Unpopular Opinion: Blanketing is Overdone

Over the weekend the temperatures dropped down to freezing. In case you forgot the date due to living in this groundhog day situation, it’s May now. Gold Cup would have been on Saturday, a day when we usually all don summer dresses and stand outside in the sunshine (also sometimes the rain.) But the point is, it’s supposed to be warm right now!

I blanketed the geldings since they live in breezy, wall-less stalls (I’m going to fix that one day! But it’s a bonus during the summer). The mares create a little hot box in their stalls, so they were fine. 

Pony’s reaction to being blanketed matched mine – he jumped away from me and tried to escape. “WHAT IS THAT AND WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO PUT IT ON ME?!” When he relaxed a moment later, I put it on him and discovered that the blanket seems to have shrunk and barely fits him. He may have put on a few pounds. It was the equivalent of wearing high water pants.

Stu, not even three years old, gigantic and with less experienced in the world, had no reaction to getting the blanket on. It got a sniff, and that was it. At least he’s level headed.

Having to bring the blankets out of storage for this reminded me of just how annoying I find blankets. They have their uses, sure, but much of the time, they are such a pain.

The Blanket Game

Blankets require a lot of work. I think to someone who boards or has someone else taking care of their horse, they don’t realize the extent of it. They buy one or 5 different blankets, all intended for different temperatures and weather conditions, and they let the staff sorts out exactly when to change the blanket. Since the temperature at night dips significantly lower than during the day, most of the time the blanket needs to be changed every morning and night.

Then also imagine taking care of many other horse’s blanketing needs as well. It might take 2 minutes* to change out one blanket, but if you have ten horses, now it’s 20 minutes of blanket changes. Multiply that by the two times a day you have to do it, morning and night, and that’s 40 minutes a day just changing blankets.

And that’s nearly everyday for three months, or however long your winter lasts. Fun!

*I’m calling it 2 minutes as an average – some horses are better behaved to put blankets on than others, and you want to make sure the blankets are left tidy by the stall, too. 

What makes this blanketing ritual especially annoying is that most horses don’t even need blankets. Horses are designed to be outside. They are designed to control their own temperature. Horses will fluff themselves up to insulate themselves more to hold in more heat. They will flatten their hair when they want to cool off. They can insulate themselves so well that snow can pile up on their backs. How else would wild horses be able to stay alive? 

By blanketing the horse, we take away their ability to regulate themselves. It is now completely our responsibly to monitor their temperatures, and frankly, a lot of people are really bad at it. I have driven by both business and personal farms in 50 degree weather, and the horses are wearing blankets. Those horses are likely overheating and uncomfortable. Humans are not helping the horse here. 

But I’m Not Anti-Blanket

I can see why people immediately assume horses need blankets. Truly, it is because we as owners want the best for our horses. We feel cold and uncomfortable, and we don’t want them to suffer or be uncomfortable.

I used to blanket religiously, especially when I had Berry in full work, and with a terrible clip job. 

Berry with oxer we jumped and terrible clip job.

Blankets can be very useful and helpful to a horse.

Some horses really do have thin coats. My horse Vintage is one. She will be shivering when the others are completely fine.

Rain and cold is a terrible combination. I always blanket when it’s raining.

Some horses are clipped, and their natural ability to insulate themselves gone, therefore it is our responsibly to manage. 

Sometimes it’s just easier. I used to love blanketing just because it kept the horse clean. It was convenient to go to the barn and bring in a clean horse. Horses can get pretty gross during the winter, and the time-saving ability of being able to just pull off the blanket to a clean horse is a huge benefit. 

I’m not against blankets at all. They have their uses, and can be so helpful.

My Shift to Less is More

My “less is more” blanketing stance came gradually. In the beginning of my horse ownership, I always blanketed once it hit 32 degrees, with the heavyweights going on at 20 degrees. Blankets came off at 40 degrees, unless it was raining. I always blanketed if it was raining and under 50 degrees. I kept that religiously throughout my teenage years, my boarding years, and my first few years with them on my own farm. 

I had a lot of rules. And a lot of blankets.

Then horses outgrew blankets, or they got torn up, and the horse wardrobe shrank. I didn’t have blankets for all my situations anymore. Outfitting three, and now four, different horses with blankets for every situation is pretty expensive. 

One day I was talking to my former farrier, who is a very interesting guy. He used to work for the park service, and he was assigned to go live in the wilderness of North Dakota for some reason, in a house he built himself, with a string of horses. A real frontier man. 

The horses were not blanketed. They would develop big, crusty icy rims on their fur, and underneath, totally warm. 

It really made me start questioning my thinking on this. My horses are not exposed to nearly that level of extreme environment. Did they really need the blankets?

Pony was the first to go naked. He had a heavyweight blanket if it got really cold (the one that no longer fits), but he otherwise has a huge fluffy coat. It seemed silly to cover him when he can insulate himself. He’s naked nearly all the time. 

Vintage was next. Once she was retired, the motivation to blanket her faded, but not blanketing her was more experimental, as she does have the thinnest coat of them all. It’s thin and wiry, not fluffy like the others. Thanks to her shivering, I discovered she does still need a blanket most of the time. 

Berry is very fluffy. I stopped blanketing her, and she didn’t seem to care. So for the last two winters, she went naked, except for when the weather turned wet (rain or snow). Since I’m planning on her being in full work again this coming winter, and clipped, she’s going to be blanketed again. I’ll have to restock her wardrobe. But in the future, if she’s not in work, her blanketing will be minimal. 

When I brought Stu home, I never blanketed him. It started out that I didn’t want to buy more blankets, but then he really just didn’t seem to care. Despite seeming to have a coat almost as thin as Vintage’s, just not the same texture, he never shivered or appeared uncomfortable. However, eventually I became uncomfortable seeing him with what seemed like a summer coat out in the cold, and I bought him his wardrobe. I’ve used a blanket on him a handful of times, including over the weekend. He mostly gets nothing.

But one blanket that gets a lot of use is the lightweight rain blanket. In the fall, the temperatures dip, and it rains. All of them look cold then. I put on the lightweight blankets during the fall more than I put the heavyweights on during the winter.

I am not making a blanket statement against all blankets (heh heh). I think there are many good reasons to blanket. I just think that many owners assume the horse needs a blanket when it actually doesn’t, usually because everyone else is doing it. 

If your horse is fluffy and healthy, it probably doesn’t need a blanket. If you want to keep it clean, sure, but there’s a trade off of now committing to managing the temperature of the horse. But if the horse isn’t really in work, or just in light work, consider just letting them be free this winter. If it ends up not working out, than pop that blanket back on. But it might end up saving you or your barn a lot of time, and might save you money in outfitting and cleaning the horse’s wardrobe. 

I’m not judging anyone for blanketing, it’s no big deal if you do or don’t. I’m not the blanket police. Just someone musing over blanketing, mainly because it’s just one more chore added to the list. I like to eliminate all unnecessary chores whenever possible. 

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