Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Wet Blanket: Winter Horse Care

Apparently there's actual controversy over whether to blanket a horse in winter.

Annie likes her blanket, but would have preffered pastel purple over blue.

 I'm serious! This happens! I've been on boards and such where one person will claim that blanketing ruins a horse for life: "If you put a blanket on them all the time you mess all that [natural toughness] up and you will be forced to blanket that horse until the day it dies." Another person will accuse non-blanketers of cruelty on the level of clubbing baby seals. Wow people. Settle down.

Whether or not to blanket a horse is a decision you can make based on weather conditions, the condition of the horse, etc-- but either way, it's probably fine.

Here are the FACTS:
  • Yes, wild horses do survive without blankets. But some do get frostbite, or become ill.
  • Blanketing a horse does not cause permanent physical changes. Like "hat hair," blanketing will temporarily smush down a horse's hair, limiting its ability to trap warm air for insulation when the blanket is removed. Just brush the horse to help it re-fluff.
  • A soaking wet blanket is worse than no blanket at all. 
  • Older horses, thin horses and clipped horses obviously need a bit more help to stay warm.
  • Feeding more hay, more times during the day, will do a lot to help horses stay warm.
  • Well-fed horses with some kind of shelter will not be totally fine in any weather conditions, just the vast majority of them. Generally, wet + bitter cold = dangerous. One or the other is ok.
  • Use common sense. If you are outside and absolutely freezing even with your winter coat on, you horse might need a blanket.
Wild mustang showing signs of frostbite.

For me, blanketing is usually based on guilt. If I feel cold in my apartment, dammit, I feel guilty about my horses being out in the colder pasture.

When I was a teen, full of callous disregard for anyone except myself, I never used to blanket my horses. They survived just fine.

Then I grew up a bit, developing some more empathy along the way, and started blanketing my older horse.

Now, I blanket any horse when the temperature drops into single digits, or when there's a nasty wind, or when I just feel like I should-- but sometimes, after forgetting to haul the newly-dried blankets back to the farm from my kitchen, I will also say, "screw it guys, suck it up tonight, okay?" and not feel too terrible.

By the time I'm old, I'll probably be swathing every living thing in crocheted underwear and hats as early as October, for no other reason than to take pictures like these:

You can tell they're absolutely delighted.

More Notes on Blanketing:
  • DO practice putting one on your horse BEFORE you absolutely have to. It sucks really bad to train a reluctant/spooky horse to hold still for the blanket. It sucks even worse when you're freezing, the ground is icy and the wind is flapping the blanket around everywhere.
  • The older over-the-head type is especially bad for spooky horses. Invest in a front-buckled version. Trust me on this one.
  • DO take blankets off when it gets warmer!! Horses with their winter coats will suffer from being overheated otherwise.
  • Blanket sizing: take a tape measure and measure your horse from the middle of its chest, along its side, to its butt crack. Round to the nearest even number. 
  • Make sure your horse's blanket fits okay and isn't rubbing anywhere. Fleece padding can help prevent rubs and pulling. If you blanket all the time, take it off once in a while to make sure it isn't biting into a horse's neck. Your horse will thank you for the break, and the opportunity to run around and roll freely.


  1. Thanks for the horse care comments. You have quite the experience. What do you know of any horse supplements that are great? I'm working on keeping my horse healthy, warm, and happy during the winter months. Thank you.

    1. I'm not sure if you are just advertising Platinum stuff or not, but I'll answer your question.

      Most regular horses on a good, balanced don't need much in the way of supplements. If your horse has a salt block and a mineral block, plus access to pasture, you're probably fine. I do give my horses a "multivitamin" type supplement like Equishine during the winter and during periods of hard work, just to make sure they're getting everything they need.

      Pregnant mares should of course have special vitamins.
      Horses with arthritis can get some benefit from glucosamine supplements.
      Horses with weak hooves MAY benefit from hoof supplements, but research is thin.
      Horses living in sandy areas should get a daily SandClear or similar supplement to prevent sand buildup and colic.
      Horses that have trouble keeping weight do great with soaked beet pulp added to their grain ration.
      Horses that have issues with founder/navacular do well with Metaboleeze and other supplements.

  2. yes,you are right admin,but the simple thing is that,whenever you misuse any thing,it causes of damaging,if horse blankets are used in right way of using.then don't you think all the problems of damaging horse will resolve??

  3. I favor using the woven wire also. For the reasons Bill gives, and also because it has more "give." I have used a woven wire round pen for many years, and still do. Five or six years ago we built a second round pen panels with cattle panels in a different field. It looked very spiffy. The first time we used it was at a clinic, where an out-of-control novice dog ran one of the sheep into a panel. Its neck broke and it had to be put down (fortunately, one of the clinic attendees was a vet). If that sheep had been run into wire fencing I'm sure the damage would have been minimal