HORSES NATURALLY grow hair in response to reducing daylight as the weather cools in the fall and winter. These hairs are various lengths and trap in warm air to keep the horse warm. A healthy, unclipped horse in pasture with appropriate shelter from the elements, free choice forage and water should not require blanketing in most situations.
Deciding whether to blanket depends on multiple factors. Natural factors are hair coat growth, breed, the horse’s health, and age. Factors that we have control over are body clipping, artificially increasing their daylight hours in lighted barns and stables, and diet. Some older or thin horses may need to be blanketed if their appetite and digestive capabilities are not sufficient to maintain weight in cooler weather. Diet is an important factor to address because time spent chewing forage and actively digesting it is crucial to maintaining core temperature. Horses that are fed large amounts of concentrates and not enough forage are not able to maintain their body heat as well. Shelter is also critical; wet weather causes the hair to flatten and trap cool water against the skin, making the horse feel colder.
If you do decide to blanket your horse, the blanket should be waterproof to prevent the fabric from soaking through and penetrating the hair coat. It’s important to monitor the daily temperature to make sure the horse doesn’t get overheated on warmer days and to keep an eye on weight, body condition, and irritations or sores caused by blanket rubs.
column by DR. KATIE HENNESSY
BIO: Dr. Katie Hennessy graduated from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 2008 with a degree in large animal health and equine medicine. She completed an advanced internship at The Equine Medical Center of Ocala and currently is the owner and practicing veterinarian at Polk Equine. Her expertise ranges from small and exotic creatures to large animals, specializing in equine medicine.