“What is your input on blanketing a horse or not in the winter and also how cold is to cold to let them out in pasture?”-Kimberly M.

I think that there are valid reasons both for and against blanketing horses and each person needs to evaluate what is best for their horse.

StacyWestfall'sfirsthorseI grew up in Maine and we never blanketed our horses. Sometimes the thermometer, without windchill, would go as low as -40…below zero. It got cold. Thankfully the wind didn’t blow when it was that cold and our horses grew thick coats and never shivered. All was good.

My mom still lives in Maine but she has different horses. One horse is in his 20’s and is a hard keeper. He grows a thick hair coat and doesn’t shiver but putting a rain sheet or waterproof blanket on him when it is extremely cold helps him to conserve energy and hold his weight better.

The other is a middle aged mare who is an easy keeper but naturally doesn’t grow much hair. I know because she lived with me for years and we kept her in a pasture with a run-in shed. Each year everyone else in the pasture grew enough hair to stay warm but this mare would only grow an average hair coat and then would shiver. Some people have told me that shivering is ‘natural’, which is obvious in one sense of the word, but whenever I have personally experienced shivering I have found it to be very unpleasant. I am convinced that some horses are ‘naturally’ given to growing more or less hair and as the mare can’t migrate south…I sent my mom a rain sheet and a waterproof blanket.

When I have horses in training that I am riding multiple times per week I keep them blanketed. I do this because if I don’t then they tend to overheat when working…imagine dressing in your best winter overalls and coat and then shoveling snow for an hour straight. Heavy winter wear is not the best when you’re doing heavy work. Every time I make that mistake I end up needing to remove layers, something my horse cannot choose to do if it is hair. By blanketing my horses that I am working I can help them regulate their temperature plus I can help them cool out quicker. A horse with a heavy hair coat that does get soaking wet from a workout can take hours to cool out and dry properly. A horse that has been blanketed can be cooled out in thirty minutes or less with a wool cooler.Luke, I am your father!

The choice to blanket also comes with the responsibility to check and maintain the horses regularly. If I have horses that I am blanketing it is a lot of extra work in the fall and the spring. I have to pay attention to the daytime and nighttime temperatures and change their layers accordingly. For a fully blanketed show horse it is normal to change their layers every ten degrees. I do not choose to blanket horses just for the fun of it…it is far too much work if that is the only reason.

If you don’t need a short hair coat because you are working the horse regularly but want to blanket sometimes then consider only adding below a certain temperature. If you choose to only blanket when the temperature is below ten degrees then your horse will still grow a pretty thick hair coat. Plus by selecting a low temperature like zero or ten degrees you won’t have all of the extra work in the spring and fall.

I prefer to leave horses that aren’t working regularly without blankets and allow them to grow as much hair as possible. I also recognize that some times blanketing can be either helpful, as in the training situation, or best, such as with the hard keeper.

As far as how cold is too cold I think there are different factors to look at. How healthy the horse is, what type of shelter or wind break is available, and how much forage is available are all part of the equation. Keep in mind that a great source of internal heat for horses in the winter is digesting hay and fresh, unfrozen, water is always a must.Mini horses in snow

Each situation will be a little different and I’m sure that many people will leave comments about the temperatures their horses have successfully lived in. Here is a comment following my blog on “How cold is too cold to ride a horse.” 

“Up here in Canada if we don’t ride when it’s “too cold” – we wouldn’t ride for half the year! 😉 At our barn we just make sure we ride the horses according to the temperature. On the really cold days we might just play with some trail obstacles or do ground work in order to not sweat the horses up. Oh, and I’ve discovered that “hot paws” are a girl’s best friend in the winter! They are little heated pads that go inside your gloves and boots. Life savers! (or should I say “digit savers”!)”-Kim

I have more often kept my horses in because of ice or poor footing instead of the weather being too cold. Unfortunately, someone will leave a comment saying that it is totally natural for horses to endure any weather. While it is true that horses live in the wild, they also can suffer in the wild. I have personally seen horses with half their ears because the tops were frozen off…natural, yes, but not something I’m interested in.

While googling for info I found a great article on Discoverhorses.com quoting Dr. Joyce Harman, “There is no temperature where it is too cold for a horse to be ridden or to go outside if they are adapted to it.”

I think each person needs to evaluate their situation. Some places are going to get extreme wind, others extreme snow or ice and still others extreme cold, each brings its own challenges. Keep in mind that sudden or unusual weather won’t allow the horses time to adapt.

Often I have to laugh when I go out in the cold with my horses. Some of my best memories are with my horses in the winter. They tend to be fresh and full of energy and for the most part they seem to handle the cold weather much better than I do.