Monday, January 14, 2013

Blanketing is NOT Bad, and YOU Aren't "Natural!"

I cannot believe I have to write this.

Blanketing. A. Horse. Is. NOT. Bad!



No, blanketing does not make it more likely that rainrot or other skin problems will happen.
No, blanketing does not permanently damage a horse's ability to grow a winter coat.
No, blanketing has no real affect on a horse's coat.
No, blanketing is not just a gimmick created by blanket makers to get money.

If you believe any of these things, you have fallen for what we call Bunk Science. Meaning bullshit, urban myths, quackery, superstition, stupidity. Perhaps you have been reading, or listening to someone talk about, one of these:
  • A fake article about a non-existant study done by Colorado State University that proved blanketed horses were actually colder than unblanketed ones. This study NEVER HAPPENED. Read this article where the CSU Equine Sciences department says it's all fake.
  • The idea that "blanketing is unnatural." 
  • An "article," aka sales pitch, created by Mac's Equine, talking about how normal blankets are bad: "[blanketing damages the] 'arrector pili' muscles which are continually flattened with long term rugging. Eventually the horse loses its natural ability to keep warm by raising and lowering its hair follicles." Guess what? They want you to buy THEIR fancy Cool Heat blanket that won't cause this! Just $200 plus shipping!
Let me explain it to you, in words a three year old would understand.

When animals get cold, they get goosebumps on their skins.
The goosebumps make fur (hair) stand up straight.
When the fur stands up, there is more air in between the hairs.
The animal's body warms up the air between the hairs.
The extra warm air helps keep animals warm.
But if it is raining, or very windy, the hair can't stand up straight.
There are no more pockets of warm air to keep the animal warm.
The animal's fur doesn't work very well. The animal gets cold.
Putting a blanket on an animal can fix this.
Blankets make pockets of air inside the cloth, like a quilt.
Blankets can be waterproof and windproof, so they still work in rain and wind.
Putting a blanket on does not hurt an animal's ability to make goosebumps.

Is that too complex for you?! Try this: WEARING A HAT DOES NOT MAGICALLY MAKE YOUR HAIR UNABLE TO KEEP YOUR HEAD WARM. HAT HAIR IS NOT PERMANENT, OR HARMFUL. HATS ARE GOOOOOD.

*SIGH* Still not getting it? Think about your wool blanket, or your down feather coat, or your quilt, or hell, any piece of clothing you own. They work on the same principles a horse's coat does: they trap air to keep you warm. But when it's wet, or very windy, they can't do that. You can't keep warm under a soaked shirt. Oh, and YES, snow DOES count as "wet."


Also, young or old animals might not be strong enough to warm up the pockets of air in their coats by themselves. This is also true if an animal is sick or skinny. They just don't have enough energy to spare. They may be able to trap the air in their coats, but without being able to heat it up, it's useless.


Look people, if you don't want to blanket your horse, that's fine. I didn't used to blanket my own horses. As long as they are healthy and have food and shelter, they will probably be JUST fine. But do NOT go around telling people that blanketing is bad! There are situations where it's important! If you are seeking to justify your behavior, maybe you should just give in to your guilty conscience and buy your horse a damn blanket instead!

Oh, and I almost forgot:
Blanketing Is Not Natural-- But Neither Are You or Your Horse!

Pretty much nothing about having a horse is natural. We've bred them into specific shapes and coat colors, kept them in boxes, fed them things they'd never get in the wild, ridden them (which they would never be in the wild), protected them from predators they would otherwise face in the wild, and provided vet care, which they would never get in the wild.

So when it comes to blanketing, why the Hell do we suddenly care about what is "natural?" If you want to give your horse more freedom, less harsh training methods, and more "natural" food, good for you-- but don't confuse "natural" with "lazy." Let's talk more about what's "natural," shall we?
  • Horses 15H and over are not natural-- humans bred them that way. In the wild, horses are smaller, and therefore require less energy to keep warm. In fact, the vast majority of native wild "horses" are ponies, with small body masses and very shaggy coats. No, mustangs don't count-- those are feral horses introduced by humans. Those tend to be smaller too, however! 
  • Keeping a horse in a small enclosure is not natural-- they should be able to run and walk as far as they want to help stay warm.
  • Horses in North America aren't natural. Yeah yeah, the ancient ancestors of horses evolved in North America, but they went extinct-- horses as we know them came from Asia and parts of Europe, where winters are usually less harsh. Horses aren't "naturally" adapted to below-zero temperatures or three feet of snow.
  • In the wild, horses have access to forage 24/7. Continually eating helps keep them warm. Domesticated horses often don't have that option-- they are often fed a limited amount of hay and possibly grain, 1-2 times per day.
And let's not limit our examination of what is "natural" to horses. What about humans?! YOU, sitting there in your heated home/office, in front of your computer, are NOT NATURAL. You should be outside right now, dressed only in poorly-sewn furs, attempting to hunt down your breakfast in the snow! Don't bother putting on your glasses, grabbing your cell phone, or taking any medication before you head out there either, because those aren't natural, and God forbid you be unnatural!

Hope you're ready to have 6 kids, 'cause condoms ain't natural either!

By the way, here's what Lodi Equine Vet has to say about blanketing:

"The hardest part of cold weather for horses is battling the wind, being wet, or a combination of the two during the cold winter months. If your horse is NOT blanketed all winter, you can purchase a lightweight, waterproof blanket to use on your horse during these harsh conditions. When the temperature drops below zero on a windy day you can blanket your horse these days as well to protect them from the cold."

"When blanketing horses piloerection of their hair follicles is not permanently impaired."

More information on blanketing here:

Farming Magazine says blanket drafts when it's drafty!
Cherry Hill recommends blanketing in wet and windy conditions.
SmarkPak says DO blanket, and shows you how to measure your horse for one.
Equus Magazine explains when you should blanket.

Oh, and here's a summary of horse evolution.

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EDIT 11/07/14

To date, this is the most-read blog post I have ever published. At 80,327 views, it seems to have reached quite an audience. I never expected that! Thank you for sharing. (2nd edit: as of 12/9/16, this post is up to 1,54,847 views.)
I'd like to take this opportunity to respond to some comments and answer some questions:


"Blanketing Properly" was mentioned several times. Yes, of course you should not over-blanket, or get lazy about taking blankets off when temperatures climb. Remember, a horse's normal body temp is between 99-101 F so they're already "running hotter" than a human. Thanks to those who mentioned that.

