There are mountains of opinions about, “to blanket or not to blanket.” Like many things we do for, with, and to our horses.
I’m strongly 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? 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.
From about 40 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. Fluffing up to keep cold out and trap heat in.
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.
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. And how often have you seen horses wearing more than one blanket?
Wearing a blanket prevents normal winter coat growth, they can’t grow those very important layers.
That’s my 20 year old Paso Fino mare in the picture above, sporting her winter woollies.
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? We can’t.
And horses have internal thermostats that turn on the warming blood flow throughout their bodies – INCLUDING legs and feet. The blankets confuse that internal thermostat, which can cause the body to think it’s warm enough to not pump that extra blood to legs and feet – SO the horse stands there under a blanket, over-warm body and freezing legs. Not nice.
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 shiver. Sometimes a horse will choose to stand still and shiver. This is natural, and not necessarily a sign of a cold horse. She just might be sleepy.
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. Tack shops love that, by the way.
To sum it up, I’m against blanketing. I truly believe it’s unhealthy for the horse.
Gitty Up ~ Dutch.
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