To blanket or not to blanket is perhaps one of the most debated aspects of horse ownership. Some equestrians are vehemently opposed to any horse blankets, while others believe it’s cruel to let their horse go without. When it comes down to it, the decision whether or not to use horse turnout blankets is a personal one based on a variety of factors. Make the decision based on the big picture, not just on the temperature. It’s important to understand your individual horse and the weather, environment, and other factors in your area that will contribute to your horse blanket decision.
You may have heard the phrase that some horses are “thin-skinned” while others are “thick-skinned.” For example, Thoroughbreds and Arabians are widely believed to be thin-skinned, meaning more sensitive and hot-blooded. While there is no scientific research to back this up, these breeds of horses do tend to be more sensitive to the cold and do not grow as thick of a winter coat on average.
In comparison, I once had a draft cross that seemed to grow a coat like a husky. He never seemed to mind the cold, but had to be clipped every year and absolutely detested hot summer days. Generally, northern breeds of horse, such as Percherons, Fjords, Icelandic Horses, and Haflingers, grow thicker, woolier coats that are well-developed to withstand the cold climes of their ancestral lands.
If you own or care for a breed of horse such as a Thoroughbred or Arabian, be prepared to invest in several horse turnout blankets. You’ll most likely need several different blankets for all weather conditions. On the other hand, if you’re looking for horse blankets for a draft horse, you may only need one rain sheet to keep the hair from getting wet on a cold drizzly day.
Time of Year
Whether or not to blanket your horse will also depend on the time of year. While frigid winter temperatures will most likely require a blanket, the shoulder seasons (spring and fall) are more difficult to determine whether or not you should blanket. In the fall, your horse will be working on growing a winter coat and won’t have as much hair as they would in January. You’ll need to blanket on 40 degree nights in October, whereas in January 40 degrees may feel balmy to both you and your horse.
You may notice your horse become a bit woolier than usual on cold winter nights. This is due to the hair standing on end and creating air pockets that act as extra insulation. But when the hair coat gets wet, it can no longer puff up and will not be able to add any extra insulation. A horse that’s soaked to the skin can become very cold very quickly.
Be sure to consider what the weather is doing when deliberating on horse blankets. On a snowy evening you should see the snow piling up on your horse’s back and resting on top of the hair-- that means your horse’s coat is doing a good job. But on a rainy cold night it’s a good idea to throw at least a waterproof rain sheet on your horse so they can stay nice and dry or bring them inside to a stall.
General Health and Body Score
Is your horse very old or very young? Have a good grasp on their general health and body score when shopping for horse turnout blankets. An older horse that has a hard time maintaining their weight will need to be blanketed more often and more heavily than a healthy, easy-keeper horse. You will also want to blanket very young horses, such as foals or weanlings, more heavily as their young bodies are more fragile than an adult horse.
To get a good grasp on your horse’s health, learn how to score their body condition on a scale of one to eight. A horse with a body condition score of one is extremely emaciated with ribs, spine, and neck standing out with no fatty tissue whatsoever. On the other extreme, a horse with a score of eight is extremely overweight with a crease down their back and no ribs are able to be felt. Aim to keep your horse around five or six.
Does your horse live outside 24/7 or does he have access to a stall at night? If your horse does live outside, what does he have available in terms of shelter? Does he have a deep run-in shed on dry ground or just a stand of trees?
Your horse’s living conditions will have a big impact on whether or not you use horse blankets. A horse that lives out on pasture all year-round and all day long is more likely to require horse turnout blankets than one that lives in a barn or has access to a stall. Outside horses are exposed to all of the elements, including rain, wind, snow, thunderstorms, etc. While most horses that have access to a stall don’t have heated barns, they are protected from the wind, rain, and snow. You may still have to blanket a horse that lives inside, but you may not need waterproof horse turnout blankets or ones that are quite so heavy.
To Clip or Not to Clip
Before clipping your horse, consider your goals carefully. If you choose not to clip your horse, you will have to limit their ride time so they don’t overheat and so you can cool them out and dry them off properly after your ride. But you won’t have to blanket quite so heavily and can rest assured that your horse will be more comfortable outside in the pasture.
If you clip your horse, you’ll be able to ride more, cool down faster, and keep your horse comfortable while working out. But if your horse doesn’t have access to a stall, you’ll need to have some very warm horse blankets on hand for cold days and nights. In some environments, horses that are clipped have to be kept inside and sometimes wear up their blankets double or triple-layered. If you’re trying to decide whether or not to blanket a clipped horse, err on the side of caution and blanket more heavily than you would a horse with a winter coat.
So, Do You Need a Horse Blanket?
Check out this humorous take on horse blankets from Auburn University. If you think you’re going to need to invest in some horse turnout blankets this winter, shop now. At Breeches.com, you can find a wide variety of durable horse blanket brands, like TuffRider, Tough-1, Horze, Baker, and more. Click here to shop winter horse turnout blankets now.
For more information on horse blankets, check out this guide.