Blanketing horses requires additional management

If blankets are used, horses must be checked regularly.

It seems like a straightforward question, but actually, there are several factors to consider when deciding whether or not to blanket your horse this winter. As with all things horse related, the best answer to the question is probably “maybe”. Regardless of the choice made, blanketing a horse is not just a matter of putting a blanket on and leaving it for months on end. There are important commitments to a blanketed horse that must be considered.

If a horse is turned out in Michigan winter weather for extended periods, it is important to use a waterproof blanket and to make certain that the blanket continues to provide protection underneath. If blankets become soaked, they should be removed and replaced with a dry blanket, especially if the horse becomes wet underneath. Horses should be checked daily and blankets should be removed regularly to assess body condition. A horse’s body condition score should remain at 5 or 6 with additional feed provided should it drop below 5.

Some horses do benefit from the use of a blanket. Horses that continue to work in the winter, for example, and that are body or trace clipped or kept under lights likely need the additional protection that blankets provide. Horses that have not had the opportunity to grow a full winter coat adequate for Michigan winters should also be blanketed, as should geriatric, sick, very young or very thin horses.

Facts about fit

Be sure to also check the fit of your horse’s blanket or sheet. A blanket that is too small can create areas of irritation on your horse’s body. Small or poorly adjusted blankets can even rub bare spots on your horse’s coat. On the other hand, if your blanket is too large for your horse, it can create a safety issue. An ill-fitting blanket on the large side can move around on your horse and create opportunities for twisting, tangling and potential injury to the horse.

The decision whether to blanket a horse is not as straightforward as it seems at first glance. The average Michigan horse can develop a sufficient winter coat and will never (or very rarely) need an additional blanket. At the same time, horses that are trace or body clipped, or that have difficulty maintaining body weight for a variety of reasons may benefit from winter blanket use. If blankets are used, the horse underneath must be checked regularly. Clearly, there is no “one size (or decision) fits all” when blanketing horses.

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