Several people have said something like,
"If a horse shivers, boohoo! Call me a bad owner if you want..."

You ARE bad owner. Of course no one is going to blame you if your horse occasionally gets the shivers, just like you are not automatically a bad parent if your slip up and forget to dress your kid warmly enough a couple of times. But if you are regularly seeing your horse shaking with cold and you aren't doing anything about it, you suck! We train and discipline our animals, we keep them confined, we ask them to work for us, and therefore in exchange we have a duty to give them a humane level of care. I guess some folks think of animals as machines to be used (and abused) and then left to sit. Personally, I see my animals as partners, and I would never sit by and watch them suffer.


"But shivering is natural!"
Yeah, and so is dying. Mustangs regularly lose ears to frostbite. Old, sick and young mustangs do freeze to death. If you want to give your own horse the same level of care that a wild mustang gets, what you are doing is not really "horse ownership," is it? Also, if you still think constant shivering is OK, ask yourself: would you let your kid shiver? Your dog? Yourself?

"You're just a tree-hugging, PETA-worshipping, idealistic idiot, aren't you?"
Nope, I'm a steak-eating, horse-riding, critter-shooting, college-educated hick. I just happen to believe that animals deserve to be treated humanely until their deaths.

P.S. It's probably fair to tell you when I blanket my horses. My young mare gets one when the temps get below 15 degrees F, unless it's a sunny day. My old mare gets a blanket when it goes below freezing (32F) unless it's a sunny day. My pony doesn't get a blanket at all unless he's sick-- his hair is so fluffy he looks like a cotton ball with legs. They all have access to hay and heated water 24/7.

Despite my plea not to rely on quack science, one reader commented:

"...repeated blanketing can in fact stress those [arrector pili] muscles if it is not done correctly... the muscles may still try to raise the hairs, and will be unable to do so because of the blanket, which stresses the muscles as the animal is still cold and the hairs will continuously trying to rise to warm them." 

If there are any actual studies that prove this, I will eat my hat and my helmet.
This makes no sense. If the arrector pili muscles can get stressed from trying to raise hairs, why would they not be stressed while keeping hair raised all the time? Finally, if a blanket is heavy enough to keep a horse warm, the horse won't "get goosebumps." If the blanket is NOT heavy enough to keep a horse warm, then it's light enough for a horse to be able to "fluff up" under it.

One reader commented (sarcastically)  "...should I be blanketing my cattle too?"
In all seriousness, the answer is "yes, sometimes." Just like with horses, if a cow is too young, too thin or too sick to
have the energy to produce body heat, then yes, you should blanket a cow-- and many farmers do blanket young calves. Blanketing is less common for cattle overall simply because we care about them a lot less.




Why do you have to rant and shout and be nasty?
1) The sheer ignorance of some people in the horse world sometimes makes me very angry.
2)
It's MY blog. Don't like it? Write your own.

The bottom line, and what I was really trying to get at in this article was much better put by one of the commentors here: 


"I think you should blanket if your horse needs it. Period."

Well said! Whether it's age, breed, poor coat, illness, a sudden change of weather, or a harsh combination of wet and cold weather, just blanket your horse when he needs it.
Blanketing is NOT bad.

100 comments:

  1. I'm not disagreeing with your post, just nit-picking, but I don't think Wisconsin is appreciably colder than the eastern part of the tarpan's former range. And anyway, if the fact that horses aren't native to North America were relevant, that would imply that keeping a horse un-blanketed in Europe is OK.

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    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    2. Good point, thank you Lauren :)

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    3. Great article. People who ask why they have to build a shelter for their animals often say they don't have shelter in the wild. Yup. And they are also free to leave.

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    4. What evidence is this based on? I'd like to see the studies.

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    5. The original wild horses on the steppes were small, hardy and able to keep eating standing hay that grew on the steppes. The weak, sick, old and young DID die from the harsh conditions. They did not live in three feet of snow or driving rain. The steppes were dry plains. Everything we have done to them has made them less fit to survive so we have a duty to help them. Whether it's conscience or god telling you, please listen.

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    6. We have an American Mustang and I would blanket him on cold nights -10 and lower. Every morning he would have rolled until the blanket was around his neck and the rest was dragging behind. After trying different blankets and combinations, staying up at night to watch his tricks,I gave in and just leave him with his wind break, had all the destroyed blankets fixed and use them on the horses that want them. Does this make me a bad horseman?

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    7. It is the horse who is telling me. They free range on plenty of feed. As we are given Hay, by spring he has put on weight!

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    8. I would love to join you blog but cannot figure out how? To bad you do not get a horseman's input too😂

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  2. Love the blog! There is a good organization that will take the blankets you don't use for whatever reason (and they will do the repairs and cleaning) and get them to horses in need:
    http://blanketsforhorses.weebly.com/
    Even though all of our horses have access to shelters we have at least two blankets for each horse to use when they need them. Shivering is "natural" too but we sure try to avoid it!

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    1. Hah, yes, shivering is certainly a natural reaction! Thanks for the link!

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  3. It's not even just the super cold places. When I lived in northern Minnesota we never really thought about blanketing our horses, they had free access to a shelter and the trees made a good windbreak. It was still so bloody cold we had to keep the hose inside the house until the moment we were ready to fill the tank so it wouldn't freeze right away. But I'll say this about the weather: you knew what it was going to be like. Cold and snowy. Bam. The horses grew super thick coats and were fine all winter(it also didn't rain a lot).
    Now I live in Arkansas where snow is very rare but icy rain and windy days are common all winter. The weather will flip flop from 70's to 20 degrees in a few days and the horses just don't grow a ton of fur. So when it gets cold they don't have a good natural defense- and one of our horses will stand out in the freezing rain and not in their nice warm stall and shiver and shake while everyone else is dry and under cover. Now we blanket fairly often, especially if it's rainy or really windy. Sheeze,it's not just the horses; I complain more about the cold here then I did up North! At least it was a dry cold.

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    1. Yep, same here! Arkansas is not easy on the critters!

