Welcome back to Horseware Ireland’s horse blanket series. In part one, ‘Breaking Down the Blanket’, we helped you understand all the parts of the horse blanket. Now that you’re an expert on what denier actually means and the difference in designs, we’ll be covering what factors influence the type of blanket your horse needs.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to blanketing. To blanket or not to blanket can be a really tricky decision and even then, there are choices in what weight of blanket to put on your horse. Let’s make things a little easier and look at the different factors to consider when selecting a blanket.
If you’re feeling cold then it makes sense that your horse is too but it’s not as straightforward as that. Horses have a thermoneutral zone of between 41°F and 77°F, whereas humans have a thermoneutral zone of around 77°F to 86°F.
The thermoneutral zone is a range of temperatures where little or no extra energy is needed to keep you at a normal, comfortable temperature. Horses have a much wider thermoneutral zone than humans so just because you need to wear a sweater, your horse doesn’t necessarily need another layer.
It’s not just temperatures that come into play when influencing blanket choice but rain and wind too. Your horse is unable to retain heat as effectively when they are wet or there is a wind chill. A turnout blanket has a waterproof outer so will help to keep your horse’s body temperature more consistent. A blanket can offer protection against skin irritations like rain scald too.
Ideally, your horse will have access to shelter in their paddock. This could be a manmade shelter or natural protection like trees and hedges. Horses will try to seek shelter, whether that is huddling up with others, or whinnying by the gate to come in! If your horse has limited or no access to shelter, consider using a blanket that can offer adequate protection from the elements.
Breed, Age & Condition
Different breeds and types of horses will have unique blanketing needs. Some types are hardier, like Fjords, whereas others have a thinner skin and coat, such as Thoroughbreds.
Age and condition play a large role in deciding whether to blanket or not. A horse that is carrying some extra pounds can safely lose excess weight by not wearing a blanket, or wearing a lite weight one in the fall. If your horse struggles to keep their condition and is a ‘poor-doer’ you will likely need a blanket to help keep their weight on. Similarly, older horses can find it tricky to hold their weight through the winter so may benefit from a heavier blanket than their younger counterparts.
Ensure your horse has access to good quality and plentiful forage throughout the winter. Eating and digesting food helps to generate heat and keep them cozy from within. You may find that you need to feed more hay in the winter months.
Horses have a wide thermoneutral zone but if temperatures are dropping below 41°F they will be using extra energy to stay warm. Your horse’s usual calorie intake may not be enough in colder temperatures, so feeding extra forage and blanketing can help maintain their core body temperature.
Horses are used to living outdoors and have survived without blankets for years. As we come into fall, your horse will shed their summer coat and a thicker winter coat will come in. The hairs are thicker and longer which stand up to trap heat, rather than lying flat.
You might choose to clip your horse to stop them from getting sweaty while ridden, to help save time, or for grooming and showing purposes. However, clipping does remove your horse’s natural insulation layer for winter. There are different styles of clips, from a strip clip that removes minimal hair to a full clip that can remove all the hair.
Consider putting back the lost hair/insulation in the form of a horse blanket. The more hair removed, the more fill or weight the blanket will need to compensate for. Using a blanket also helps to prolong the amount of time before you have to reclip.
If you’re moving from a warmer location to somewhere cooler, for example, Florida to Maine, consider using a heavier blanket until they are used to the weather. Horses are pretty good at adapting though so typically by the following year they will have started growing a thicker winter coat to stay warm in their new home.
While we would love to spend the whole day at the barn, we understand you have a busy life outside of horses. After navigating rush hour traffic to the barn after work, the last thing you want to do is spend your valuable time trying to dry off your horse before you can tack up. Using a turnout blanket, even if it’s just a lite weight, helps to keep your horse clean and dry so you don’t have to choose between riding or getting all your chores done.
Treat Your Horse as an Individual
Remember to assess your own horse when deciding to blanket or not. It is easy to be swayed by what other owners are putting on their horses. Trust that you know your horse and their individual needs.
You don’t need to stick to the same decision the whole fall and winter. It’s likely that even if you start with no blanket you need to opt for a lite weight turnout as the weather gets wetter. Similarly, you may need to change to a heavy weight from a medium weight if you fully clip your horse, or temperatures drop.
Deciding which blanket to choose should be much easier now you understand what factors influence the type of blanket your horse needs. Still a little unsure? Check out the Horseware Turnout Guide App for recommendations based on the weather in your area.
Stay tuned for part three of the series where we will help you keep your horse comfortable in all weathers by recognizing the signs they are too hot or too cold.