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To Blanket or Not To Blanket?

By Cheryl Rohnke Kronsberg - CI – Yorba Linda, CA

Why do people in Southern California blanket their horses? I mean really? We don’t get snow or sleet or freezing weather. Heck, most days it’s really nice here. The horses won’t suffer without a blanket. Especially if they have a shelter to keep them dry and protected from the wind. They will grow a nice, warm, fuzzy winter coat to keep them toasty. Horses also possess the ability to make each and every hair stand up or lie down to adjust the amount of insulation the coat provides. With the natural winter coat, you don’t have to worry about putting it on and taking it off. Horses in the wild do just fine without a blanket, why does my horse need one? Blankets cost money and take up time that I don’t have to spare. Besides keeping the horse warm, what does putting on a blanket really do?

What Blankets Do (And Don’t Do)

Blankets DO prevent your horse from growing as thick a winter coat. A blanket won’t keep him from getting a winter coat altogether, it will just keep it shorter. He will still get a full coat on his head and neck, unless you add a hood or neck cover. A shorter coat helps keep the horse cool during workouts. Let’s just imagine you are going for a run on a cold winter evening. You put on a t-shirt, sweatshirt, two pairs of sweat pants, two pairs of socks and a jacket. It’s a cold night so everything is fine, at first. Now you have been running for awhile and you’re starting to sweat a little. You decide to take off a layer or two so you don’t get overheated. Good idea! Now you can continue your workout in comfort. When you’re done running, you cool down and start adding the layers back on so you don’t get chilled. Or you go into your nice warm house. Either way, you can manipulate your clothing or environment to your best interest.

But your horse can’t. He can’t take off a layer of hair because he is working now. All he can do to cool off is sweat. So sweat he does, lots and lots of sweat. Now your horse is soaking wet. All that long, fuzzy, warm winter coat held in all that sweat. When you are finished working him you take off his tack. He is cool, but still very wet and now he’s going to be cold. He can’t add a nice dry jacket or go in the house. You have to do that for him. You have to put on his cooler and spend lots of time walking him until he is dry. Then you need to brush off all that dried sweat so his coat isn’t matted down. If you leave the hair matted down, he can’t stay warm. Remember that part about horses lifting each hair? That can’t happen if it’s matted down with sweat & dirt.

Blankets DO keep your horse clean. A clean horse is much easier to groom, thus saving time each day. Blanketing your horse every day will also get them used to wearing clothes. This can come in handy if you ever need to blanket due to illness or injury.

Blankets DO save time. First the blanketed horse won’t have as heavy a coat to begin with. That means he won’t sweat as much. After you have finished working and cooling him out he might still be a little damp, but not soaked. You can put a blanket on a damp, cool horse and put them away. The blanket will keep him warm until his coat is dry. The blanket will also rub the coat as the horse moves around, helping it to dry. After the coat has dried, the blanket can rub it and help remove the dried sweat just as brushing might. The next time you remove the blanket, your horse will look better than when you put the blanket on.

Blankets DO get smelly, tangled and messy. Horses sleep lying down, on the ground. Because horses sleep on the ground, their blankets will get dirty. Just the fact that a horse is wearing the blanket will make it dirty and smelly. Horses do have a certain aroma to them. Not that it’s a bad thing, but it will rub off on the blanket. Some horses are capable of Houdini-like escape acts to get their blankets off. Once off, those offending blankets may be ripped, torn or made umm… shall we say …“unclean.”

Sometimes, Houdini Horse doesn’t quite get it right and gets trapped in the blanket or hood. I have rescued many of these unsuccessful types from their efforts. Often, just the blanket is the casualty, sometimes it’s the horse. Either way, you will need to keep a spare on hand just in case. And hope your horse doesn’t hurt himself.

Keeping all those things in mind, should you blanket your horse(s) this year? How do you know? Here are some things to determine if you should blanket or not.
1. Do you ride your horse often at night? Yes- A blanket might be necessary to keep the chill off if he is sweaty from work. Also, a blanket will keep his coat shorter and prevent some heavy sweating in the first place. No- If you have plenty of time to ride during the day, he will probably be dry before the chill of night sets in and causes a problem.

2. Are you concerned with your horse’s appearance? Do you show your horse year round? Yes- Then you should not only consider a blanket, but lights as well. A blanket and hood will keep your horse looking great and in show shape year round. No- If a shaggy coat isn’t a problem, consider leaving your horse without a blanket this year.

3. Is your horse body shaved? Yes- If you have removed your horses’ winter coat, you must replace it with a blanket. You might need more than one to adjust for different weather. No- He will grow enough coat to take care of his own needs.

4. Can you properly manage the blankets or pay someone to do it for you? Yes- You have the time to remove and put on blankets when the outside air temperature is 60-65 degrees every day. This means you don’t just put it on at night and take if off as you dash off to work in the morning. Often early morning temperatures are colder than evening temps. Taking it off when it is still really cold is worse than not putting it on at all. Or leaving it on as the day warms up will cause your horse to sweat under it. Both are far from ideal. Perhaps your barn manager will do this for you for a fee. They are often in the best position to do this as they are at the barn all day. No- If you are unable to dedicate the time to properly manage the blankets daily it might be best to forgo the blanket. Let your horse get a heavy coat and regulate their body temperature themselves.

5. Can you afford the cost? Yes- You have the means to purchase at least two blankets for each horse. You can have the blankets repaired and washed in a timely manner. Blankets can cost $200.00 or more. Repairs and washing can easily reach the cost of the blanket over a season or two. Understand that blankets should be washed every 30 days if your horse is wearing it every night. Neither you nor your barn manager will like putting on blankets that can stand up by themselves! If you are paying someone to manage your blankets, that cost needs to be figured in as well. No- Buy one blanket to keep on hand for emergencies. You can use it as a cooler also.

Make the decision that works best for you, your horses, your students and your barn and enjoy Winter!