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    2. I own a 15-year-old Arabian gelding, and I never blanket him in winter. I don't even own a blanket. Even the last two record breaking Michigan winters with -25 actual temperatures and -38 wind chills, he still did very well. He remained perfectly healthy through both winters and barely lost any weight. Every time I put my hand into his fur, next to his skin, he was toasty warm. A horse will be warm in winter if they are kept dry, have a good wind block, and good quality hay available. My horse has a lean-to with three and a half sides. I fill it up with straw and put hay in the corner, and he is good to go. Horse hair is one of the warmest fibers on earth. It's just like wool. There are buildings in Antarctica which are insulated with horse hair. They just need to be kept dry and out of the wind. I don't think it's healthy to blanket a horse continuously because they can sweat underneath that blanket, and they won't dry as quickly as without a blanket, and they lose some of their ability to regulate their own body temperature while that blanket is on.

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    3. I Agree. We're on the MO/Arkansas line and the weather here changes every 15 minutes!! We do have a loafing shed which was built where the large wall faces the Northern Winds but we do have mountain lion's, in fact 2 females and a male that are tagged, so if they horses have to run, they can. We do provide weatherbetta blankets which are waterproof and probably warmer than my own coat! Our horses do get a beautiful fluffy coat and we have never had a problem with any skin conditions.

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    4. My Arabian gelding didn't need to be blanketed until he turned 19. He used to get super fluffy and stay fat. His 19th year, he was fluffy, but lost a ton of weight despite having 24/7 access to hay water and shelter. As they age, it's more difficult for them build up extra fat to stay warm. Never say never to a blanket.

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  4. Good points! Thank you. Our horses have 24 hour turnout with a run-in. They get shaggy, as nature intended. They don't think they need blankets (and they don't) except in the depths of winter or when we're getting sleet. (We're on the CT shoreline, pretty mild as winters go.) Amazingly, they know when they want a blanket and don't fuss then. ;)

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  5. No problem blanketing properly, and that's the key. I've seen fully coated, fully fleshed horses blanketed with full neck covers and sleazies in the sun, in 70 degree weather, galloping around and getting super sweaty, then being left in the same blankets all day and night. Blanket for the conditions and the welfare of the horse, not because you think Pookums looks cold because he shivered a fly off his back.

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    1. "Properly" being the operative word here. People put blankets on horses that are already wet rain and mud soaked in effect creating a steam bath. People aren't always around to remove the blanket when the temps climb to outragesously warm (high temps) when the sun comes out, the art of blanketing seems beyond the dedication level of most back yard horse keepers. Yet when I drive by I see Pookums standing with his head down, tongue hanging out, in the shaded part of the paddock with the blanket half rubbed off and I feel sad for him. Proper protection from the elements (shed, rain cover, wind break) good flesh going into fall/winter. Maybe the aged horse in not so good flesh ought to be moved to the S/W US, say Arizona for the winter. Now there's an idea for someone who owns property in the desert south west. Bring your snowbird/older equine to AZ for the winter, return to the Northern states in Summer.

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    2. People who aren't prepared to monitor their horses (rugged or unrugged) at least twice a day or who don't have an suitably experienced person doing that for them shouldn't have horses ... its as simple as that. Once upon a time I used to make allowances but not any more - if you wont do the hands-on hard yards (or pay to have someone else do what you're too lazy or too inexperienced to do) then go to a riding school & get your horse-fix that way. just sayin :)

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    3. Thanks for saying this. I would love to have a horse of my own but I also know my current job and lifestyle, which is why I am leasing now and for the foreseeable future. I'm glad for both me and the horse that when I looked at buying, I didn't do it. Now if and when I finally do buy it will be with enough experience to do it right and I'll ensure proper time for care.

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  6. Great post! Thank you I have shared it. The never ending debate at our barn. :)

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  7. While I appreciate the writer taking the time and effort to write about this topic, I don't think her attitude is necessary. The supposed study by the University of Colorado got a LOT of play. Why wouldn't people believe it? It, too, was well written. So, please ... help educate, but don't do it by belittling others!

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  8. Lady, you are so not getting it ? Let me explain to you like an adult not a 3 year old. Try wearing your winter coat in the house for a day, all zippered up with a scarf on, then go outside and without adding a warmer jacket, work outside for several hrs. Tell me you are NOT cold.
    You have created moisture under your coat, soaked into your under clothes, than you expect to be warm? No different on a horse or dog or any animal. Animals have a wool type hair that keeps them dry "NATURALLY", now get that word right??? That doesn't mean a horse 200 years ago is any different. It is Human that changes the way horses are, by shaving for shows or sheltering them all winter. For show or competition horses, by all means you must blanket your horse, for you have removed that element of nature (wool hairs). It is natural for horses to grow this hair.
    Now haven't you ever seen a horse or any animal, shake off the rain on a rainy day?? That is the way they shake the moisture off that wool and putting air in to keep warm. Explain to me, How does one do this with a blanket on??
    I live in the northern part of Canada, and cringe at the sight of a horse blanketed in the winter because Poopsy is cold. Lady when you see ice-cycles from under that blanket attached to the horses hair does not mean the horse is warm! The horse is sweating on some parts of it's body and the small wool hairs are "not "doing the right job by keeping the horse warm, and thus the horse cannot shake it out, the horse IS COLD. IF you were right, every deer and moose should be out there wearing a blanket, horses are NOT different. This is my opinion, and this is how I see it.

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    1. And there are some breeds that are really not meant to live in the cold areas. I own an Akhal Teke in Manitoba (Canada). He is blanketed in a combination of 7 blankets from mid November to April. I own a rain sheet and several mid and heavy weight bankets. I used to try to go without, but even with free feeding high quality hay and 5+lbs of high energy supplements a day, he lost 75 lbs over winter. On a 850 lbs horse. He litteraly would not eat any more, and still lost weight. Next year I blanketed and he kept great weight.
      Desert horses, with lightly muscled bodies do not do well in cold weather, no matter how good a coat they grow!
      BTW, he was not clipped, and not even in work.

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    2. I have a near naked horse too. Contrary to what many folks say, not all horses grow a good winter coat. our near naked girl, is never been clipped, and her winter woolies only include a slight (and I mean slight) increase in coat, but not enough to keep her warm.
      Even though she is stabled, its gets cold inside the barn and she needs to be covered. Not all breeds are made to withstand cold, cold temps. Same reason Yaks wouldn't survive in the desert.

