When to Blanket a Horse: Ask the Expert

horse in snow wearing a red blanket representing When to Blanket a Horse

As the winter season approaches, the decision to blanket a horse can be a topic of confusion and debate. While some horses can thrive without blankets, understanding when it is necessary to provide extra protection and warmth is crucial. In this article, we address common questions and provide expert advice on when to blanket your horse during the winter months.

Question and Answer: Understanding Winter Blanketing

The Confusion and Personal Preferences

Question: “I’m confused about blanketing my horse during winter. Growing up, our horses were happily housed outside without blankets, as they had access to shelter. However, now that I’m boarding my horse, everyone at the barn blankets their horses and thinks I’m crazy not to. Can you provide some advice on blanketing during the winter?”

Answer: Blanketing practices vary based on individual circumstances, including show schedules and personal preferences of horse owners. While some horses may not require blankets, there are situations when blanketing becomes necessary to minimize the effects of cold or inclement weather.

When to Blanket: Key Considerations

To determine if blanketing is necessary, consider the following factors:

1. Lack of Shelter and Extreme Cold

Blanketing is recommended when there is no available shelter during turnout periods, and temperatures drop below 5°F, or the wind chill is below 5°F. The blanket provides additional insulation and protection against severe weather conditions.

2. Wet Weather Conditions

Blankets are beneficial if there is a chance the horse will become wet due to rain, ice, or freezing rain during cold weather. Wet hair reduces the horse’s ability to retain body heat, increasing the risk of hypothermia.

3. Clipped Horses

Horses that have had their winter coat clipped for specific purposes, such as showing or intense exercise, may require blankets to compensate for the lack of natural insulation provided by their coat.

4. Young or Elderly Horses

Very young or elderly horses have a harder time regulating their body temperature and may benefit from blankets to stay comfortable and prevent temperature-related health issues.

5. Horses Recently Relocated from Different Climates

If a horse has been recently moved from a southern climate to an area with colder winters, they may not have had time to acclimate to the lower temperatures. Blanketing can provide them with additional warmth until they adjust.

6. Poor Body Condition

Horses with a body condition score of 3 or less (on a scale of 1-9) may struggle to maintain their body heat and may benefit from the added insulation provided by blankets.

Understanding Winter Coat Development

Natural Winter Coat Growth and Shedding

Horses naturally develop a winter coat until the Winter Solstice (around December 22), as days become shorter. Afterward, they start shedding their winter coat and forming their summer coat as the days gradually lengthen. Blanketing before December 22 may decrease a horse’s natural winter coat growth.

Properly assessing when to blanket a horse during winter requires considering factors such as shelter availability, weather conditions, coat condition, age, and body condition score. While some horses can withstand the cold without blankets, others benefit from the added warmth and protection. Observing your horse’s behavior, consulting with professionals, and considering individual circumstances will help you make informed decisions regarding winter blanketing.

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7 Replies to “When to Blanket a Horse: Ask the Expert”

  1. Hi I live in the NW in wa state we are in the middle of October and our low temperatures have been in the low 30s to mid 30s
    Should I blanket my horses ?
    Thank you. Liz

    1. Hello Liz, Thanks for the question! It is ultimately up to you – but if they have a good winter coat going, and are able to remain dry, then they may not need them yet – and leaving them unblanketed (assuming they are dry) can help encourage growth of a nice thick winter coat. If they are getting rained on, or there is a really wet, sloppy snowfall that dampens their coats, you may want to give them that extra layer of protection, assuming the blankets are weatherproof. Hope that helps!

    2. Hey all! I recently bought a 1 1/2 year old filly, she’s my first young horse and I am boarding her at a facility near my house in Wichita Kansas. She already has some of her winter coat coming on and has way more fluff to her hair then the older horses. My question would be if I need to blanket her? I’ve never had a horse that I have blanketed before and want to make sure she is comfortable. She has a shelter in her pen she is in and free choice brome hay. I just hate to spend a lot of money on a blanket she will grow out of in one season but I will if I need too. Thanks for your input!

      1. Hello Chelsea, Thanks for the question. It’s really your choice. If she’s got a good winter coat, has good body condition, and has shelter, then as long as she’s not getting wet or its not extreme bitter cold temperatures outside, she should be just fine.

  2. Just got a 4 year old mare from Calgary Alberta where in winter I’m guessing is used to the cold! Now she’s gone from dry cold to wet cold in British Columbia and it’s around 4-5 degrees celcius and she’s clipped. I have her in a 200g right now but as it drops should I put her in the 300g or will she be okay? She seems to be warm but I always find her in her shelter when all her friends around her are wanting tone with her! Should I buy a 250 for the upcoming snow we are gonna have?

  3. Thank you for these articles and thanks for mentioning body scores! I have all rescue horses that come out of kill pens sick and underweight. For a senior horse I had with a body score of 3 who also had pneumonia, and still symptomatic after allllll the meds we put him through, I put a blanket on him when it was below 60 (I know it isn’t too cold) but two days with a blanket he perked up and was over whatever he had. My sense is that the blanket helped his body stay warm enough where his energy went to fighting the infection as opposed to staying warm.

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