A popular question always comes up when the temperature drops – should I blanket my horse in cold climates? The horse’s hair coat is an excellent insulator and works by trapping and warming air. A healthy horse with a thick, dry and clean hair coat can retain enough heat and be comfortable outside in cold climates.
A horse will continue to develop a natural winter coat until December 22 (Winter Solstice), as the days become shorter and temperatures become colder. Horses begin to lose their winter coat (and start forming their summer coat) as the days become longer (starting December 23) and temperatures start to warm (slowly). Blanketing before December 22 will decrease a horse’s natural winter coat.
Horses can acclimate to cold temperatures and often prefer the outdoors. However, blanketing a horse is necessary to reduce the effects of cold or inclement weather when:
- No shelter is available during turnout periods and the temperatures or wind chill drop below 5 F
- There is a chance the horse will become wet (e.g. rain, ice, and/or freezing rain, usually not a problem with snow)
- The horse has had its winter coat clipped
- The horse is very young or very old
- The horse isn’t acclimated to the cold
- The horse has a body condition score of 3 or less.
If a horse is blanketed, it is critical that the blanket fits properly. Poorly fitted blankets can cause sores and rub marks, especially along the straps. Remove the blanket daily, inspect it for damage, the horse for rub marks, and re-position it. Make sure the blanket stays dry and never put a blanket on a wet horse, wait until the horse is dry before blanketing.
Written by Krishona Martinson, PhD, Christie Ward, DVM and Marcia Hathaway, PhD, University of Minnesota. This and other horse nutrition articles can be found at http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/nutrition/.