Blanket Or No Blanket


Here I type on a blustery day in Austin, Texas.  The winds are howling out of the north and the temperature has dropped into the 30’s.  We might even get a little snow tonight, unusual for the middle of February when our weather starts to feel more like spring.  It was 80 degrees just yesterday.  While looking out my window, I see my horses eating, frolicking, and not really using their shelters.  My mind is thinking about how some  of my clients will call me and ask if they should come out and put a blanket on their horse.

I read a lot of articles by Dr. David Ramey, DVM. Dr. Ramey is a prominent voice for the application of evidence-based standards to veterinary medicine. I really appreciate his no nonsense, solid, practical advice. Recently, I read his article on whether or not we should blanket our horses. Reading it made me feel really good because I am a NO blanket kind of a gal. Dr. Ramey believes that the whole idea of blanketing horses is mostly pretty silly.   In his blog posted January 3, 2015, he gave some great facts to support his belief.  I like facts, researched stuff, that allow me to sleep warm under my blanket while my horse is outside being a horse.   When I think of blankets on horses who have a full winter coat, plenty of hay and water, and a shelter if they need it.

A horse’s temperature is between 99 to 101 degrees F  and can vary by 3 degrees depending on the weather.  It is a known fact that horses tolerate the cold much better than they tolerate the heat.  Your horse has a naturally higher internal thermostat than we do and therefore can maintain their warmth much easier than we can. Horses really don’t need a blanket to stay warm. During the cold months, horses have this internal heater, as well as a thick coat, to contain the warmth.  In Michigan, our horses would choose to go out in the winter, leaving their straw bedded, warm shelters to forage with 4 inches of snow on their backs.

Some might say, “But my horses are shivering!”  One of my favorite research articles explains that horses maintain their  temperature in cold weather with the help of several mechanisms which include shivering, changes in hormone levels, increased body metabolism, increased digestion of fibre (adding more fibre or more protein to the diet can help a horse keep warm, since digestion of these nutrients produce heat), growing longer and thicker hair which can stand up on the skin to make a layer of insulating air pockets, increased feed consumption, and increased activity. Cold horses on a frosty morning often run and buck to warm up.

Many of the blankets my clients put on are not going to stay on.   If you choose to keep your horse in a pasture, he should not wear a blanket.  The blanket will very possibly lead to an injury.   That is the fact.  This year I learned of 8 horses that suffered blanket related injuries while they were blanketed and turned out in pastures. That is too many injuries!

In the winter, if I choose to show in the high-level,  judged events, of course I will body clip my horses and put layers of blankets on them while they live in a stall.  I will exercise them daily and monitor the fit of the blanket. I always say “if you are going to play with the big boys you need to walk the walk.”  Blankets have their purpose and they come with responsibility.  A horse blanket must be washed regularly, repaired when torn,  and most importantly removed when the temperature goes above 50 degrees.  I cringe when I see horses in full winter coats blanketed and the temperature is in the 70’s.  I see this all the time in my neighbors paddocks and at shows.