The chilly mornings of fall are some of my favorite of the entire year. However, that means that blanketing season is upon us. But to be honest, we’ve been blanketing our horses since September anyway.

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Do you blanket your horse?

To blanket or not to blanket…

…that is the question which is hotly debated in the horse world. 

There is one camp of people who will argue that horses are/were wild animals and can regulate their body temperature themselves. Well, they aren’t wrong. Horses CAN survive happily all winter long with no help from us, despite how cold it gets in your area. 

But I happen to be from the other camp. I blanket my horses every year. In fact, I have multiple blankets varying in weight and materials for different temperatures and weather.

Now, remember, I grew up in a show barn. We want our horses slick and shiny all year round. It presents a better, more well-turned-out appearance for the horse shows. 

The thing is, neither thought process is wrong. You just have to figure out what works for you and what’s best for your horses. There are definitely times where blanketing may be the best for your horse, and other times when it’s not.

We’ll discuss those situations in just a minute. First, we must look at the hair coat cycle in a horse.

blanketing your horses

Many people think that horses (all animals really) will grow a winter coat because it’s starting to get cold. That’s not 100% accurate. The body will actually start to shed out the short, summer coat and start to grow a thicker, longer coat when the days start to get shorter. This is triggered by the light, or lack thereof, that enters the eyes. It works the same way when the days get longer. Animals start to shed the winter coat as Spring comes and the days start to get longer. 

One way to trick the body into thinking it’s summer all year is by putting lights in their stalls. I have looked up what the sunrise and sunset times are on the longest day of the year and I’ve set my stall light timers to mimic that schedule. These lights are on all year long. They turn on at 5:30am and turn off at 10:30pm every day. 

The first year I did that, they still grew a winter coat. Albeit, it wasn’t as long and thick as usual, but it was more than I’d like. The second year, they grew almost no winter coat at all! It was glorious! 

Now, to figure out if you should blanket, or not, and to what degree. 

I’ll start with my situation. I want my horses to keep a short coat in the winter because it’s easier for me to manage and keep them healthy. When I ride in the winter, they still sweat. I won’t put them away with a big, sweaty, saddle mark on them. They’ll just get chilled and possibly get sick afterwards. The sweat marks just take forever to dry! When they have a short coat, they sweat less and dry quicker. This cuts down on cooldown and grooming time. And let’s face it… I get a little lazy and this is really easier for me.

Why shouldn’t you blanket? 

If you aren’t able to commit to removing the blankets when the day warms up or the rain or snow stops, then don’t blanket your horses. The best thing you can do for them is offer a dry location to escape the wind and weather. It doesn’t have to be fancy or cost an arm and a leg.

If horses can stay dry and out of the wind, they can absolutely regulate their own body temperature, even in the coldest climates. They do this by standing their body hair up and it making it fluffy. This traps their body heat between the hairs and insulates them. If they get wet, especially all the way down to the skin, or if the wind is blowing their fluffed up hair, it’s a lot more difficult for them to stay warm. 

Either way, if we blanket, or not, we need to be available to keep them comfortable. That’s our responsibility as owners. It’s not fair for us to leave blankets on all day while we’re at work if it warms up to 70* that day. The same is true the other way. If I keep lights on my horses to keep them slick, it’s my responsibility to make sure they have blankets on to keep them warm when it gets chilly. 

What does blanketing look like in my barn?

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Well, to be honest, it’s busy. Each of my horses has a sheet, a light stable blanket, a medium stable blanket, a heavy waterproof turnout blanket, and a waterproof neck cover. Now, they don’t wear all of those at once! But they do get wardrobe changes midday sometimes. I have additional “specialty items” as well. But I’ll get into that later. 

blanketing your horses

We start to use a sheet at night, usually late September. That’s when it starts to drop into the mid 50’s here in my area. Once we start blanketing, we’re pretty consistent with it. When it drops into the 40’s we start to use the light blankets. Low 40’s to 30’s we use the medium blankets. Lower than that it’s a combo of the light blanket under the medium blankets. 

We get a lot of rain and some snow in my area. That’s when I’ll use the heavy, waterproof turnout blankets. At least one of my horses likes to stand outside in the rain and snow. He’ll literally be dripping wet and still not come inside (insert eyeroll here).

Even though I live in Arizona, we’ve had the temperature drop into the low single-digits, even hitting -4* with the wind. That’s when I may layer a light or medium blanket with the heavy turnout and neck cover.

