Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Great Blanket Debate

Should I blanket my horse, or should I leave him without a blanket? This is an ongoing debate that has plagued the horse community for years. Blanketing is common practice that is seen by many as a necessity. If the owner is cold, they give their horse an extra layer so he can keep warm. However, what many people do not realize is that in most cases, blanketing is unnecessary, and in some cases detrimental. Except for extreme conditions, such as old age, illness, heavy winds, or when a horse has been body clipped, horses should not be blanketed.

Horses are incredibly adaptive creatures: they can live in the arid deserts like that of Arabia, in the bitter cold, or just about any climate that man has inhabited and brought horses. For centuries before domestication, wild horses have been able to adapt to the climates where they lived, and have never required the pampering that many horse owners give their horses today. Feral horses of today are also well enough adapted that they can stay warm enough in the winter, providing they have enough food and a windbreak. Domesticated horses are no different. They have many ways of regulating their body temperature. The horse's digestive system produces heat as it digests fibers found it hay and other feeds, and the horse's fat, skin, and thick winter coat act as insulators, trapping the heat in to keep the horse sufficiently warm. In a process called piloerection, the horse's hair raises and lowers, depending on the temperature and wind speed. This regulates the amount of heat that is trapped in. Because of this, horses do not need blankets to help keep them warm.

Changes in the coat occur automatically, and much more quickly than it would take for someone to remove or replace a blanket. Because of this, a blanketed horse can begin to overheat by the time the blanket is removed when the daytime temperatures become warm. Furthermore, blanketing actually interferes with the process thermoregulation. As the horse tries to warm the exposed body parts, the blanketed parts sweat and overheat. “Sweating under a blanket is more of a problem metabolically to the horse than people realize”(Natalija). When blanketed or stabled for extended periods of time, the metabolic functions that control body temperature are not used–they do not need to be. As a result, if the horse is exposed to cold temperature after that, these function do not work as effectively. Consequently, the horse will be unable to heat themselves and will be too cold. Overheating or being too cold can cause a host of problems for the horse, so it best that he keeps his body heat at comfortable temperature.

As most horse owners know, blankets, like all horse equipment, are expensive. Depending on where you live, you may even have to buy multiple blankets to used during large changes in temperature, because once a horse is blanketed regularly, they do not have a winter coat to keep them warm. They may require a thick, heavy blanket when it is icy, rainy, and windy, but only a medium-weight blanket in more moderate temperatures. Furthermore, one must consider the cost of replacing broken blankets. Some horses, especially younger ones, are destructive with their blankets. Even blankets not used by horses who intentionally destroy blankets can break as a result of the rough treatment it gets from horses rolling and playing. If the horse is left uncovered however, you will probably only need to buy a light blanket for the coldest, wettest, and windiest days. As a result, you will save money because you will not need to spend as much money on blankets as you would if you blanketed your horse regularly.

Since horses can regulate their body temperature so well, even if temperatures that people find chilling and uncomfortable to be in, they do not need to be blanketed, as long as they are healthy, have enough food, have a windbreak, and are unclipped. Keeping the horses uncovered in the winter may also save the you money because you will not need to purchase blankets for your horses. For these reasons, blanketing is unnatural and unnecessary, unless the horse in unhealthy, clipped, or unadjusted to the climate, or if the weather is particularly inhospitable.


Aleksandrova, Natalija. “No More Blankets–An Amazing Article.” The Soul of a Horse.

Krahl, Stephanie. To Blanket Your Horse or Not to Blanket...That Is the Question. The Soulful Equine. 2015. 1 Dec. 2015. http://www.soulfulequine.com/to-blanket-your-horse-or-not-to-blanket-that-is-the-question/

Williams, Carey A. Ph.D. and Ralston, Sarah L. VMD, Ph.D. Did You Know: Winter Care and Feeding. My Horse University. 2012. 1 Dec. 2015. http://www.myhorseuniversity.com/resources/eTips/November2011/Didyouknow


  1. I don't believe in either side. Horses either should be blanketed or not depending on their living conditions and what the person who owns them wants to do. I do blanket my three b/c they are incredibly stupid - i.e. my barn owner has emailed to tell me my horses are standing out in the freezing rain because they are scared of their stalls when it rains. They also get clipped most of the time. I'm happy to answer your questions if you can't find someone better, but I'm don't really have strong feelings about it.

  2. I also don't care either way - I blanket if my horse is clipped, and don't blanket if the horse is not clipped. That being said, you make the point that regularly blanketing a horse stunts coat growth, which isn't necessarily the case. A lot of factors go into coat growth - primarily nutrition (a well fed horse is less cold, which tends to keep it from growing a thick coat) and sunlight (less sun = more coat growth). I wouldn't be the best to answer your questions, I'm afraid, but I hope you find someone who is!

  3. yea i don't have a strong opinion in this matter either - there are horses at my farm who are over blanketed (wearing too many clothes and are too hot underneath) according to their owner's preference, and there are horses who become cold and shivering in even fairly balmy circumstances (like our skinnier OTTBs or some of the older residents). my mare wears a blanket or a sheet depending on temperature and precipitation, and she seems quite happy.

  4. I'm with Olivia. I am not an "all blankets, all the time" person - my own horsed lived out 24/7 without blankets for years - but the domesticated horse is a different creature from the ideal wild horse, which does hold true to the principles you outlined. One big category of horses that really almost always need to be blanketed are senior horses - they either lose the ability to regulate their temperature, their metabolism has slowed so that they cannot get enough calories to stay warm, their coat quality is significantly degraded, some combination of all of the above.

    Wild horses self-select for hardiness. The horses that cannot tolerate winters without blanketing colic and die, so it's something of a false equivalency to say that they are all just fine. The ones still alive are.


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