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Av Colorado Horse Council
Interesting information from Whitt Veterinary Services about blanketing horses in the winter:
BEFORE YOU BUY THAT WINTER BLANKET...
Colorado State University did a research study on the effects of blanketing horses a few years back. Lets see, it gets pretty cold in the Rockies, right? Well, some surprising news ensued for the rest of us:
Blanketing horses is one of the WORST THINGS that you can do to a horse in the winter. Horses have the ability to adjust their coats to 17 different levels, so it's like exchanging 17 different thermal weights of blankets off and on them all day and night, depending on what they need- except that we don't know what they need as well as they do. Their 'self-blanketing' process works a little like 'chill bumps' do in our own skin. That's why long-haired horses may seem fluffier on some days than on others.
Only three things make the 'self-blanketing' process not work: blanketing, clipping, and wind. Not even snow or rain stops their own thermostats from doing the job. Also horses are in 'neutral' (meaning not using energy for either heating or cooling) when the air around them is between 26 and 38 degrees. Otherwise, they're using energy to control their temps. So- since they're cooling their bodies when the temp is over 38 degrees, they're having to use extra energy to cool themselves when blanketed in temperatures over that.
Any time a horse that is outside and has a long coat is shivering, it's because the horse has opted to shiver to warm itself, instead of using the option of moving. Moving generates a considerable amount of heat for a horse, but they sometimes stand and shiver while napping, etc. It does not mean that they need to be blanketed. 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. The horse blanket industry has done a great job of making us think that their product is a necessary part of good horsekeeping- when it is actually an item that is very seldom needed.
Another often unknown fact is that horses become dehydrated more frequently in the winter than in the summer. The horse feels less thirsty because they're not triggered by heat to drink more water, so the lack of appropriate intake often causes dehydration. A suggestion for this is to offer one or two buckets full of cool-to-tepid molasses-enhanced water per day. A 50 lb. bag of crystalized molasses is available by order through most feed stores and is easier to work with than wet [sticky] molasses. A 50 lb. bag of dry molasses costs under $20.00 and will last all winter for several horses. Molasses is high in iron, making it a good supplemental addition.
Another little known fact is that horses do not need more feed in the winter than in the summer. In the summer horses are using energy to cool themselves. In the winter they are using energy to warm themselves. Both efforts use similar amounts of energy. In fact, if horses have feed before them for more of the time during the winter, they are less likely to move about, which decreases one of their most efficient heating processes.
Old or unhealthy horses may need extra help keeping warm in the winter just as they need help staying cool in the summer- but even in the cases of these special-need horses, over-blanketing may cause sweating, which can then cause chilling- and more serious consequences.
TAKE HOME: SAVE YOUR BLANKET BUYING MONEY TO ERECT MORE WIND BREAKS FOR YOUR HORSES.