When to Blanket a Horse? Temperature Guide for Cold Weather

Jessica McDaniel
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When to Blanket A Horse: Proper Blanketing Tips

Although blankets are a necessary piece of equestrian equipment, in colder climates, they may not be something you need to buy each year for each horse. Instead, you may be able to make do with blankets and sheets already in your tack room, as long as there are enough blankets and sheets to go around. If not, you can always buy extras of your favorite or needed blankets, and if need be, easily sell extras – blankets don’t last forever!

The rule of thumb when deciding if you need to blanket a horse is – are they using muscles they otherwise would not have to use? If yes, then you should consider blanketing them.

Here is the general winter rule: the horse should be able to keep warm with a light exercise coat over his stable blanket.

Here is a temperature guide that shows when you need to blanket a horse:

· 40-50º F: Remove stable blanket; Blanket only if horse is tied to shelter.

· 50-55º F: Remove stable blanket; Use light exercise sheet.

· >55º F: Remove stable sheet; Blanket only if horse is tied to shelter.

· 55-60º F: Remove stable sheet; Use light exercise sheet.

· >60º F: Remove exercise sheet and stable sheet; Blanket only if horse is tied to shelter.

When to Blanket A Horse: Factors That Can Lower Your Horse’s Internal Temperature

Horses are warm-blooded animals and can withstand short spells of cold weather without needing extra heat. However, long bouts of cold weather can make your horse feel very uncomfortable and susceptible to illness. Blanketing them is the most effective way to keep your horse warm and prevent a decrease in their internal temperature.

The weather can change drastically in a matter of days. While your horse can survive in cold weather as long as it's warm-blooded and they have shelter, they can still feel the effects from the drop in their internal temperature. An internal temperature that drops below their normal range increases the risk of cold-related disease.

Bonus Tip: To more accurately determine whether your horse should be blanketed, determine the actual air temperature and compare it to the temperature that your horse’s body would feel. The surrounding climate plays a big role in how you should blanket your horse.

What Affects Your Horse's Temperature in Cold Weather?

Cold weather is defined as temperatures below 70 degrees. Cold weather can cause a decrease in your horse’s body temperature. Cold weather can be simply caused by an exposure to the wind, rain, snow or something that is even colder. However, cold weather also increases the risk for cold-related disease, which can lead to death.

Weather Changes

Overnight lows can drop into the single digits during the winter, not just at night, but also during the day at high elevations and in extremely windy or stormy conditions. When I say single digits, I'm talking at or below zero. Our horses live in a part of the country notorious for harsh winters and cold temperatures, and we personally know several horse owners whose horses lost their winter coats due to exposure, so this is a topic worth covering.

How a Horse Loses His Winter Coat

Horses in cold conditions can easily lose their winter coats. Generally, these outer coats grow a few inches a year and in colder weather the body will slow this process down to save energy. The body begins to drop its own insulation blanket months before the changed seasons start and then begins to dump the heavy winter coat during the shortest days of the year.

During the spring, when the days get warmer, the long-term insulation, which is down, begins growing in the fall. Between the horse's skin and outer hair coat, there is an undercoat. This down-like layer is the horse's winter insulation. But in severe winter conditions, this layer can fail to offer enough protection, so you need to layer up to keep your horse warm. Blanketing your horse during the winter months will help him to retain his winter coat.

Horses Coat

Blanket & Winter Safety.

No matter how much clothing you put on a horse in the winter, he will not be able to keep warm without an insulating fiber called body fat, and the ability to grow and produce winter hair is usually the ultimate test of whether a horse can survive outside through winter.

We all know that horses that are out in extended periods of cold without a blanket, will become exhausted and often, die of hypothermia. What we need to understand is we are responsible for providing a safe environment for winter weather and yet this is the season that we are most likely to allow our horses to be exposed to the harshest elements which could ultimately lead to death.

There are some guidelines to follow to help pick the right blanket for your horse. Use the following as a temperature guide along with consideration for air movement, horse size, breed sensitivity, hair type, coat type etc..

Aging Horse/Illness

If you have an older or sick horse and it gets cold outside, it’s necessary to blanket your horse. Blanket must be removed in the morning and replaced at bedtime, to prevent your horse getting colic attack from excessive accumulation of gases according to "The Horse" reference.

An older horse will not have the muscle and fat reserves to keep warm, especially overnight, so adding blankets will help his body generate heat and stay warm.

When to Blanket A Horse: How to Blanket a Horse in Winter

The weather may not make it a necessity, but if you live in an area where cold weather would be a risk for your horse, then it is best to prepare ahead of time. Consider home-made methods if you are on a tight budget. It’s best to start getting your horse used to blankets and/or clips as early as possible. The structure should be loose enough to prevent rubbing, but not so tight that it restricts your horse's movements. The blankets should not restrict their head in any way as that could be a bit risky depending on the weather.

If you are new to blanket jumping, make sure you have plenty of practice before you make the transition into winter weather. Each trick or skill is one step closer towards being an ace with blankets. If you think you would want to avoid a blanket all together, it is important to train your horse to tolerate cold weather. With just a little bit of training, you can safely and easily protect your horse from the cold weather.

Here are a few ways to prepare your horse:

Withhold feed for two days prior, to sending them out into the cold. As a result of less feed, their activity level will likely decrease and overall body temperature will go down.

