through your blanket inventory. If you’re leaving your horses fuzzy this winter, you might be wondering if your horse needs a winter blanket.
Well, he might not need a winter wardrobe at all. A healthy horse with a winter coat, a good diet with plenty of calories, and a windbreak with shelter probably doesn’t need a blanket until the cold gets extreme — as low as ten degrees, according to some vets. Horses are naturally well-suited to staving off cold temperatures and wind.
Horses with any sort of special need, though, such as the very young and the elderly, underweight horses, horses who have been ill, and the like, will need special attention in cold weather. Blankets should be used in conjunction with a higher-calorie diet to make sure they can produce the heat they need.
Your needs have to be taken into consideration, too. If you’re riding daily, a horse caked with mud on his two-inch winter coat is going to add a considerable amount of grooming time to your daily routine. With short daylight hours cutting into after-work evening rides as it is, you might not have time for all that currying and dandy-brushing. A blanket can bear the brunt of the mud, leaving you with a sparkling clean horse underneath, ready to be tacked up and ridden.
Of course, if your horse is going to be showing over the winter, that fur isn’t going to do anyone any favors. You’re probably going to clip your horse at least once, possibly two or three times during the winter to keep that show-ring look. Even if you’re not showing, consider how hard your training rides are going to be. Fuzzy horses take longer to cool out after workouts, and all that sweaty hair makes them susceptible to chills as they do cool down. Partial clips like hunter clips or trace clips can make this less of a problem, but you’ll still need to invest in a blanket to make up for all that exposed skin.
Once you begin to blanket a horse, it’s important to stick with the program. Blankets disrupt a horse’s natural insulation — they flatten the layers of the horse’s coat which are designed to keep out cold and wind. You’ll also have to keep the right blankets on hand for the elements. If your horse ends up outside during a rainstorm wearing a stable blanket, he’ll be stuck in a saturated, cold rug that won’t do his health any favors. Make sure you waterproof your turn-out blankets every year to prevent leaks that might cause a chill.
You might live in an area that sees more moderate temperatures — say, the forties — than freezing blasts. Remember that horses are well-suited to cold weather, and that one weight of blanket probably won’t get you through the winter. A light blanket for the moderate days, and a heavy one for the extreme cold days, is probably a good start for your horse’s wardrobe.
Blanket wisely, and you’ll have a happy, warm horse all winter long!