Thursday, November 7, 2013

My Thoughts on Blanketing Horses

Howdy Folks,
One of our Coffee Clutch friends asked me to share my thoughts on blanketing horses. Like many things we do for, with, and to our horses, there are mountains of opinions about, "to blanket or not to blanket." I'm mostly in the "no blanket" camp. I reckon few of our Coffee Clutch friends are surprised by that, my, keeping it truly natural practices and beliefs, are not much of a secret.

But what is wrong with blanketing? I think there could be a lot.

Now before we get all excited with the exceptions as to, "yes but you must blanket when – insert any favorite exception here – because …" I understand and agree, sometimes blankets are necessary and important. I also believe wool coolers are very important after a cold winter ride and a nice, thick winter coat is soaked and matted with sweat. Wool coolers wick away sweat and help a horse cool down nicely. Kessy wore one this Sunday after we had a fun romp. Took only about 20 minutes for her to dry, I removed the cooler, brushed her all nice and fluffy, and she went about her way wearing only her smile and her own winter coat.
Kessy sporting her no-blanket look.
I've heard it said that from about 45 degrees  horses burn calories to cool. Yes, to cool – not warm. So what must be going on when a healthy horse has a blanket strapped on its back on a sunny breezy 50 degree day? Sure we want our coat, I know I do, but we're not built to deal with it like horses.

Horses have multiple layers of hair to deal with all sorts of weather, rain, cold and snow. Each layer has its own job and function. Even with snow laying on their backs, those layers do their job admirably. UNLESS their hair is waited down under a blanket. Did you know a horse with a wet blanket, or even a waterproof blanket with snow laying on it is actually colder than a horse without? I've personally demonstrated this by sliding my hand under a wet, not soaked, blanket and the owner was surprised to feel the cold back. And too many times the old waterproof blankets loose their waterproofing and owners, unaware, are thinking they are helping their horse.

Temperatures under a blanket with air temperatures about 40 or 50 can be over 70, sometimes close to 90. If you blanket, check it yourself. I've done it. So if a horse is using calories to cool at 45 degrees, what's going on under a 70 degree blanket? And how often have you seen horses wearing more than one blanket?!

Wearing a blanket impedes normal winter coat growth, they can't grow those very important layers.

Horses with a natural healthy coat can readily, and healthily, regulate their own body temperature, changing with the temperatures of the day. Hairs stand up and lay down as needed. How can we think we can manage that by taking off and on the blankets? And how do we coordinate that?

Horses have several ways to "warm up" on cold days. They can walk around, this goes hand in hand with natural and healthy housing, they need room to roam, or they can stand out of the wind. But I think they do need the ability to walk around when they want to.

What they do need is a way to get out of the precipitation and wind, just a nice run in where they can come and go as they please.

So, my thoughts on blanketing horses? I think most folks do it for their own thoughts of comfort, not the horses.
Kessy is warm and happy in her natural coat ... I needed my heavy insulated coveralls. And Saturday was looking for a warm lap!
 To sum it up, mostly I'm against blanketing. Everyone has their own opionon and circumstances. But I feel bad for the horses standing out in the sun on 50 degree days wearing a blanket because no one had time to remove it ... And I think our common accepted practice appears to be we over-blanket. But that's just my thoughts.

Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry


  1. Well said Dutch :) I totally agree and stopped blanketing my horses years ago. However I did not know about the burning calories to COOL down - very interesting indeed. I always believed the opposite - they burned calories to keep warm. I like your version better ;) All the best. Di

  2. Very interesting indeed. I never ued a blanket unless it was after a roping and we were on our way home. As soon as we got home it came off.

  3. Great information, Dutch! Always figured we thought more alike than most folks. This here is proof of them thoughts.