Horse Blanketing Guide

When should you blanket a horse? The question often pops up during the winter season, and the answer is that you should blanket a horse at night or during the coldest of early winter days, when the temperature drops bellow 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Here are some quick statistics:

Horses in cold climate regions can lower their body temperature in order to tolerate temperatures that are much lower than it would be comfortable for people i.e. they can comfortably withstand a frigid temperature that people cannot. For example horses body temperature can drop to 60 – 65 degrees Fahrenheit when they are required to do hard work. The horses can withstand 10-12 F below the equine norm of 98.6F degrees for brief periods of time. During these times, horses must be kept cozy, dry and warm to avoid contracting a cold or condition referred to as colic, and to ensure that their digestive systems continue to function properly. Colic is a painful digestive disorder that is typically caused by improper diet.

A horse blanket may be added to the horse during the winter season to ensure that the horses maintain their usual warm temperature during the coldest days, and to prevent the horse from getting a cold or colic.

Horse owners will often choose from different blanket options including:-

A cool weather fitted sheet-like blanket that comes with removable shell and liner that is typically very easy to care for and allows for greater airflow.

Blanket A Horse: Different Types of Horse Blankets

Horse coat blankets are essential for protection against wind, rain, snow and cold weather. Blankets are also great at keeping the moisture in during the winter when they have a thick layer of snow on them. Ideally, you should never need to blanket your horse during the summer and only use blankets in cold and wet weather.

The blanket should fit snugly against the horse's body as a way to seal off any spaces where moisture, and cold air can seep in behind the blanket.

There are many different types of horse blanket materials, some of which are wool, fleece, and synthetic. Horse blanket pads are typically made of wool and are used to add an extra layer of comfort and warmth for your horse.

Generally, you should avoid blankets with neck pieces as this is uncomfortable and can hinder the natural heat regulation process of your horse's body.

When you are looking to purchase a blanket, you should also take into consideration the length of the horse. Horses that are taller or have long legs need extra length for their blankets to fit correctly.

Let's take a closer look at the blanket types available.

Turn Out Blankets For Horses

Turning your horses out in the pasture means you are mainly concerned about their safety.

Basically, turning your horses out means giving them freedom of movement and letting them graze freely (if they are pasture horses) or allowing them to run free in an enclosed area such as a field or arena.

Turning out horses in the winter means that they are not separated from their herd in a stall. They get to be around other herd members and get to be more active than if they were in a stall. It's a great way to prevent boredom and keep them healthy before winter arrives in your area.

The temperature should be kept at least 10 degrees above the temperature it is outside, so it would be ideal to let your horses out when the temp. is about 40 degrees F. (4 degrees C) and when it is raining, snowing or freezing.

If the temperature of the environment is below freezing and the rain or snow is not freezing, your horses will be fine being turned out even if the temperature of the environment is below freezing.

If the temperature of the environment is below freezing and the power goes out, turning your horses out will keep them safe.

Horses can also be turned out in the evening after the temperatures have risen above freezing.

If you are not sure if the temperature is high enough, bring a thermometer with you to test the temperature.

Stable Blankets

Stable blankets are thin and are intended to put a barrier between your horse and the wind. They are not designed to keep your horse’s body heat in. They’re also commonly used as waterproofing in addition to offering some wind protection. They are very light weight and will gently blow in the wind.

Stable blankets have many uses, such as covering a wet horse after a wash, laying a saddle blanket on top of to give extra protection against rain on longer rides, also as a sheet to help keep your horse warm on trail rides. If you are keeping your horse outside, you can lay stable blankets on top of a rug or turnout blanket to help protect against flies.

Stable blankets are usually made of polypropylene, which is a synthetic fiber. It’s very light, durable, and inexpensive. On the downside, it doesn’t breathe very well and can lead to excess moisture on the horse which may cause a chill.

So, stable blankets aren’t appropriate for very cold weather riding, and also are not an ideal choice if you need a blanket that has some insulation or warmth.

Rain and Fly Sheets

Horses are animals of habit and they get really stressed out if their routine is broken. Blankets are normally reserved for cold weather conditions and you would want to change to a different type of cover when the temperatures start to get warmer than usual. A rain sheet is the main type of cover we use in the fall and spring when the weather is comfortable. Rain sheets are very lightweight and breathable. They act as a blanket, but they are more breathable and lightweight than a traditional winter blanket and shouldn’t be used in the winter when the temperatures drop significantly.

Another type of cover you can use on your horse is the fly sheet. Fly sheets are designed to keep bugs, biting flies, no-see-ums, gnats and other small flying insects from biting and stinging your horse. Fly sheets are used throughout the summer months and they are designed to be lightweight so that they aren’t a burden on your horse. They can be left on your horse all day. A fly sheet is a good alternative to using a rain sheet over your horse when the temperatures are either extremely hot or cold.

When Should the Blanket Come Off?

The blanket should be immediately removed as soon as temperature goes above 5 degrees C and put back on when temperature goes below 5 degrees C. Therefore, you should remove the blanket and put it back on twice a day.

It is safe to remove the blanket if the temperature is above 5 degrees C. It is important to keep in mind that the horse needs time to warm up after the blanket has been removed. For the horse, getting cold again is dangerous. Dehydration and hypothermia may occur if the horse does not have enough time to warm up.

On the other hand, the horse needs time to cool down after putting the blanket back on. Putting the blanket back on while the horse is still hot could cause suffering to the animal and the temperature could increase again.

Keep Your Horse Happy!

Remember to Blanket!

Covering your horse is one of the most effective ways to keep them comfortable and keep their temperature in check. Your horse will feel less stiff in cold weather and wet rain, which will encourage him to move around more. And keep your horse’s body temperature regulated.

Blankets have taken the horse-world by storm and if you have never seen a blanketed horse, you should really try it! There are many brands out there, so you can pick one that fits your needs and your horse.