Horse Warmth in Winter

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Horse blankets
Q. In the winter, how do I know if my horse is warm enough?  Is his winter coat sufficient for warmth or does he need a blanket too?

A. Horses respond to the shortened days leading up to winter by growing a winter coat.  It is this hefty fur coat and the underlying fat that insulates a horse against inclement weather.  Sheds and stalls provide additional protection from wind, rain and snow.

However, a thin horse or a hard keeper may need added protection from the elements.  In today’s age of hi-tech materials, there is a huge selection of blanket possibilities.  So, when you drive down a country road, you will likely see horses sporting all colors and types of blankets in the chilly winter weather.  How can you tell if your horse is comfortably warm and snug beneath his blanket, or if he is OK without one?

As a general rule, most healthy, unclipped horses don’t need added blanket protection in temperatures above 10 – 20 degrees Fahrenheit.  Below that, a blanket helps conserve calories and keep your horse comfortable.  A wet horse often shivers as a natural response in order to warm the muscles.  This does not necessarily mean a horse is chilled, but rather it’s his body’s way of coping with the environment.  Offering extra grass hay will help him stay warm from the inside out by utilizing the natural combustion chamber of the hindgut as it digests the high fiber ration.

If your horse is blanketed, put your hand beneath the blanket to see if he feels dry and toasty warm.  If so, then he is likely just fine.  The danger comes from over-blanketing.  Too much insulation, particularly on a warmish day with the sun shining, creates a possibility of overheating.  If your horse feels slightly damp (sweaty) beneath his blanket, then the blanket needs to be removed. A fat horse or one with a dense and thick winter coat may do better if left without a blanket. Usually, a good plan is to remove a blanket during the day, especially when the sun is out, and then replace it in the evening when the temperature drops.  If your horse doesn’t wear a blanket, be sure to brush out his fur and remove mud and dirt so his hair will fluff up to retain heat.

Nancy S. Loving, DVM

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18 COMMENTS

  1. My mare is on pasture and I can only see her in the evenings since I work at Five a.m. and she lives six miles in the opposite direction and I carpool.
    She is in her thirties and can’t chew hay (‘wavy’ teeth) so I give her a pellet slurry with apple and carrot grated in as well as seaweed.
    I put a blanket on her 24 hours a day if her condition is four or below. Is this okay in the Seattle area where it seldom freezes ?

  2. I know God created horses to be outside in all weather, but I sure do feel guilty sitting in my nice toasty house at night in the winter & my 4-legged pal is standing outside in -20 degrees not including the windchill factor!! Brrr!! Good thing he has L O N G legs or he’d be lost in the big drifts we get up here in the “frozen tundra!!”
    **I wish the article would have covered which types of waterproof/breatheable sheets would be most appropriate for winter temperatures & conditions. Some of us would like to see some specific suggestions as to what are good things to look for & what to avoid when considering purchasing winter-wear for our horse(s).**

  3. You know I agree with Nancy 100%.Look at all these rich horse people who think they have to get every sheet and blanket in the world,when after all,they really don’t need them.I totally agree.
    Horselover

  4. I live in Ct and it can get cold here but I don’t blanket my Appaloosa and he grows a nice coat. So far he has weathered two winters without with no problems.

  5. How can I promote sufficient hair growth on a horse that does not grow very much fur in the winter? I have been told by someone to keep the horse outside without a blanket on in cold weather to force hair growth, yet how do I do that without freezing the horse to death?

  6. What about a clipped horse would thay need a blanket? would they need a blanket if you live in some place that has a winter where the lowest temperature is 25 degrees farenheit? What about a skinny horse in this climate?

  7. this was very usfully thanks my horses have nover been blanketed .but I DIDNT KNOW YOU WERE TO BRUSH THEM DAYLEE WHEN IT WAS COLD I THOUGHT BRUSHING WOULD MAKE THEN COLD THANKS FOR THAT INFO .

  8. Yes, Olivia, a clipped horse does need a blanket in the winter, as well as a skinny horse in 25 degrees farenheit. As for a healthy horse with a good weight and winter coat, blanketing depends on a lot of things, including breed, grain ration, and even personality. For example, if you have a horse that easily gets so nervous or excited that it works itself into a sweat, even just in the pasture, you wouldn’t blanket him.

  9. Everyone at my stable blankets their horses in the winter. Nothing heavy – just a lightly insulated waterproof blanket. My horse is 19 and super-healthy. Why take the chance on having her wet and shivering? She loves her blankets!

  10. My horses are all easy keepers and I don’t trim them during the winter, so I never blanket them. It also doesn’t get super cold here. If we have a overnight low in the 20’s that’s cold for here. All my horses actually seem to prefer not having a blanket on! My mini has a nice, cozy, dry barn she can go in, but always chooses to stand out in the wind and rain, so I guess she’s fine! 🙂

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