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    3. Horses raised in colder weather will grow longer coats. Don't generalize about horses in other areas! I have 2 horses- one grows a thick coat and I never blanket her. My 20-year old Arab does not and stands and shivers if she gets wet. So you are saying I should just let her shiver until she collapses?

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  9. Replies
    1. Well written?! Not hardly. The author does nothing but belittle and berate the readers throughout the article. Most blanketing studies find that there is an art to properly blanketing a horse and for the most part most horses don't need it. This author is ranting at best. Every rant I have ever heard makes a valid point or two but this article is far from well written. TO WRITE IN CAPS IS ANNOYING AND UNPROFESSIONAL...see you didn't want to read that did you?

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  10. I recommend everyone who owns a horse to go out when it is snowing, walk up to your horse, take your fingers and feel under that snow. They are warm and dry believe it or not. I live in northern Wisconsin so I know the weather we can get. I actually cringe when I see a blanketed horse in winter. According to what is "natutal" in your blog should I be blanketing my cattle too?

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    1. If you drive a horse to be wet with sweat, and it is a cold day with wind you should blanket him. That is the one time I do use a blanket
      "

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  11. While I agree that blanketing is perfectly acceptable and even necessary in many situations, you need to check you anatomy and physiology. The Arrector Pili are in fact the muscles that CREATE goose bumps, so the foundation of your article is somewhat flawed. Also, repeated blanketing can in fact stress those muscles if it is not done correctly/effectively, or is stopped after a time when it is inappropriate to do so and without giving the animal proper time to adjust. This is true because with improper blanketing, the muscles may still try to raise the hairs, and will be unable to do so because of the blanket, which stresses the muscles as the animal is still cold and the hairs will continuously trying to rise to warm them.

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    1. People come on have YOU lost the ability to have goose bumps when your cold NO. And I am guessing that anyone that lives in the north wear a coat now and agin.. For Pete's sake .. Think about it.

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  12. Very good article. People need to use some common sense instead of just repeating things they may have heard or read. Not everythibg you read is true, not everything you see is necessarily true. Spend some time thinking things through and instead of simply reacting.

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    1. And what are you doing other than what you just said not to do.

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  13. My sweet, lovely Mare Ruby is cozy in this freezing New Hampshire climate. All of the stable's horses are blanketed and they are all as healthy as.......well, Horses.

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  14. I think you should blanket if your horse needs it. Period. I have a Mustang X that has a MUCH thicker coat than my Standardbred has. Mustang will probably not need a blanket, but im guessing come late December or January my Standie will need a blanket for the extra protection. They both have full access to stalls and seem to stand in looking out when its raining an or blowing a gale. Snow keeps them in too. I would never condemn anyone for blanketing a horse. They know their horse much better than I do. BLANKET away its COOOOOOOLLLLLLD in Maine!

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  15. My horses wear blankets all winter long. I ride, with the blanket their coat is shorter and they don't sweat as much and try faster off. But I take the blanket off once a day and on days when the temp is high they go sunbathing and back on over night. A well fitted blanket is the key, sometimes you got to sew the straps higher, pad somewhere ......

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  16. Loved the article, thank you. Needed to hear a sober voice of reason. I believe in blanketing. Such as yourself I believe nothing that we do with our horses are natural anymore. I didn't read all the comments but young and elderly horses are also in danger of the cold. It is also essential to be educated when it comes to blanketing and know how to.

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  17. Your point seems to be that blanketing a horse is occasionally ok, but mostly not necessary - I agree with this. Your trying to explain it like we are 3-year-olds is offensive. The majority of problems in the non-pro horse world come from women arguing like a bunch of hens, picking at each other. This is a prime example.

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    1. Bravo!!! Very well said!!

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    2. Thank you! Well said!

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    3. people are stupid ,,, so I guess it is necessary to explain it in basic terms,,,,, people's love of pseudo academic horseshit is amazing

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  18. my horses paw through the snow all winter "naturally" haha. lots of trees for shelter and one large shelter in the 160 acre pasture and they look better than most horses I see in my area. Where I live it gets down to -40 Celsius and have yet to see one shiver or act cold.

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  19. Sometimes it's a requirement to talk to people like they are 3. If you write an article intended for adults, adults don't read it. But add some pictures to illustrate your point and make your point in several different ways, gets the point across. So offend away! You made your point and it was interesting, not boring. Good job! People just need to sue common sense when blanketing. Problem with that is, many in the horse community lack that. And it drives me crazy too when people quote theories as facts when no studies have EVER been done to prove that what they are sharing is true. That makes ME CRAZY. Like letting your horse out of it's stall only at night to graze to keep it from foundering. That's silly and without occasional sunshine, it would seem like a very important vitamin might be missing. But I don't know if a study has ever been done on that either.

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  20. I agree with the message you are trying to get across, and it definitely seems to be getting lost on some people. It's common sense when to blanket and when not to - sadly, sense is just not that common anymore. I live in Canada, and the last winter we had was cold... routinely -35C ( that's a balmy -31F for you metric folks), and that's before the wind chill was factored in.

    My horses, both healthy, good weight, who had access to free choice hay and water, multiple, and more then adequate shelter options wore blankets for most of last winter.. why? because they were shivering like scared little puppies in the freezing cold wind, same thing with the previous winter. The two winters ( 3 and 4 years ago) were milder, so they only wore blankets when it was rainy out. My girls are already starting to fill out with winter furries ( and fat lol), and will be left blanketless, unless they start to shiver again.

    And as for the argument about damaging the arrector pili muscles - people wear clothes EVERY DAY.. big heavy ones in the winter too... We cover up way more than a horse blanketed in winter, and guess what? No damage to the AP muscles... None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Don't believe me? Feel free to use your AC to make it even -5 in your house, bet you get goosebumps real quick.

    The only damage a blanket will do to a horse, will be done if it is improperly fit to the horse it's on. Even those annoying rub marks they can get grow normal hair back in when the summer coat comes.

