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Do you need a blanket for your horse?

Many horse owners are afraid that their horses will freeze and therefore buy ever thicker winter blankets. Horses' need for cover is a complex subject where a number of factors come into play, which we describe in this article.
Do you need a blanket for your horse?

We often look at our own needs when we make the assessment that our horse needs a cover and forget that they already have a superb coat - their own fur. Horses are even-tempered animals that are not particularly sensitive to temperature.

If the horses have large surfaces to move over, protection from the elements, enough feed and are otherwise healthy, they will not freeze. It's when we put our horse into training and start clipping the horse that the blanket issue becomes more relevant.

The need for a cover varies

The need for a cover varies with the individual. Before you start routinely using blankets for your horse, you should review the following factors:

The hair band

Horses that put on a thick winter coat and are not clipped usually do not need a blanket. When it gets cold, the hairs stand up, creating an insulating effect with the warm air gathered close to the skin. If you put a blanket on such a horse, this insulating ability is reduced because the hairs are flattened.

It is mainly the availability of daylight that controls coat shedding, not whether it is cold or warm outside. If you prefer an uncut horse that is not too long-haired, you can try extending the availability of daylight by leaving it on in the stable for a few hours a day, for example until the evening feeding.

Training horses are often clipped to help them get rid of excess heat after riding and to dry faster. Those that are cut a lot may need a cover. On the other hand, the clipped horse (suitable for light training/trotting riding) rarely needs to be covered. It dries quickly when sweating.

The weather

Horses with a full winter coat can keep warm even at very low temperatures. Several studies have shown that it is not the cold itself that causes problems, but the combination of rain and wind. If the horse gets soaked, even a thick winter coat can lose its warming ability. Snow isn't as cooling as rain because the dense winter coat prevents the snow from melting.

Weather protection

According to the animal welfare regulations, horses that stay outside for the majority of the day must have access to a stable/weather shelter. A free-roaming horse that is not trained and that has access to wind protection can do just fine without a blanket. Fully clipped or very short-haired horses usually have blankets even if they have protection from the weather or a wooded area to seek shelter in.

Age and state of health

Old horses may find it more difficult to keep warm than a horse in prime form and age. By covering them, they avoid using so much energy to keep warm.

Lining and holes

The horse can produce heat itself by eating. The colder it is outside, the more feed is needed to keep the cold away. A horse with a good layer of subcutaneous fat has good insulation. 

How do you know if the horse is freezing/sweating?

When it gets cold outside, horses can either reduce heat loss by using as little energy as possible or increase its heat production. As a rule, it does both. To reduce heat loss, it stands more still, raises the hairs in its coat, breathes in a different way (takes fewer, deeper breaths) and likes to stand close to another horse so that their warm surfaces radiate towards each other. If there is access to shelter, horses usually seek it out. It can also increase heat production briefly by shaking the muscles. The very best way to increase heat production is to eat, so free access to roughage is important.

The fact that the horse is too hot can be shown by sweat over the ribs and/or the bow and that it tramples around, shakes its head and is unusually restless. It is more common for horses to get too warm under their blankets than to freeze. Horses emit less heat on the neck and do not need blankets there.

What can happen if the horse has blankets unnecessarily?

There is a certain risk of overheating if a horse is constantly walking around with extra "clothing". It already has insulation in the form of its fur. If the weather then changes several times, as it often does during a normal day, the horse has no way to get rid of the excess heat that may arise. Sweat deposits can then form in the horse's hairband, which are baked into the skin and in the long run can cause various skin problems, for example fungal infections.

It is common to have chafing from heavy quilts or ones with a poor fit. An ill-fitting blanket can hinder the horse's movements and there is a certain risk of injury if the buckles come up so that the girths and leg cords hang loose.

Source: Blankets for many millions, Ingrid Andersson, Ridsport
Courtesy of Ingrid Andersson and Ridsport.

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