While you may be shivering in the barn aisle once the temperature drops below 50 degrees, horses are much more well adapted to the cold weather. As the days grow shorter, the horse responds to the diminishing sunlight by growing long hair all over the body. When it is very cold, these hairs stand up to keep cold air further away from their skin. They also have a muzzle that is richly supplied with circulating blood, feet that are engineered for subzero temperatures and snow, blood vessels in the skin that easily constrict to minimize heat loss, and large blocks of muscles that allow them to shiver more readily and efficiently than a human.
Despite these mechanisms that help horses combat cold weather, it is often necessary to use blankets to keep horses warm, decrease stress, and keep weight on in the winter months.
What factors influence whether I need to blanket?
- Hair coat of horse
- Age of horse
- Body condition of horse
- Outside temperature, moisture, wind chill
Types of Blankets:
- Light or Sheet – 0 to 100 grams of fill
- Medium – 150 to 250 grams of fill
- Heavy – 300 to 400 grams of fill
In the winter, many show horses or horses that are worked regularly are body clipped in order to avoid excessive sweating during exercise, which may leave the horse susceptible to becoming chilled afterward and getting sick.
Horses that are body clipped in the winter will need:
- < 50 degrees: light blanket or sheet
- < 40 degrees: medium blanket
- < 30 degrees: heavy blanket
Horses that are not body clipped in the winter need:
- < 40 degrees: light blanket or sheet
- < 30 degrees: medium blanket
- < 20 degrees: heavy blanket
Keep in mind that this is only a guide. As a horse’s age increases or body condition decreases, they will likely need a blanket at slightly warmer temperatures. Also, if your horse lives outside, you will want to take wind chill and precipitation into account when trying to decide when to blanket or which blanket to use. The insulating ability of a horse’s hair coat is lost when it becomes wet or muddy. Therefore, it is important to provide the horse shelter where they can stay dry or use a waterproof blanket when precipitation is forecasted.
Getting a blanket that fits correctly is also vital. Blankets that are too small may rip or rub your horse causing sores on the shoulders, withers or hips. Blankets that are too large can slide to one side of the horse and become tangled in the horse’s legs, which is not only uncomfortable and dangerous for the horse, but also causes damage to the blanket.
To find your horse’s blanket size:
- Stand your horse squarely and place a measuring tape in the center of the chest at the base of the neck.
- Then, extend the measuring tape across the widest part of the shoulder and continue to extend it along the horse’s side and across the point of the buttocks, which is the hindmost portion of the buttocks and approximately 10 to 12 inches below the point where the tail meets the body.
This measurement (in inches) is equivalent to the blanket size the horse requires. Typically, an average sized horse ranges from 76 to 82 inches in size.
When the leaves start changing, the temperatures start dropping and there’s even a little frost on the pumpkin, remember there’s no easy answer when it comes to whether or not you should blanket your horse. You have to determine what is best for each horse you care for, so prior to making your blanketing decision look at your horse’s individual needs, housing situation and local climate conditions. By treating each horse as an individual, you will ensure they stay happy, healthy and comfortable during the cold winter months.