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    1. The problem here is this: HORSES AREN'T PEOPLE!! In my 50+ years of horse ownership, I have used a blanket maybe 5 times. Maybe. Shivering isn't a bad thing. Horses in N Dakota winter fine in below zero temperatures. If the horse isn't given proper hay, then maybe. Roughage and hay provide heat in its digestion. Particularly in the Northwest, where the temperature rarely dips below zero. I haven't ever had a vet out for any respiratory problems. When I called and asked him if blankets were necessary here, he said, basically, "Go ahead and blanket. I need the respiratory barn visits." God set these animals up to withstand a whole lot more weather than humans. If you shave coats for shows, keep them in. Common sense people!

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    2. Everyone keeps commenting about how their horses winter well through harsh conditions up north and in Canada without blankets...I just want to know ... how do you know??? So they didn't drop weight, doesn't mean they were comfortable. Did the horse tell you, "don't worry about me out here without a blanket in negative temps tonight...you just go on back into your heated house and enjoy a hot bowl of soup, I'll be fine hovered up next to this stand of trees". Seriously, just because they can survive doesn't mean it's necessarily comfortable... why not provide a little extra something to make life in freezing temps a little better? And all the people commenting about how if you feel their bodies they are nice and warm... most living beings emit body heat even in cold temps...of course a living animal's body will feel warm compared to the freezing air around it... still doesn't mean it's happy and comfortable... I don't understand why so many people are adamantly against any added protection. Domesticated horses have different needs than their wild ancestors. Just because my dog could technically survive outside when it's below freezing doesn't mean I'm going to make him stay out and endure the freezing weather...why do we treat our horses so differently? I want to ensure my horse is as comfortable as possible whether that means he needs a rain sheet, stable blanket, fleece cooler, waterproof turnout, etc etc to fit the situation.

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  21. This article was helpful to me because I've wondered whether to blanket or not. I'm not sure why all the sarcasm though. lol.

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  22. While I fully agree with the blog post written, let's just say...

    Blanket if you want to! If you don't, then don't! Be prepared to deal with any and all consequences with either decision.

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  23. Great article I believe in blanketing when condition justify using them. As for some of the commentators...I enjoyed the humerous sarcasm...it is meant to grab your attention and for some of those folks out there that always give us a hard time about blanketing it is needed! Bravo!

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  24. Try Northern Alberta Canada - weather can drop to -55 with the wind!

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    1. Exactly. The winter before last here in Fairbanks, Alaska it went to -55 and didn't get above -20 for two months. You bet I blanket for that.

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  25. GREAT article!! I'm showing this to a friend who has an elderly, skinny horse and sent me the fraudulent Colorado State article last year, just so she would get me to STOP bugging her about blanketing her horse in cold and rain. My horse is young, fat and healthy, and if he is going to be standing outside with no shelter in freezing rain, he WILL have his Rambo on!! Thanks for some really good common sense info on blanketing!

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  26. I've tried it both ways, my horses were much happier and warmer when I put blankets on them. They have a normal coat of hair and I paid close attention to them.

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  27. Personally, I prefer not to blanket, even in the snowy winter. But then, my horse is young, healthy, well fed from lovely summer grass, and has a fully sheltered walk in barn available when he needs it, not to mention two other young healthy horses ready to snuggle.

    I will always go no blanket when possible, and under the circumstances I've described, I think blanketing is silly. That being said, the author is completely right that in a very young or especially very old horse, sometimes they need it because they just can't keep their body heat up. If you are determined to be completely "natural" under these circumstances, than you're gonna have to let your old horse freeze to death, that's what would happen out in nature. Personally, I'll blanket him instead.

    But last point, where blanketing does get bad, is what I see all the time... people who somehow forget to remove the blankets after a cold night with the horse standing baking now in the warm sun. It's especially bad here in South Africa, where a night can be cold enough to warrant a blanket (especially if you haven't allowed your horse's coat to grow long) and then the day is beautifully warm. That is stupid and just makes life uncomfortable for your horse. I wish people would use some common sense sometimes.

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  28. Nice article. I agree - blanket your horse when he NEEDS it! I have an assortment of blankets on hand for all my charges, though they are in like new condition after 8 years :) as they rarely get worn. The horses are out 24-7-365, in NH, (only exception is frightful blizzards or hurricanes, so I don't have to go out there :) ) .

    I DO wish you had put a mention in about RESPONSIBLE blanketing at the beginning of your article instead of as a follow-up at the end. Too many people will just go with one weight and not pay attention to how well it meets the needs of the day.

    Thanks for the thoughtful presentation of information.

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  29. Thank you. I am sick and tired of people out there that think they are "horse" person and this natural horse crazes is getting out of hand. Some of these people are helpful but most are just con artist making a easy buck off of people that have more dollars than sense.

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  30. Should horses be clipped (shaved) if blanketed?

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  31. The thing about this article is its ranting about "don't tell people to not blanket your horse" but really isn't giving guidelines as to why or when you should blanket. I do believe a lot of horse owners try to "baby" their horses as if they were their actual human babies. So when its 50 degrees out and they are cold, they think their horses need a blanket as well. What should be stated in this article are the proper guidelines as to when certain horses should be blanketed. Unclipped horses do not need a blanket until it drops below freezing, and in most cases on calm cold days, when it hits 20s to the teens(i'm talking in F). Especially if your horse is stalled. Horses warm themselves a lot easier then they can cool themselves and heat exhaustion is far more to be concerned about. If a horse was REALLY cold out in the snow like "humans" why do you see them out frolicking and rolling. Usually after a good romp they do that to cool themselves down, as they roll in summer in dirt and mud to do the same. In below zero days I would like you to put on coveralls, go out into a field with your horses and groom them for a good 30mins... and tell me you dont start unzipping and shedding layers. Now think of the horse with fur covering their whole bodies, PLUS natural ability to warm up, and a blanket on your 30+ degree day. Sweatastic. Its ok to blanket, but please don't write an article that a new teen owner will see and think its the word of God, and put a blanket on a stabled horse in 30-50 degree weather, only to cause heat exhaustion which in turn can cause many metabolic problems. I don't think most people think its wrong to blanket, just wrong when we see a horse on a 50degree day with a blanket on sweating its hiney off. Just because we domestic horses in a way that they have to rely on us for food and shelter etc, doesn't mean horses have lost their God given abilities to thrive. As humans do as well, people learn to tolerate temperatures better after living in them for so long.

