Ask an Expert

Blanketing Your Horse

October 11, 2010

There are many factors to consider when deciding how to blanket your horse through the winter months.

Question:

If my horses get a good winter coat, do they still need a blanket? If so, at what temperature? What about their legs?

Answer:

A few factors to consider about blanketing your horse:

  1. What area of the country do you live in, and what sort of winter weather do you have? Just like people, your horse will feel the effects of cold more in a wet, humid environment.
  2. What age/breed is your horse? Some breeds (for example thoroughbreds), are noted for having “thinner skin,” while others (like mustangs or Nokotas) have much “thicker skin.”
  3. What is your horse’s body condition, and does he tend to have an easy time maintaining his weight? In general, a horse with good condition that maintains well will have less need of blanketing.

There are also medical issues to consider when deciding whether or not to blanket. Blankets that are too thick or get left on for too long can lead to excessive sweating, dehydration (a horse’s water intake needs rise during cold weather), rain rot, fungi and other problems. Also, I have experienced situations where a blanket has concealed the fact that an older horse was losing weight or a horse had sustained an injury.

Even more important than blanketing is to make sure your horse has a way to protect himself from the elements: either a stall, run-in shed, or even a simple windbreak can make a remarkable difference in your horse’s comfort level. In many parts of the country, a blanket will not be needed for the whole winter, and the need may change from day to day. A question to ask yourself is: Do I have the time to reliably blanket and unblanket my horse as the weather changes? As far as the legs, in general they would remain uncovered. The purpose of a blanket is to help conserve body heat, and very little heat would actually be lost from the horse’s legs.

My decision of whether or not to blanket a particular horse would revolve around all of the factors and possible concerns that I have stated. Certainly, the common practices of your area’s other horsemen should weigh into your decision, but I would not let common practice dictate your blanketing strategy. I would urge you to consider all of these questions and issues, and consult with your horse’s veterinarian for their input.

Dr. Reece Myran, member of the American Association of Equine Practitioners