Depending on the part of the country in which you live – and your weatherperson’s forecast for this winter - you may be considering blanketing your horse. Horses actually can do quite well without a blanket in even the most harsh winter storms. Their coat fluffs up like a down blanket and can provide extra warmth and insulation. But before you decide, here are some things you’ll want to consider are:
Whether he has access to shelter in rainy and windy weather
If your horse gets wet and/or it gets windy, that wet coat isn’t going to fluff up at all and your horse can become chilled. However, with a shelter (3 sided works best) where he can get in out of the worst of the rain and wind, he can still manage quite nicely all winter without a blanket.
The age of your horse
As your horse gets older, his ability to keep warm can become diminished. Many older horses have trouble keeping weight on to give them that extra layer of fat for the winter. Many horses keep warm during the winter by the very act of eating and digesting hay. But if your older horse has dental problems that compromise this, he may not have that avenue to help keep warm. Finally, horses can keep warm just by moving around. But older horses often become arthritic or can develop navicular problems and their desire to walk around decreases, so they can become more chilled. Most older horses appreciate a blanket during the winter.
Whether your horse has been clipped
Depending on how “clipped” your horse is, he may need a blanket. A belly and neck clip may not require any extra blanketing, but the trace and other clips leave a lot of the horse’s shorn body exposed to the elements. Blanketing is a must.
If you decide to blanket, there are literally hundreds of choices out there – stable sheets, turnout blankets, coolers and more. Most horse owners have an extensive “wardrobe” for their horses – something for every occasion. But you can easily get by with just three essentials:
- A fleece cooler or Irish knit anti-sweat sheet. There are other materials available, but I’ve found these to work the best. If you prefer something different, look for one that wicks away moisture from your horse and insulates against chill. These are the blankets you use after exercising your horse in the winter. He may still be a little damp and these blankets help continue to dry him off while keeping him warm.
- A light weight turnout sheet. Skip the stable blankets and wool sheets. Even if your horse isn’t turned out during the winter now, someday you may be in a place where he is. Turnout sheets are waterproof so he can go out in less than perfect conditions and still stay dry and warm. Look for ones that say that they are “breathable.” Your horse may go out in the a.m. in a cool drizzle, but if it suddenly turns sunny, you don’t want him to start sweating in his cover-up. Breathable fabrics allow moisture to escape to avoid this.
- A medium to heavy weight turnout blanket. The weight of this depends on your winters. Again, this should be of a waterproof, but breathable fabric.
With these three blanketing essentials, you can mix and layer to meet the weather needs of your horse:
- Just a cool fall evening? Use the fleece cooler.
- A raining late spring day? The turnout sheet.
- A cold winter rainy day? The turnout sheet WITH the fleece cooler underneath for extra warmth. The waterproof sheet keeps the cooler dry.
- Cool days and cold nights? Put the turnout sheet on during the day, add the blanket as another layer at night.
- Cold days and cold nights? Use the cooler, layer the turnout sheet on top, then add the blanket at night.
Layering has been proven to provide more warmth than just one heavy cover because it traps warm air between the layers for added “toastiness.” The waterproofing of the sheet and blanket will also aid in insulation against the cold.
If you decide to blanket this winter, your horse will appreciate this winter wardrobe.