I have open areas in the top raised aisle of my barn. It’s great in the summer, but the snow and rain get blown in during the winter storms. I’ve even had 3” of snow INSIDE MY BARN AND STALLS during a big storm. Although my horses were standing in the snow and wind, they were warm and dry under their blankets and neck cover. 

how to blanket your horse
This is how snowy it was INSIDE my enclosed barn.

Some things that need to be taken into consideration when deciding about which blanket to put on, or take off, each day:

  • What are the temperature highs and lows for the day? 
  • What’s the weather (rainy, foggy, snowing, drizzling, sunny)? 
  • Is it breezy or windy? 
  • Are you going to be home later when the weather changes? 

After you ride, you need to make sure your horse is 100% cooled off before you put them away and blanket them. 

Depending on the temperature and the weather, I’ll use a quarter sheet to keep the chill off while I’m warming up and cooling down. I’ll also use a fleece cooler to wick any lingering moisture off of them after I ride. This keeps them warm, and pulls the last remaining sweat into the fleece instead of on the body. Once this is done, I feel comfortable blanketing them without them getting too warm.

When to blanket even if you don’t want to

One last note. Some horses would benefit from a blanket regardless if you prefer that or not. Senior horses who may be arthritic can benefit, and may be more comfortable, if their joints and body are kept warmer.

Also, as mentioned before, if you live in a cold, wet, and windy climate, a waterproof, windproof, turnout blanket and/or neck cover may help them stay more comfortable. Here’s my favorite one here. 

Different Blankets for Different Bodies

Just like people, horses have different builds and different blankets and sheets will fit differently. I have a variety of body types in my barn and I have to shop specifically with them in mind when getting a blanket. 

  • Tibantos, a Dutch Warmblood, has high withers and a more upright shoulder slope. He needs something which won’t rub or put pressure on his withers. This is my favorite for him.
  • Sonny, a Quarter Horse, has low withers and a less sloped shoulder. He gets a lot of rubbing on his chest and shoulders. Here’s my favorite for Sonny.
  • Hanna, a Quarter Horse, has mid-withers, mid-sloped shoulders, but a big, broodmare belly. Although the same breed, she needs a different, looser style than Sonny does. Here’s the one that fits her well.

Schneider’s Saddlery has a great variety and selection of different cuts and types of blankets for all different types of breeds and body types. They even have a quiz to help you figure out what might be best for your horse. 

My favorite blanket of all time is the Schneider’s Techno-Fleece Three Season stable blanket. It has a nice nylon lining which reduces rubbing and has a fleece layer in the middle. There’s plenty of areas to adjust to get the right fit. Being that it’s a three season blanket, it’s great for chilly mornings, and if you forget or aren’t able to pull it off right when it warms up, that’s ok too. My horses have easily worn this into the 60’s and have never been too warm in it. 

Another favorite of mine is Big D brand. I really like these for my Quarter Horses, however, they don’t work as well for the high-withered horses. Tibby has a lot of pressure on his from the Big D. That being said, they’re extremely well made and will last you years with the proper care, cleaning and storage each year. I use the Kodiak as Sonny’s medium weight blanket. It’s even water resistant when he stands in the rain and hasn’t soaked all the way through yet. 

A good mid-priced blanket is the SmartPak Stable Blankets. I’ve had these for a few years and they do show some wear and tear. However, they’re still usable and do the job. They’re a little lighter and have a bit of a looser cut than the Big D, so it fits Hannah’s mama belly a bit more comfortably. These have good wither coverage so it sits up a bit higher on the neck and doesn’t rub on Tibby’s withers either. This is a good mid-price blanket that should fit well regardless of body type.

So, should you blanket or not? 

That’s up to you. Consider where you live and how cold, wet, and windy it gets in your area. Do they have a place to escape that? Are you available to do wardrobe changes if needed? Do you have senior horses who would benefit from staying a bit warmer? Do you ride a lot in the winter and need them to cool off and dry quicker? Do you have the money to invest in blankets (because the good ones aren’t cheap, and the cheap ones aren’t good)? 

Think long and hard about these. These should help you to make your decision a bit easier. Remember, you can always start slow. You can pick a temperature or weather where you’ll blanket and if it’s outside of that, you don’t need to. Like if it’s below 32* you’ll put a light one on. Or if it’s raining or snowing, you’ll put a waterproof turnout on them (even a waterproof sheet will help a lot to keep them dry- go with a nice quality turnout sheet though. Waterproof nylon ones are like tent material and can leak pretty easy- at least the ones I’ve used in the past).

Do you usually blanket your horse? What’s your favorite type and brand of blanket? Are you brand loyal? What’s the winter weather like in your area?

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