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  32. I live in Ct. and don't usually blanket my MFT or draft mare because they get coats you can bury your hand in. They also have a barn they can go into and out of at will. However, I have a QH mare that thanks to American breeders, has hardly any coat. She requires a blanket during the 20 degree and below temps. I put it on at night and during the day remove it so she can catch the sun rays. No sun, the blanket stays on. Every horse is different, therefore I try to manage their care accordingly and my guys stay healthy.

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  33. Well, I have a falabella cross with a thick double coat that still shivers in winter. We blanket her because we know she needs it.

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    1. We also own a Falabella Stud and he does so get a blanket. Your right - he hardly has ears for the they are lost in the fur! However sometimes the cold just over takes these guys and when people ask me "what did they do it wild?" well ... they died an early death that is what the did! Our little guy is 19 years old. He acts like he is 5. :)

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  34. I think this only applies in the US since rugging up horses in Northern Europe is not even a debate, it's just done. I think if I didn't rug up my Akhal-Teke in the winter, he would probably smack me! Besides I'm not going to argue with 3000 years of Akhal-Teke tradition as this breed has been rugged up for that long ;)

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  35. Where I live it is not very often we get above 0F during the winter months, if you let horses live naturally then they can so easily thrive, we had -50 last winter, not including wind chill, our horses hadn't been feed hay all winter, they dug up grass from under the snow, even though they had good quailty grass hay available to them, they had shelter right there with the hay too.... all of this within 40 yards of eachother warm water, shelter, and food, and the only times they would come up to the farm were when we were getting them out to ride, they were all fat and happy, 99% of horses don't need blankets, from time to time when we got blizzards they would look like the horse in your 4th picture, but then they would get down and roll around in the snow to cool off..... if the horse shiveres a little boo hoo.... call me a bad owner but if they arn't shivering too often then its not a big problem, and call me and my family bad horse owners but when I was younger my grandparents horses had a VERY natural lifestyle, they were used for riding, but they didn't have much handeling other than that, they never saw a vet, or a farrier, they didn't get shots or blankets, and like our horses didn't have to be babied all winter, they would rather be out standing in the middle of a blizzard than be in a warm shelter, horses have not been domesticated very long compared to other animals, and they still have all that nature has given them, let them choose whats best for them......

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  36. I have several horses...my mare...gets a very thick winter coat...n is often fine with just a rain sheet to keep the wet off...she hates getting a blanket on...she is 20...my 26 year old standardbred, must have a medium weight blanket on any time Temps drop below 55 degrees. We tried To leave him without a blanket, n he lost over 100 pounds during the winter...n I feel terrible I didn't catch the weight loss, but he had a super thick coat, n it wasn't until the vet told us that it was simply bc the gelding was cold n was burning to many calories trying to stay warm...so he automatically gets a blanket....in my opinion, just like people, every horse is different....one person might b comfortable in 60 degree weather without a coat, and another wears a heavy jacket....some horses require extra help, n others do not...if u r unsure about blanketing your horse...monitor the weight n food intake, alertness, skin n coat health, and last but not least...talk to several vets in ur area...vets are well trained in how a horse's body works n so forth...ask 3 vets what they think is best for ur individual horse. Vets in ur area should b familiar with the climate n weather...every horse is different....do what u think is best...n so long as the horse is healthy...n is loved...that's all that really matters...

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  37. Great post and good points. I do disagree that people "care about cattle a lot less" (maybe you do, but not people who own them - they are worth more than horses these days), they just happen to be more widely accepted and treated as what they are - livestock. Which is what horses are and should be treated as. Blanket as needed, but for the most part it's unnecessary. I too doubt it causes any harm.

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  38. Actually in your rant you pointed out EXACTLY what is wrong with many horse owners. . .horses are kept in UNNATURAL conditions. Horses are NOT meant to be kept in stalls, being fed high protein feed, with hay fed in portions. They ARE meant to be out 24/7 (with access to shelter) so they can forage, round bales are great for this if you don't have enough pasture. Grain is secondary and dependent on the type and amount of exercise a horse gets. Keeping a horse stalled and blanketed DOES inhibit their ability to grow hair DURING that time. For Example, the folks who bring barrel horses to shows that look like they do in the Summer even though it is freezing out. My barrel horse is competitive, lives outside, has free access to pasture and water in the summer and free access to hay and water in the winter. She is grained only 1 time a day and she is 18 years old. She doesn't wear a blanket. I agree there are SOME horses that need help in the winter. Blankets are good when hauling in cold weather or a sheet for use during cool down after intense exercise. But horses do thrive in a natural environment. There IS science and research to back that up. As well as my years of experience watching horses become cribbers, weavers and wackadoodles from being kept in unnatural environments. Horses are beautiful creatures that we have the responsibility to protect. In my opinion, many of the things humans do in the name of "show pen success" should be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

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  39. http://www.thehorse.com/articles/34718/study-horses-can-communicate-blanketing-preferences

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  40. This has always been my argument as well! Very few domesticated horses live in "natural conditions". My horses live in a pasture with a walk in shelter, have hay 24/7 and still this is unnatural. With all the selective breeding we have done over the years and the advancements in breeding technologies we are able to breed and raise horses in areas of the world where "naturally" they were never intended to exist. It's like taking a Chihuahua to Canada and expecting it to survive during the winter outside without a blanket.

    I like to ride in the winter. My horses don't get worked as hard as they would other times of year but they still get worked and use energy that in a natural environment they would conserve to raise and/or maintain their body temperature. So I blanket the horses that are being ridden to help them eliminate unnecessary heat loss. Whereas other comparable prey animals like cattle and deer reduce their movement to avoid expending energy in a natural environment.

    I also live in North west Arkansas. The weather here in very vollatile and constantly changing day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year. The weather is unpredictable and sometimes the animals don't have time to adjust.

    People need to use some common sense when deciding to blanket our not to blanket. For some horses in certain conditions it is unnecessary and potentially harmful. In other conditions it is necessary and can be life saving. If we compared the ages and lifespan of domestic horses to wild horses we would also see that domestic horses live longer than their wild counter parts. If I have an older horse that has trouble maintaining weight through the winter I am going to blanket him. In nature, and older horse like that would probably die during the winter. But that is "natural" just part of the circle of life.

