There has always been debate about whether to blanket horses in winter.
Honestly, the best way to keep horses warm in winter is to provide shelter, or at least a windbreak while feeding them plenty of hay.
According to Dr. Sarah Jacobsen, of the Animal Health Clinic in Blackfoot, the act of digestion helps keep the horse’s temperature up. Forage like hay produces more heat than pellets or other types of processed food. It’s also important that horses have been wormed so they, not parasites, get full benefit of the food.
As always, clean, fresh water should be readily available. Horses need water to properly digest food. This means providing either a heated tank or making sure the ice is always broken off the water source.
Most horses grow a thick winter coat that is adequate for warmth. Oil production for the coat also increases, helping waterproof them.
Shelter is important because horses fighting wind and moisture will expend precious energy shivering to raise body temperature.
Most horses will naturally produce a coat capable of keeping them warm. Exceptions are foals, older horses, sick horses or those that can’t grow a thick winter coat. A horse blanketed for show season will not grow a natural winter coat.
It may be an old wives tale, but several horse owners I know gauge how harsh the winter will be by how thick a coat their horses produce going into this season. This says Mother Nature knows best how much coat they need.
If you do choose to blanket, make sure it’s fitted properly and doesn’t rub the chest and withers. Choose a blanket that is waterproof outside but has a breathable liner to dissipate moisture on the inside.
Make sure it fits. Using a flexible measuring tape, start at the center of the horse’s chest and measure around the side of the horse to the center it its tail. For example, if your horse measures 70 inches from chest to tail, you will want a size 70 blanket. It’s also vital to make sure straps going under the stomach are tight enough that the horse won’t catch a leg.
Once you blanket, you’ve changed the horse’s natural hair growth so you should continue to blanket until warm weather returns.
Desirai Schild has been involved in raising, breeding and showing gaited horses in eastern Idaho for more than 20 years. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.