Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Winter Wear for Your Horse - Not a Blanket Statement

Old Man Winter has started to show his frosty face again, even way down here in North Texas.  It’s time once again to locate your horse’s sheets, blankets and coolers.  But, before you bundle up ol’ Buddy there, let’s talk a little about when and why you should be using a winter blanket at all.

It’s important to remember that horses are cold weather beasts by nature.  They thrive in cooler temperatures, and I’m sure you’ve seen this when your horse is friskier as soon as the weather turns cooler.  Their internal thermometers also run hotter than humans so, when we’re grabbing a sweater or jacket, your horse is just happy the AC has finally been turned on!

Your horse’s coat is built for maximum insulation.  Hair follicles erect the hair, allowing more insulating air pockets to form between the skin and the end of the hairs.  The skin also produces a layer of insulating dander – that white flaky dust you will see near the skin – so don’t wash it away!  As the temperature warms, the hair coat lays down flat again and releases the trapped heat.  It’s truly an amazing process!

But blankets actually compress the hair, forcing it to lay flat and preventing it from creating those insulating pockets of air.  And, if you blanket over early or over extended periods of time, your horse will grow less of a hair coat to begin with.  So, blanketing may actually be doing your horse more harm than good.

Horses who live in Texas can easily withstand temperatures down to 10ºF without blanketing, provided they are in good condition, get plenty of the right nutrition and can get out of the wind and rain.  Rain and sleet are particularly dangerous, as the water will flatten and saturate your horse’s coat, reducing its ability to provide insulation and warmth for your horse.  But a cold wind can also penetrate your horse’s coat with the same results.

Keep in mind that, when you work your horse hard enough in cold temperatures, his sweat penetrates his coat from underneath, with the same consequences as rain.  Drape his body in a cooler made of wool or other quick-wicking fabric to draw away the moisture and trap warmth underneath at the same time.  Always walk out your horse until his respiration drops, he stops sweating, and his chest no longer feels hot to the touch.

Here at Cold River, we blanket senior horses more than others, thin horses who need to gain weight, hard keepers and the ones who, despite the dark days and cold temps, just don't grow much of a coat at all.  It’s all part of our “whole horse” approach to taking care of our equine companions!