Let’s Discuss: To Blanket or Not to Blanket?

Have you seen a Facebook post about blanketing lately? Chronicle of the Horse just reported that it’s a hoax.

[top image: Wikimedia Commons]

This Facebook post seems to make the rounds each year — it claims that research from the Colorado State University’s College Of Veterinary Medicine showed that blanketing is harmful to your horse because it inhibits the natural rise and fall of your horse’s fur to 17 distinct levels of fluffiness. Problem is, no one at CSU seems to know a thing about the study…because it was never conducted.

Blanketing is something few riders  agree on, and both pro- and anti-blanketers are quite vocal about their preferred choice. I’ve seen horses make it through the winter just fine with no blanket and no clipping, and I’ve also seen those that are fully clipped and have a bigger wardrobe than I do to stay perfectly toasty all winter. Unfortunately, since there are no hard and fast scientific rules regarding clipping and blanketing, it is a huge gray area that prompts horse owners everywhere to agonize over when to clip, when to switch blankets and whether to clip or blanket at all. A factsheet from Rutgers University shows that the main factors to take into consideration are wetness and the horse’s access to shelter in bad weather…but aside from that, it’s up to individual owners to decide.

Perhaps universities are wise to stay out of the heated debate, but here at Horse Nation, we’ll open the can of worms. Where do you stand on the blanketing/no blanketing debate?

The Facebook post in question is copied in full below.

CSU Blanket Study

interesting article….. Here is some information on winter blanketing that may surprise you. This is the result of a multi-year study done by CSU, using state of the art thermal detection equipment. Colorado State University is widely considered to be one of the top three equine veterinary schools in the country:

Blanketing horses is one of the worst things that you can do to a horse in the winter. Horses have the abi…lity to loft and lower 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. 50 lb. bags of crystalized molasses are available by order through feed stores (if they don’t keep it on hand), 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 are high in iron, and make a good supplemental addition, in any case.

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.)”

Go Riding.

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