As the temperatures drop and winter ramps up, horsemen all over the world ask if they should blanket their horses. The answer is maybe.
Because each horse is different, you should consider the horse’s normal routine and living situation, weather changes, shelter, access to food, and age.
Many people chose to clip their horses in the winter. There are several reasons for this (to be discussed another time) but it’s neither right or wrong. If a horse is clipped, their natural ability to stay warm in the colder months has been dramatically reduced and we must supplement with blankets. Typically, a light sheet is preferred from 50-60 degrees, a medium from 30-50 degrees, and a heavy from 15-30 degrees. When it gets below 15 degrees for a clipped horse, we need to at least consider potentially a neck blanket, layering blankets, and additional food. For unclipped horses, they tend to do pretty well even into the sub-zero temperatures as long as they have shelter from the wind, enough forage to keep them warm from the inside out, and access to water. If these necessities aren’t available, it may be necessary to supplement with blankets.
There are horses in this world who have never lived a day in a stall and would potentially be more stressed by suddenly being put into a box overnight instead of just fed a couple extra flakes of hay. Other horses are used to a heated barn and blankets every day. Again, neither is right or wrong but consider the horse’s normal routine.
As winter approaches, usually there is a gradual change in temperatures and weather conditions. This is easier for a horse to adjust to and cope with rather than sudden cold snaps or freak blizzards. Take into consideration what the weather has been and support your horse accordingly.
The last thing to consider is your horse’s age. Many horses over 20 years of age do not tolerate the cold as well as they once did. If they are shivering, consider adding a blanket and/or more forage to their diet. Hard keepers and elderly horses often will require 25% or more calories to maintain their body weight throughout the winter months due to the increased calorie consumption to maintain their body temperature.
While there are many considerations to determine if a blanket is needed, the fundamental necessities of horse survival – shelter, forage, and access to water (not frozen!) – should be the top priority.
For the love of the horse – Stay warm!