Are Blankets Worth Their Weight?

Hi, Dr. Gray! I have a question about horse blankets. I have never used one, but I was wondering if I should. I have an Arabian/Appaloosa and a Thoroughbred, as well as a senior (vet said over 30) quarter horse. They are all pastured 24/7 but I am not down there every day to adjust the blanketing if need be. I think the Arab/Appy would be fine since she is overweight and the extra fat would help her keep warm, right? I have only had her for one winter but she seemed to do alright. The quarter horse is a very hard keeper and always loses weight in the winter, however I have had him for 7 years and he has always been this way, he grows a long winter coat and stays under the shed most of the time. The thoroughbred I got from the racetrack last January. I kept him stalled but this year he will be out in the pasture. Should I put a blanket on him? If so, what kind is best since I wouldn’t be there to switch light/med/heavy weight every day, only 1 or 2x a week. Also, should I get a cooler for my two that I ride? The Arab/Appy and the TB? What does a cooler do exactly? Sorry this question is so long, I understand if you don’t have time to answer it. Thank you in advance though! KG, Oklahoma

Dear KG,

Yes, a very long question, but also a very good one. Unfortunately, although it sounds like one or two of your horses could benefit from a blanket this winter, the fact that they are pastured 24/7 and you are not there every day to adjust their blankets probably means they shouldn’t wear them for both health and safety reasons. Health: let’s say they’re wearing heavy blankets because it was 10° but a warm front moved through and suddenly its 60°. Now the horses are sweating with no way to cool off. Safety: suppose a strap breaks and the blanket slips. The blanket could get tangled up in the legs or neck.

Your best bet is making sure there’s a shelter that all three can get in (sometimes one horse is dominant and while there might be adequate physical space for three horses, the one horse has decided the shelter is his and his alone). Then keep high quality hay in front of them all the time to provide calories as well as heat from the fermentation process in the hindgut. Will someone be checking on their water supply? Plenty of fresh, unfrozen water is a must year-round—snow will not suffice—so if you can’t be there every day, enlist a neighbor or fellow horse person to guarantee drinkable water is available.

Now to your cooler question. These are a type of horse clothing specifically designed to dry a sweaty horse after a workout and keep them warm. There are not quite as many styles and materials of coolers as there are blankets and sheets, but you’ll find opinions vary as to wool or fleece, square or fitted and when and how to use. However, since you only anticipate being able to ride on a relatively infrequent basis–just one to two times per week–I’m assuming you’re only doing light riding to maintain your horses’ conditioning and training, not long hard work where they would get hot and sweaty. So, in your particular situation, you might not even need a cooler. It might be a good idea to have one on hand, though in case your session goes longer than anticipated or it’s warmer than usual.

Lydia Gray, DVM MA, is the Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak. Prior to joining SmartPak, Dr. Gray served as the first-ever Director of Owner Education for the American Association of Equine Practitioners. She has authored numerous articles in publications such as The Horse, Horse Illustrated, Western Horseman and a variety of veterinary journals and magazines. Dr. Gray is also a frequent speaker at horse expos, veterinary conventions and other events. After graduating with honors from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine and receiving her Master's Degree in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication, she practiced at the Tremont Veterinary Clinic for several years. Dr. Gray is active in the American Veterinary Medical Association and Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association. She enjoys training and showing her Trakehner, Newman, in both combined driving and dressage, and is a USDF “L” Program Graduate (with distinction). Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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2 comments on “Are Blankets Worth Their Weight?
  1. SmartieBreeches says:

    The underweight horse should wear a blanket, because he is loosing weight by having to keep himself warm. And a cooler is only for after you ride to dry the sweat off of them.

  2. Emmeline says:

    Thoroughbreds generally need to be blanketed as well as elderly/underweight horses. They tend to be harder-keepers. Without knowing where you live, my suggestion to you would be to buy a *high* quality, high denier(1000 or above) turn-out blanket or sheet for when the weather starts to get cold and stays cold. Ask whoever is at the barn often(boarders, the owner) to keep an eye on your horses for you, and realize that you may have to make an emergency stop out to the barn if a blanket tears (which means you’ll need a back-up!). Blankets can be a hassle, but are occasionally necessary.

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