Taking Care of Horses: Winter Care and Blanketing

A very common question we get asked is: Should I blanket my horse in the winter? another closely related: Do horses get cold in the winter? There isn’t a simple answer right away, but with a few questions around the topic the answer can get easier and the decision process should solidify. In this video I talk about the three main factors to consider if you are thinking to blanket your horse, shelter, food and daily brushing care.

Horses are very big animals, and unlike something like a bird for example, because they are so big, it takes a long time to lose enough body heat to actually feel cold. Horses have their own way of fighting off the cold and becoming a bit impervious to it, but of course there are exceptions like if they are old or sick. In considering the idea of blanketing and if it’s a worthwhile investment to make, it’s important to think about that if your horse doesn’t have all three of the above items then considering a blanket is appropriate. It doesn’t mean you should or shouldn’t just based on those three things, but if a horse has shelter and 24/7 access to food then you’re mostly there in having them self sufficient in keeping warm and taking care of themselves.

Horses stay warm mostly because they eat all the time. Or at least they should be. When we put them in paddocks and stalls we place the responsibility of making sure they are regularly and well fed on ourselves. If they are in a huge pasture then pasture management becomes important and again, we’re back to the responsibility being on the owner to provide food. This food goes into their stomach and gut and gets worked on which creates heat and keeps them warm. Without it, a horse can quickly get cold.

If it’s raining or snowing or windy, or two of those at the same time, shelter is imperative. Some horses will actually choose to stand out in the rain, but a lot don’t. Giving them that option and making sure to always have it is integral to the process of deciding on a blanket or not. If a horse gets all wet and has no way to get dry, then a blanket will help keep that water off and hopefully stay insulated to keep them warm. Keeping in mind that wet and cold blankets can be really hard on horses when the rain stops as those things are quite heavy and can stay cold and wet for a long time past when maybe their own fur would dry out.

The third item about daily maintenance is also covered in the video, but essentially it means that you’d brush them to make sure they can keep what is called a “piloerection”, which is where their hair stands on end and creates an insulation effect that keeps the cold out and warm in. Very important piece of the puzzle because if they can’t fluff up then they’re destined to get cold. Just like almost every other animal on the planet with fur, hair or feathers, we all have the ability to stay a little warmer by puffing up and trapping warm air in and the cold out. Blankets inhibit that and so does poor care of the horse. If they get muddy and have nowhere to roll to rub it off then it’s no different than them having no fur to keep them warm in the first place as they can’t create that layer of insulation. Keeping them clean can really go a long ways and of course it’s great bonding time too.