Sunday, December 30, 2012

When to blanket a horse

The farther you get from the ideal, the more appropriate it is to consider a blanket. Not every horse has a wooly coat. Some breeds of horses have thinner coats, and others have thin coats from blanketing, being under lights, living in a warm climate or barn, or having been clipped. Even within a barn, you may find one horse who doesn’t need a blanket, another who just needs a sheet at night, and another who seems to require a winter parka.

But a fuzzy coat isn’t the only determining factor. Consider whether the horse is underweight, isn’t eating enough roughage, isn’t able to get out of the wind or wet, or has some health concern that compromises his ability to stay warm. Remember, though, when you put a blanket on your horse, you squash that natural insulating layer of air in his coat. In borderline situations, he may actually be more comfortable wearing his natural blanket than your store-bought one.

It’s usually necessary to blanket a body-clipped horse. You can layer blankets, the way you might wear a light sweater under your coat. And for any horse out in wet weather, keeping him dry is key to keeping him warm.

If the horse isn’t body clipped, you have the dual challenge of cooling the horse down after a workout without allowing him to get chilled. You’ll need to put towels or a wool cooler under a light sheet and remove the towel or cooler as it gets damp.

With any horse, you should periodically reach under the blanket to be sure the horse isn’t hot or sweaty, especially a horse who has been worked, because he can appear cool but then get sweaty again once he is back in the stall.

Though horses adapt to changes in climate, they don’t adapt well to rapid changes. So the horse who was fine when left unblanketed last week might benefit from light blanketing tonight as the leading edge of a cold front comes through. Remember that the big worry during weather changes is that the horse may colic, often due to decreased drinking. So while blanketing is important, having not-too-cold water is critical.

Some owners think they’re doing their horses a favor by closing up a barn to keep their horses warm. But they’re also closing in ammonia fumes and allowing moisture to build up. So instead of heating the barn, it’s better to blanket the horses and allow for plenty of ventilation.

It takes calories to stay warm, and some horses need all the calories they can eat. That’s especially true of older horses who have difficulty chewing or holding weight, and of horses who have been through a health or shipping stress. In those cases, blanketing helps conserve energy and boosts their ability to stay warm.

If blanketing is the best option for your horse, try to avoid having him wear the blanket 24/7. Even a little unblanketed turnout time in the sunlight on a winter day will do most horses good—whether to have a good roll or just to give their skin a breather from the blanket.