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Should I blanket my horse in the cold?

16 August 2011 One Comment

Should I blanket my horse in the cold? We asked horse training expert Dr. Jessica Jahiel, whose teaching goal is to develop balanced, willing, forward horses and thoughtful riders. More on Jessica

From: June

Dear Jessica,

I have been reading your advice mail for about a month. I don’t have time to read all of the posts but enjoy the ones I do read.

I acquired a 3 year old Morgan last March. She is the only horse I own presently and is the 4th horse I have owned. I live in the foothills of the Sierra-Nevadas outside of Fresno, CA. The climate here is very mild with maybe (and that’s a big maybe) 2-3 inches of snow some years. I do not have a barn or indoor facilities of any kind and boarding is out of he question. We have a corral with a shelter over Half of it and an outdoor arena. She prefers to stand out in the rain than under her shelter. We’ve been getting quite a bit of rain this season. My question is will she be ok with the facilities we have. I don’t know why I worry so much, my 2 Arabs that I had previously did just fine outdoors with no shelter, never got sick. This mare was raised in Wyoming, I’m told in pasture year round. But I’m still concerned every time I look at her very wet body. I guess part of my concern is that she doesn’t have other horses to huddle with when it’s cold. I do blanket her when it gets below 40f but she hates the blanket. She has a decent winter coat, not as thick as I thought it would get.

Her feed schedule (I’m sure this is a factor) is as follows: 1 flake of alfalfa in the morning. After approximately 15 min of grazing on this, she gets a mixture of approx 3 cups of beet pulp, 1 1/2 cups grain, vitamin supplement, brewers yeast, and approx 1/2 tsp of salt, plus she has a salt block. 1 flake of oat hay at night. She has what I consider good winter weight on her, not fat but a little plumper than she would be in the summer months, and our summers are long here. She appears to be as healthy as a uh-uhm horse;-)

I checked this feeding with the vet and he says it’s fine. Anyway, should I be so worried?

LICS = Lost In Cyber Space June

P.S. Thank you for taking the time to put this list together. It is a lot of help to a lot of people, esp. nervous horse owners like me.

Answer
Hi June — I’m with your vet on this one: don’t worry so much! You’re doing a beautiful job of looking after your mare. She’s got good food, a field and shelter (the ideal way to keep horses), and she lives in a mild climate. The only thing she lacks is a companion, and you can probably provide her with a buddy — perhaps an old pony, or a retired or rescue “companion” horse. These are usually VERY easy to find! Don’t blanket her unless it gets a heck of a lot colder than 40F. She doesn’t need it, unless she’s been body-clipped, and it isn’t good for her. She’ll be healthier without the blanket — she has a coat, and a shelter, and if she wants to come in, she will. 40F is cold for PEOPLE. For horses, it’s a comfortable temperature, and so is 30F for that matter. Horses are really designed for COLD weather, not hot — if they’re healthy and well-fed, it’s summers that make them miserable, not winters. Don’t blanket your mare because YOU are cold! In below-freezing temperatures, you can go out into a field and slide your hands into a healthy horse’s coat, and you’ll find a WARM horse under that fur. You’ll also find a happy horse if it can move about freely, and in most cases, that means WITHOUT a blanket.

Some horses grow enormous wooly coats, and some don’t — but a shorter coat doesn’t mean a cold horse. Those hairs can still stand up nicely and create airspace that acts as an insulator. I have two horses outdoors at this very moment: one has a long shaggy coat (partly due to age and metabolism), the other has a thinner, shorter, finer coat. BOTH are warm and happy.

If you’re worried about her getting cold, the best way to deal with the problem is from the inside out — more hay = more warmth. If she’s grazing a pasture in addition to getting her feed morning and night, she won’t be cold. If the pasture is running out of grass, ask your vet how much and what kind of hay he would recommend to make up for the pasture. High-fiber, low-protein hay will keep her warm without making her enormously fat — but talk to your vet before you change anything about her diet.

It sounds to me as though you have a healthy, well-looked-after mare. Talk to your vet about finding her a buddy — vets are usually very good at locating companion animals for lonely horses!

Sincerely, Jessica

One Comment »

  • Ruffian said:

    Great information! I appreciate how concise and easy to understand it was written. I especially like your point about trying to keep horses warm from the inside out! Thanks.

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