    Thank you so much for posting this blog. I thought the content was good and the tone was entertaining. The only absolute in life is change. In this case, changes in the weather and I will prepare myself and my animals for that change accordingly. I will blanket some horses and not others, I will use varying thicknesses of blankets, I will feed some horses more hay and grain than others. When the weather changes again I well reevaluate and give them the individual feed and care based on each animals new requirements. Yet that requires a person to be attentive and put forth some effort. But that encroaches on an entirely new topic.

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  41. My horse is 32. That's not natural. He will, on occasion, say no to a blanket. I let him. But most of the time if it's cold and wet or windy, and I hold it up, he says "Bring it!!"

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  42. Agree. People just don't like to hear the truth because they feel oh so guilty about their own. Its sleeting here in Lexington Kentucky and my ponies are under roof, lights, and blankets. They aren't sweating. They aren't wet, iced or too hot. They are warm and I can sleep well. And, since I blanket and run barrels throughout the winter, I can run them without them getting soaked and hitting the cold air and getting sick as soon as we step outside. So ridiculous that this debate is even happening.

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  43. Funny, how little horse lovers know about cattle. Cattle are kept in herds and they take turns in the center of the huddle to warm up. They'd probably eat the blankets.

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    1. Thank you! I have both cows and horses, and this is so true of cattle! They really do not act very smartly most of the time, and really could care less about the weather.

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    2. They also freeze to death.... a huge problem for ranchers and calves. They have been know to bring in the mother and calf to barns and leave the others outside, but still a money lose.

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    3. The ranchers will bring in the mothers and the calf in during the winter. Ranchers also have issues with cows freezing to death in Montana and Wyoming. It is so common that the expected it every year. Also cattle don't live as long as a horse, since we kill them....

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  44. we had three horses outside in a record cold winter last year. I kid you not I was wondering about how they were faring when we drove by on one of the two coldest morning - its was -42 degrees Celsius with a wicked wind blowing- and where were the horses? Behind the wind fence eating their unlimited hay? Nope! Out pawing in the barley stubble with their tails to the wind! My opinions of how tough a healthy horse can be are forever changed. Natural is not the issue... What is best for your animal without coddling and therefore hindering his own protection capabilities is!

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  45. I live in Fairbanks, Alaska. The winter before last it got down to -55, and didn't get above -20 for TWO MONTHS… I have several horses, each requires a blanket at different temps. It isn't rocket science to determine if your horse needs a blanket or not. With hay being $15 for a 50 lb bale, you bet you I'm going to blanket, especially since I free feed hay. Nothing about a horse living in Fairbanks, or Alaska at all is natural, and certainly not my delicate 17 Oldenburg mare…. If you don't blanket during the winter here, your begging problems.

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  46. The first winter that I had my horse, a big bodied Appaloosa cross gelding, he had a pasture mate, full access to a walk-in stall from the pasture and was fed hay and grain twice a day. I let him grow out his winter coat, and he was a very fat and happy boy throughout the winter, and had no blanket. I didn't even own one. However, when we moved him to a friend's house, very rarely would he have access to shelter, maybe he'd go inside at night, but for the most part he was outside. Want to know what I did? I let him grow out his winter coat, and bought him a lightweight blanket for harsh weather, as he had no shelter during the day, sometimes night. If he had shelter, I would have never bought him a blanket. I live where winters can be pretty harsh, but usually temperatures never get below -20° F, and that is not terribly common. I would prefer to not have to blanket my boy, but if he has no shelter a lightweight blanket works during harsh weather. I am not for or against blanketing, I think that people need to know when it is okay and not okay to blanket.

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  47. Cattle are ruminants producing enormous internal heat from fermentation. Horses are hind-gut fermenters producing much less heat. This is really why we don't blanket cattle. Calves are not functional ruminants at birth and function instead as simple-stomached animals necessitating blanketing in extreme conditions.

    I appreciate this article because I'm tired of the junk science article circulating. I have a 25 year old gelding with a history of being a hard keeper in winter. He's blanketed. I have a 12 year old fluffy gelding who will eat anything in sight and doesn't struggle a bit. He's all natural. Simple.

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  48. Great blog entry! To me, the concept of not blanketing while allowing for 24/7 hay consumption via round bales and never brushing the hair flat is great if you have a huge pasture, healthy horses, and never ride. However, for those of us with a few horses we keep in stall /paddock combos and ride year round, this is just not feasible. We do not have lit arenas or indoor riding center, and do not want to spend saddle time after work grooming static dirty thick coats, have to cool down a wildebeest at dinnertime as darkness falls, and as for me, I feed 4 x a day so there is no constant consumption to provide heat producing 24/7 digestion. I am very aware of temps & blanket weights and change up weights for night time comfort and take off blanket during warmth of day. I have seen many a hard keeper, youngster and senior horse fill out and flourish with well fitting, well managed blanketing during the winter. The articles that state across the board 'Blanketing is Bad' simply are not stating the truth.

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  49. Awesome article. Thanks. Far too many "natural" nutters in the horse world. Like you say if we really wanted to be natural we would allow our horses to run free in the wild. I'm pretty sure my horses would not want that.

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  50. You bet we blanket our quarter horses. We also use coolers after hard work out. Everyone is Happy.

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  51. I think both parties are right.
    If you have an Arabian akhal teke whatever breed from a hot weather yes I would blanket them in cold weather
    However I would never or almost never blanket a fuzzy shire Clydesdale whatever I think you get the picture.
    I would also disagree with blanketing most foals unless they are a breed of hotter climates
    Glad I don't have to worry about this doesn't snow here or too cold

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  52. My horses actually welcome the blanket when it gets really cold, windy and icy. I only keep the blanket on during the storm, but once the storm is over the blanket comes off. I've experienced when a horse shivers they are loosing weight because it takes energy to shiver. Yet again, my horses when a storm is blowing in, they invite the blanket, they see me with the blankets and they are getting in line to get one

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  53. I live in the mountains of BC and it gets pretty damn cold here in the winter. I never blanket any of my horses. I do have a good shelter with a windbreak though. Their coat standing up is plenty of insulation. I also never ride them hard in the winter so no shivering. I added a heater to their water tank so they could drink room temp water and they get a warm beet pulp, bran and flax seed mash every morning on the cold days..Never any problems.

