When to Blanket a Horse: Ask the Expert

When to Blanket a HorseQuestion: I’m confused about blanketing my horse during the winter. I grew up with horses happily housed outside and un-blanketed during the winter months. The horses had access to shelter. I’m now boarding my horse and everyone at the barn blankets their horse and thinks I’m crazy not to! The horse does have access to shelter while outside. Can you please give me some advise on blanketing during the winter?

Answer: Most horses are blanketed for various reasons (i.e. show schedules) or due to personal preference of the owner. However, blanketing a horse is necessary to reduce the effects of cold or inclement weather when:

  • There is no shelter available during turnout periods and the temperatures drop below 5°F, or the wind chill is below 5°F
  • There is a chance the horse will become wet (not usually a problem with snow, but a problem with rain, ice, and/or freezing rain during cold weather)
  • The horse has had its winter coat clipped
  • The horse is very young or very old
  • The horse has not been acclimated to the cold (i.e. recently relocated from a southern climate)
  • The horse has a body condition score of 3 or less

A horse will continue to develop a natural winter coat until December 22 (Winter Solstice), as days are becoming shorter. Horses begin to lose their winter coat, and start forming their summer coat, as the days begin to get longer. Blanketing before December 22 will decrease a horse’s natural winter coat.

Author: Marcia Hathaway, PhD, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.

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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