Horse Blanketing FAQs

Nov 01, 2022


Posted by Alexandra Beckstett, The Horse Managing Editor
 
On or off? Hot or cold? Lightweight or heavyweight? We’ll answer these questions and more in the article below.
 
The concept is simple: When your horse is cold, put on his blanket. When he’s not cold, take it off. But how do you really know if he’s cold — short of seeing him shivering in his bell boots? And, if he is, what type of blanket does he need?
 
Blanketing doesn’t have to be an enigma, says two Extension specialists who educate horse owners for a living. Here, they’ll answer your most common equine outerwear questions.
 
Does my horse need a blanket this winter?
 
In a nutshell, probably not. Horses’ bodies are pretty well-equipped to handle even frigid temperatures. You’ll notice that as the days start to get shorter and nights cooler — usually around September — their coats begin to change and grow.
 
“Changes of the hair coat are as much light-dependent as they are temperature-dependent,” explains Bob Coleman, MS, PhD, a former resident of Alberta, Canada, who is now the associate professor of equine Extension at the University of Kentucky’s Department of Animal Sciences, in Lexington.
 
Healthy horses with nice, full coats, body condition scores of at least 4 (on the 1-9 scale, see our Equine Body Condition Score poster), and access to some form of shelter might only need a blanket if temperatures dip below 10° to 0° F, says Karen Waite, MS, PhD, Extension specialist at Michigan State University’s Department of Animal Sciences, in East Lansing.
 
“If a horse starts to shiver, then you might want to consider a blanket, but typically that doesn’t happen unless (the horse) is cold and wet,” she adds.
 
But what if my horse is body-clipped?
 
If you ride your horse enough through winter to warrant trace or body-clipping, then you need to provide him with some protection from the elements.
 
“Even if they’re inside, if it’s cold in the barn and they’re not moving around much, it might help to give them a little protection to keep the body heat they’re generating in,” says Coleman.
 
Throw a light- or midweight blanket on your body-clipped horse when temperatures start to hit the 40s, and reach for a heavier one once temperatures dip below freezing.
 
What do you mean by light-, mid-, or heavyweight?
 
Herein lies the reason why our horses often have wardrobes that rival our own. Blanket manufacturers categorize their blankets according to insulation factor as light-, mid-, or heavyweight to cater to a wide range of temperatures and management factors.
 
“Typically, the greater (heavier) the fill, the warmer the blanket,” says Waite. “Knowing which blanket to select is going to depend on your horse’s coat, condition, the environment, and how they are managed (indoors vs. outdoors, etc.).”
 
Fortunately, blanket manufacturers usually provide guidelines as to which of their blankets you should use in what circumstances, so ask about these when buying.
 
What size blanket does my horse need?
 
The answer to this one is a little more cut-and-dried. To calculate your horse’s blanket size, stand him square and place a measuring tape in the center of his chest, just below the spot where the neck joins the body, says Waite. Recruit a helper to pull the tape around the chest and the widest part of the shoulder and along the side of the horse’s body to the point of the buttocks, about 10 inches below the tailhead, she says. This length in inches will correlate to your horse’s blanket size. (Tip: Go to a fabric or hardware store and buy a long tape measure that will run the length of your horse, says Coleman.)
 
“Blanket sizes are typically pretty standard, but there may be slight differences between brands,” notes Waite. “It would be wise to check with the manufacturer to see if they suggest anything different when measuring.” Sometimes online retailers have customer product reviews that can shed light on sizing (these sheets run big, this blanket fit my draft better than my light-breed horse, etc.).
 
When fitting a blanket, make sure any leg straps are secure and condition your horse to wearing the blanket in his stall before turning him out with it, says Coleman. Don’t wait until he’s tearing around an icy paddock to find out that fasteners and flaps bother him!
 
How do I know if my horse is getting too warm under his blanket?
 
If your horse is starting to sweat under his blanket, he’s too hot. But this isn’t always obvious, so look for the subtle signs.
 
On cold days, for instance, horses naturally gravitate toward sunlight. This strategy for warming up is effective — enough that you might notice steam coming off the front of the blanket or around the horse’s withers. In those cases, they’re getting too hot, says Coleman, and it’s not necessarily the extra heat that’s the issue; it’s the dampness.
 
“Once the sun goes down, they’re going to be wet, and they’re going to be cold, and they’ll start to shiver,” Coleman says. He likens it to how you’d feel if you worked up a sweat mucking out stalls in a down coat and then walked outside into the cold. “Your insulated materials are now damp, and you get cold faster. Horses are the same way.”
 
So overall, make sure your horse’s blanket fits, keep a constant eye on his body condition and the weather, and hoist it on or off as needed, remembering that you get to burn a few calories each time you do!
 
Be sure to visit your local Co-op for all your equine product needs! For more content like this, check out the latest issue of The Cooperator.

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