Blanketing

I was sent an e-mail recently about blanketing horses, author unknown unfortunately. It appears to be an opinion piece, but one paragraph stood out: 
 
"However- a horse MUST have a way to get out of the wind in order for their 'self-blanketing' abilities to function fully. It turns out that blanketing is done more for pleasing the human, than to fill a need of the horse."
 
It’s true. We often blanket our horse when we’re cold. We’re wimps compared to them. The loft of their coat traps air and does a pretty good job of insulating them, and a good layer of snow and ice on their backs does the same.
 
My horses live outdoors with a huge run-in shed. (300 sq. ft. per horse, divided into two sections by a hay bunk) I'm thinking that one may want blanketing this year, (Holly - she didn't like the extreme cold last year) but the rest were fine without - we'll play it by ear.

Each horse is an individual and must be treated as such. Some horses, like people, can take the cold; some can't. None should have to when they're soaking wet and exposed to wind. And they will need more feed to thermoregulate.
 
What about the loft of the coat? Horses that are stabled, clipped, aged or ill, or in work add an extra dimension to the equation - their coats may not be up to the task. If the horse is lying in manure the coat will be caked and unable to trap an insulating layer of air. Dirt will dry and rub off but caked poop doesn't. They will need a clean place to lie down and regular deep grooming.

I believe, although I've never seen scientific studies, that the horse needs beneficial bacteria in the coat in order for its skin to stay healthy. That bacteria is in the dirt, and it may be possible that a horse kept blanketed is allowing the balance of bacteria to shift which may end up in skin irritations for those horses who never see the light of day all winter. Just my theory. Unfortunately many don’t groom enough when the horse is blanketed since they seem so sleek and shiny and we haven’t got time to groom off the dirt. Let 'em roll! Just maybe after you ride…
 
My parents used to raise Chinchillas and they all had a 'sand bath' to keep their coats healthy as an industry standard. Our chickens and cats love a good roll in the dirt too. Grooming them is a good warm-up before riding for us and a good opportunity to check them over, although grooming them wet will make the hair lie flatter for a while and reduce the loft. 
 
I will use a rain sheet as a wind break - what I call a ‘portable shelter’ - if the horse can't get into shelter, which is a trade off for keeping them dry since it does make the coat lie a bit flatter but not as bad as a heavy winter blanket. 
 
If they get soaked and cold, or if I ride them into a sweat (that doesn't happen often with mine!) I put on a wool cooler which will keep them warm until they dry.
 
Some horses can take the cold, some can't. Sometimes we have to make a decision at 7 a.m. for what will work best all day, knowing that the weather can change in a heartbeat. If they end up sweating or the blanket gets soaked we're not making progress. They're also a time-consuming P.I.T.A. We can only do our best! Blankets are good management tools and the decision lies in our hands. I know how hard it is to sleep when we're wondering if our friends are comfortable!
 
Shelter and appropriate feeding are #1. Blankets can compensate from there.
 

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