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  54. I don't know why anyone would read an article that is a badly written as this. Never mind the science, the tone is so crude, rude, bullying and sarcastic that the message is completely lost.

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    1. I could not agree more! This is just one more person shouting (and spouting) their version of what's right and wrong out into the void. There is some truth in this post, but it gets lost within the ranting, railing and falsehoods.

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    2. I beg to differ. I can see this being written after being pushed over the edge from talking to another know-it-all nutter that picks and choses what "natural" care should be given to horses. These types don't have opinions, they make pronouncements using a tone of voice implying that if you don't agree you don't deserve to own a horse. I thought it was well-written and debunked several myths about blanketing. Just my opinion. Y'all do what you think is best.

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  55. Great article. Some people make everything in horse care that involves any effort or expense, 'not natural', and 'natural' has become a word that is surrounded by histrionics and money, a bad combination. One point. Horses don't run long distances to keep warm. They run short distances, and it's to run away from predators. Eating hay generates warmth, and if fed well, most healthy adult horses don't need blankets in most conditions. There were a lot of 'mosts' in there. There are conditions that warrant blankets, and horses that need blankets in specific situations.

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  56. Principles, rather than principal's

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  57. I like this article. I thought it was written well and expresses the bloggers thoughts. Are blankets "natural"? Of course not, but, neither is a roofed and sided shelter, free choice hay, heated water, or a water trough full of clean water. People that want to keep their horses "totally natural" miss those important things. Horses in the wild are NOT kept behind human made fences, have human built shelters, enjoy human grown hay, have human filled water troughs, wear human made halters, ridden by humans, have human contact at all, or live protected from predators, disease, or injury. My horses enjoy their access to fresh water, dry hay, grain, fenced areas protected from predators, and their blankets. They also live longer than wild horses because of the non natural things their lives include. In short, domestication is NOT NATURAL in any way. I live in North Florida and I blanket my horses. Why? Because my horses are used to warm to hot weather 90% of the year. When the temps drop below 40(sometimes it does go to single digits) I put their light weight, windproof, waterproof, breathable blankets on at night. We have wind almost all the time and the chance for rain at a moments notice. My horses do not grow thick heavy coats like horses up north because we have more warm weather than northern areas. We do get some cold nights, but, not enough for them to get used to "cold" weather. Blast me if you want for blanketing because it's not natural, but, next time you are putting out hay or filling a water trough remember that wild horses don't get any of that either.

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  58. I have 6 horses. All but one (Haflinger cross who grows a winter coat like no bodies business) wear heavy duty waterproof rugs in the winter and light weight waterproof sheets in the spring and fall.

    All of my horses enjoy living outside, they have a 3 sided shelter and a treeline to help reduce the wind and come in during Iowa blizzards or extreme heat to stand under fans. The thoroughbred and 2 paint geldings are hard keepers which is something that the author didn't even write about. I spend a ton of money on good grain...and I don't mean the crap you buy at tractor supply! The Thoroughbred eats A L O T of grain just to maintain his weight...and still doesn't maintain his weight very well not to mention he has thin skin and never grows a winter coat. If he or the 2 hard keeper AQHA/APHA geldings shiver, they loose calories. When they loose calories that costs me money because then I have to feed them more to make up for the calories they lost shivering.

    Blanket them and reduce your grain feed bill. My horses also get 24/7 quality hay to eat out of slow feed hay bags - another great topic on how to be more "Natural" to horses that are living in an unnatural world!

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  59. Hi, didn't read all the comments, but wanted to say that knowing your horse is a huge step in being responsible about blanketing. One of my horses starts sweating when she eats. Doesn't seem to matter how cold or hot it is. The other seems to have a colder feel to her during the winter, even though she is an easy keeper and has a thick coat. So along with watching temperatures and rain/snow, considering age and health, everyone should really know their own horse. I worked at a large barn for several years, and I know for a fact that the majority of boarded horses are not really known by their owners. Or their riders. So take the time to get to know your own horse. They are awesome animals.

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  60. So what if u live in an area where it only gets abot 50 degrees and rarely ever rains?

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  61. All I can say is thank you thank you and then some! I have been blanketing my horses for over 30 years. My instincts always prevailed when I read articles or some "know it alls" chimed in to laden the guilt on me about how much healthier it is for horses to go without blankets. I went on my instincts, my instincts only ever failed me when I DIDN'T listen to them. I greatly appreciate your excellent and well written article. After reading it you realize how incredible ignorant people are and I say that with reference to the fact against blanketing as it is not natural to the horse. As you mention, what is natural to the horse? Fact is nothing is natural with how we breed, house and care for our equine friends. Each horse is, however, different and will then need us to help them out and not cling to our ignorant believes, to delve a bit deeper into the legitimacy of articles written about yay or nay. Thank you again.

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  62. I just moved to Florida from Ohio, and I don't see why location should change how I blanket my horses. Temperature is temperature, regardless of where on the planet you are. I sheet below 50F (below 60F if raining), medium below 40F, heavy below 30F, layered on down the lower you go. Already in our first month here there's been 3 nights where the low was 35/36/etc. You betcha my babes had their medium's on (they live out 24/7). I've been saying for years what you said in this blog that I just came across - NOTHING about owning a horse is natural, that's literally the point of domestication, so IDGAF if blanketing isn't either. The stupidity in the horse world often angers me, as well.

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  63. The best i have read in a long time!
    Are shoes and coats natural for us. I think not. So if my horses get more warmth and comfort I will see to it everytime. Again thanks!

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  64. Loved your article, it put a smile on my face to know there are other like minded people out there. This winter, so far, has been rather brutal and don't even like sending the dogs outside without a coat on. Call me crazy, but damn it's been cold. I wouldn't go outside without some protection in below zero weather, why should my furry friends be denied some protection too!!! Happy Holidays to all, including our furry friends.

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  65. Thank god for simple sense. Here in northern Ireland the wet and wind reeks havoc on their ability to keep dry and warm. Imagine being soaking wet 24/7. I rug as soon as the rain and winds start but if mild and dry leave them fluffy and happy. Also depends on the animal and the coat they grow. I have one woolly monster who has to be clipped if rugged and another that doesn't grow much hair at all. Main point is checking said rugs daily and bringing them in every now and then to go bare and let the air around their skin. Without we are riddled with rain scald and mud fever.

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