There are a lot of tiresome debates in the horse world. Bit vs. bitless. Shod vs. barefoot. 24-hour turnout vs. part-time stabling. The answer to all of these debates is “Work with your veterinarian (or farrier or other relevant professional) to determine what’s best for your horse.” I feel like we could end it there.
Blanketing is a surprisingly heated issue in the horse world. You would think this is something where the non-blanketers could just quietly laugh at the blanketers who spend a lot of money on horse clothes and then fret all winter about which weight is the right one to use. Alas, that’s not always what happens. People get really inflammatory about blankets, accusing blanketers of messing with nature. Or something.
Officially here at Horse Illustrated HQ, we take a pretty neutral stance. You’ve heard this one: If your horse is unclipped and has access to hay and shelter, he probably doesn’t need a blanket, no matter how cold it gets. If you choose to body clip him, you should probably blanket him when it’s cold, windy or wet in the winter. If your situation falls somewhere in between those two scenarios, well, work with your veterinarian to determine what’s best for your horse.
Perhaps you’ve seen this blog post by David Ramey, DVM, an equine vet who has gained quite a following for his blunt takedowns of frivolous horse care practices. His stance is pretty much that no horse needs a blanket. Ever. Well, he makes an exception for a hypothetical bodyclipped horse who lives outside in January. In Finland. Additionally, he points out that if a horse gets wet, say from sweat or from rain leaking in, the blanket will prevent moisture from evaporating, ultimately leaving your horse wetter and colder than his unblanketed brethren.
Yeah, he’s probably right. I’m going to keep blanketing my horse anyway.
I’ve always considered myself a blanketing minimalist. I’ve put Snoopy’s on when cold weather is coupled with wind or rain/ice, or in case of polar-vortex-type temperatures, but that’s it. I board at an eventing-focused stable, which means most of Snoopy’s neighbors are Thoroughbred-types who are at least partially clipped as their training continues through the winter, so blankets abound. There have been days where he (and the local Haflinger) have been the only ones going au naturel.
Blankets aren’t necessary, says Snoopy. In fact, he tells me horses are most able to self-regulate their temperature if they have access to free-choice carrots.
That changed a bit this year. Historically an easy keeper, Snoopy’s weight is less than ideal for the first time in his entire life, to the point that my vet recently told me I should start feeding him more grain (he’s been on just “a handful” along with his joint supplement* for many years.) And he’s old. He gets plenty of hay and he has shelter in his field, but on a day like today, when the air temperature is below zero and the wind is gusting, I can’t help but feel like I’m doing the right thing by keeping the blanket on. That goes double when there’s freezing rain happening.
Dr. Ramey anticipated this sort of reaction. See the last two paragraphs of his post.
Maybe Snoopy could take or leave his clothes, but I DO feel better when my old guy is wearing his blanket, so if it’s cold and wet or the temperature is below freezing, he’s going to be in his blanket. When I’m at home at night listening to ice pelt the windows, that peace of mind—even if it’s misguided—is worth it. Take your best shot, blanket-haters on Facebook. I just don’t care.
*Dr. Ramey also has an interesting post about why equine supplements are unnecessary. I agree with all of it…and yet, my horse will likely be on his until the day he dies.
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Leslie Potter is Sr. Associate Web Editor of @LeslieInLex.