For much of the country, winter started early this year. And that means our show horses are in need of extra coverage to stay warm. No doubt you’ve already pulled your collection of sheets and blankets out of summer storage and started layering up. But if you’re foggy on which layers to use at what temperatures, now’s the time to recap best practices for blanketing your horse.
According to EQUUS Magazine, you should start blanketing when temperatures drop below 50 degrees. That’s an easy enough rule to follow, but the decision-making gets more complicated from there. Blankets come in all different weights, and most show horses have a set of two or more to cover a broad range of temperatures and conditions.
So the real questions are: when is it cold enough to use the heavyweight blanket versus the medium-weight one? When should you double up on blankets?
The answers are not entirely straightforward. They depend on the condition of the horse’s coat, your horse’s ability to maintain body temperature, the age of the horse, and the horse’s exposure to wind and rain.
Clipped or not
A horse’s natural coat is designed to keep the body warm and dry in all kinds of weather — which of course makes blankets mostly unnecessary. But it’s rare that your show horse will grow out his full winter coat. So we have blankets, and a lot of them.
Practical Horseman provides this handy chart with blanketing guidelines for clipped, trace-clipped and unclipped horses.
A freshly clipped horse needs a heavyweight blanket and neck cover when temperatures dip below the mid-30s. At that same temperature, your trace-clipped horse might only need a medium-weight blanket and no neck cover. And the unclipped horse may need nothing at all.
Your horse’s norm
Charts are great for immediate decision-making, but your horse’s norm may dictate a different approach. Some horses, clipped or not, are just better at staying warm. So it’s important to check in on your horse and adjust your blanketing practices if he seems too warm or too cold.
It’s easy to see if your horse is too hot — just slide your hand under the blanket and feel for sweat. Sweating under the blanket is uncomfortable and unhealthy for a horse. The excess moisture trapped against the skin can lead to chills. If you do find sweat, swap out the blanket for a cooler until your horse has dried off completely. Then, switch to a lighter weight blanket.
A cold horse has less definite signs. You might see shivering if the horse’s body temperature drops for a sustained period, but that’s a worst-case scenario. To get a quicker read, feel the horse’s ears. Cold ears mean cold horse.
A horse’s ability to stay warm often decreases with age. Keep close tabs on your horse’s body temperature even if you have a reliable blanketing routine. What worked perfectly last winter may need some adjustments for this winter.
Indoor vs. outdoor conditions
The ‘feels like’ temperature is as important for horses as it is for humans. Horses need extra protection from cold wind or icy rain — even if they’re only exposed to these elements from an open barn window. Conversely, an insulated barn with covered windows will reduce your blanketing requirements.
Again, a quick check of your horse’s ears and body temperature under the blanket will help you adjust for the conditions on a given day.
For more tips and tricks on blanketing your horse, see these articles: