To Blanket Your Horse or Not to Blanket … That Is the Question

Horse Blanketing

A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right.”  ~ Thomas Paine (Introduction to Common Sense 1776)

Have you ever thought about why people blanket their horses in the winter?  If you question and explore this practice, you may be surprised by what you’ll learn.

Blanketing horses in the winter is a common horse keeping practice when it starts to get a little chilly outside.

Yes, you heard me right, a little chilly.

During the first onset of colder weather I notice many horses with their flashy blankets on.  Since I live in the middle of one of the larger horse areas in the country, I don’t have to drive far before I spot one or two horses like this.

Is Your Horse Really Cold?

Horses are masters at regulating their own body temperature.  It’s easy for you to get in the way of what Mother Nature intended by blanketing your horse and or keeping her in a heated barn.  It’s also easy to take human thoughts and actions and apply those thoughts and actions to your horse.  This is when we get ourselves into trouble and our horse keeping practices become inferior and detrimental.

Most people think that their horse will get cold and that she needs a nice cushy stall to bed down in each night.  This kind of thinking just makes the human feel better.  This is a human thought and action that’s applied to horses versus thinking like a horse and understanding a horse’s true nature.

In the winter of 2009, we had a blizzard in Texas on Christmas Eve day … yes a blizzard in Texas.  The barometric pressure dropped quickly and we had strong wind gusts of over 45 mph.

Two of my horses are in their mid-twenties.  One of them is the horse that got me into natural hoof care when he got laminitis.  Each year I allow my horses to grow their natural winter coats.  They were outside during that storm and they were not blanketed.

They have wonderful wind blocks provided by my barn as well as multiple shelters.  They’re always able to get out of the elements on their own. There are no stalls and I don’t waste my money on shavings.  I also don’t bother spending money on expensive blankets.

All a horse needs is a shelter and wind blocks (not a stall) so they can get out of the extreme elements if they choose … notice I said extreme elements.  They don’t need a stall bedded deep with shavings and they don’t need a blanket or a warm barn.

Additionally, a horse blanket can impair the circulation around the shoulder area creating tension in the neck, which can cause discomfort or other physical problems.  This can happen even if the blanket does fit properly if it’s left on for long periods of time.

So why spend extra money on either?

Think how much you can save over time on shavings.  Just for a minute, let’s think about the chores that revolve around shavings alone.

You drive somewhere to go pick up the shavings, you drive home and then you have to unload and store the shavings.  You strip the stall and add the new shavings – sometimes you add extra shavings to an already bedded stall.  Then you have to keep the stall clean and pick it at least twice per day.  What a pain (unless you’re not the one doing all the chores).  However, you’re still spending money on shavings and on the labor involved in keeping up the stalls.

If you keep your horses naturally, not only will you save money but also the time and effort involved in the extra chores.  That time and money could be spent else where, like spending more quality time with your horse that doesn’t involve picking a stall or putting on a blanket.

Natural Horse Care Savings

Think for a minute how expensive horse blankets are.  Many people own a wardrobe of blankets for their horses that cost enough to feed a small country.

No wonder horses get the reputation for being expensive.  Human thought patterns, conventional beliefs and great marketing hype are what cause horses to be expensive.

If we keep our horses naturally, many expenses go out the window.  We can also use that money to focus on more important things when it comes to our horses such as their foundation for health.

By kicking your horses out of the stalls and not blanketing, you can save a significant amount of money.  Who doesn’t want that?

When To Blanket Your Horse

Please don’t read this and kick your sick or elderly, always-blanketed, unnaturally kept horse out in the cold.

One situation I can think of where a horse may need to be blanketed is if a horse is ill.  For example, I know a natural hoof care professional who lives in Canada.  He stresses that even in Canada, with their severe winters, they don’t blanket their horses unless there’s a reason such as them being sick.

From this point forward, I would suggest learning how to keep a naturally healthy horse so she can stay healthy throughout the winter months without blanketing.

What Horses Don’t Need In Cold Weather

  • A cozy stall bedded with shavings
  • A heated barn
  • A blanket
  • Extra grain (horses DO NOT need grain to stay warm, instead increase forage)
  • Limited movement

What Horses Do Need In Cold Weather

  • Plenty of free choice grass hay
  • Water (at times you may need to warm it for them so they’ll drink enough during colder weather)
  • Plenty of free choice, loose, unrefined sea salt
  • Shelter and wind blocks to get out of the elements if they choose.  Some horses will choose to be out in the snow, rain, etc.  It should be up to them to decide.
  • Allow plenty of movement.  Again, movement plays a huge role in a naturally healthy horse, especially in the winter months when they need extra movement to produce body heat and keep their muscles loose.
  • Additional nutritional support, NOT grain, in a situation where a horse has trouble keeping weight on.

Summary

Please share with me if you blanket your horse and, if you do, why you do it.  Please don’t tell me it’s for vanity purposes just so your horse won’t look too hairy or because you want him slicked down all year.  I have a feeling that unless it’s for that purpose (which I don’t agree with) then you don’t have a good reason.  Please also don’t tell me your horse is too old and you must blanket her.

The practice of blanketing your horse is unnecessary and can also be detrimental to her health.

Keep it soulful,
Stephanie Krahl

NOTE: This article was published on: December 16, 2010. This has been one of the most popular articles on this site since 2010.

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Photo Credit – original photo modified in size and to include the Soulful Equine URL

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Comments

  1. says

    And, please have everyone send those blankets, no longer needed, to me! chicago winters bite! on a more serious note, this was a great article – very informative. i have always wondered about humans transferring their emotions to their animal. i even do it to my dog all the time. “Oh, good doggy, you must be hungry. Here, one for you 3 for me.” i bought, for my last dog (RIP) a “coat” and “booties.” Considering she had fur, she probably could have done without the coat, but i think the “booties” helped because of all the city salt! She would limp in and out because of it. But enough about my little “horse.” Thanks for this very insightful article. It’s such a simple and easy way to do something good for our precious animals! (btw, the picture you chose for this article could not have been more perfect. whoever is in charge of pics is right on!) thanks, soulful equine!

    • says

      Hi Mo. I love your story about your dog. I would have put protection on my dog’s feet too if I was in your situation. Just like horses, sometimes they need protection on their feet but not the metal kind (horse shoes). At least you didn’t nail on a metal dogie shoe to protect her. :-)

      From an emotional standpoint when it comes to horses, I believe horses have every emotion we have, and then some. The problem is, we tend to forget that horses are nature in their finest form and that they’re not human. Their bodies are different. The domesticated horse is not far from its wild horse ancestors who have been known to survive some of the most harsh environmental conditions. If that wasn’t the case, horses would not be in our lives. Their exceptional strength of survival is fascinating.

      Yes, the picture person is pretty awesome. Sharon is usually in charge of that but I do help make the final decision. Thanks for your support of Soulful Equine and Merry Christmas!

    • Nancy Vida says

      Well, I agree with most of what you say. However, we got a new horse up here in INdiana from Florida and our temps were in the low 60’s at night. 10-15 degrees difference from where she came from. When I went out out in the morning she was shivering. I know that shivering helps regulate the body’s temperature, but at the same time I don’t want her chilled and sick.

  2. KP says

    That makes perfect sense.
    I believe that the other reasons people blanket their horses are:
    -they will have a dry horse to ride when they arrive at the barn.
    -there will be less hair to shed in the spring.
    -some people show their horses year round and they need a sleek coat.
    The first two are reasons of convenience for the owners.

    But it makes sense and is more natural for the horse to grow it’s own winter ‘blanket’.
    If I had my own property/barn, I’d keep my horse as suggested in the written article.
    Sadly, for me, my boy was rehomed to a ranch in Kamloops a couple of years ago. But happily, for him, he is living a much better lifestyle, where they practice PNH and he has acres and acres to roam and graze with other horses!!! : )

  3. KP says

    OH! Another reason for blanketing.
    After a good workout/ride in the winter….the horse gets sweaty. It takes awhile to cool out your horse. And people blanket afterwards to wick moisture away and so their horse does not get a chill.

    • says

      @KP – What you listed are very traditional reasons for people to blanket and as you pointed out, most are for convenience. What I’ve observed is that those who choose “convenience” over the health of their horse are not interested in helping their horse Thrive.

      The concept of “convenience” and “quick fixes” is what causes many health problems in the first place in both horses and humans.

      For individuals in your situation who need to board their horses, I would like to see more and more boarding facilities promoting the concepts of keeping horses naturally. People like you would seek out those facilities. I believe there is a big market for it!

      Thank you for your support of Soulful Equine and taking time to share your thoughts with us.

  4. says

    I generally agree that most horses (unless they have been clipped) do not need to be blanketed in the winter. However, there are always exceptions to the rule. I have a 24 year old thoroughbred mare who has never grown a good winter coat (I have had her since she was a 4 year old). She lives out 24/7 and I have left her without a blanket at times. However, the last couple of years, she has not kept good weight in the winter even though she has free access to hay & water as well as shelter from wind & inclement weather. She would lose weight and often be shivering. I keep a light weight blanket on her from October/November to March/April and she keeps her weight on much better. She is the only one of 12 horses that is blanketed regularly. I will occasionally blanket a couple of older horses (both 28 years old this year) in the spring & fall when we get cold, wet rain that the horses coats aren’t able to repel. My farm is in southern Ontario where winters are damp & cold.

    • says

      Hi Anne,

      There are usually exceptions to most any rule, however, most people who blanket their horses usually implement poor horse keeping practices as well. I have a 26 year old Thoroughbred (has a little QH in her) who will drop weight in the winter if don’t keep an eye on her. I’m aware of it but my first defense is to ensure she is getting adequate nutrition. I don’t reach for a blanket. Horses like that need additional nutritional support, especially in the winter months, that goes beyond just hay and water. Older horses in general need extra nutritional support and that doesn’t mean “grain”.

      I know it’s different here in TX than other parts of the country but we will get in to the single digits and not once have I blanketed my horses… including my older horses. A hoof care practitioner I know who lives in Canada doesn’t blanket a horse unless they’re sick… this is a situation where blanketing may be important.

      I believe as soon as we start to blanket or keep a horse inside just because it’s cold, we start to mess up their natural defenses for regulating their own body temperature. I know of people who blanket as soon as it gets a little chilly… for example, just 44 degrees which is crazy.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  5. Lori says

    I have two horses and a more-or-less “wild” donkey. One mare and the donkey are not rideable and have been outdoors 24/7 since we owned them – four or so years. What amazed me over the years was how quickly they grew extra hair – it seemed like over night at times! However, over the last winter I actually did witness my mare appear to be shivering. I don’t even own a blanket so I felt bad, but she would never have accepted it without trampling me anyway.

    We moved recently and built a pole barn where they spend at least part of the day loafing, but I believe they do it because they know we built it just for them and it makes them feel “special.” The other horse has been stalled in a barn – complete with shavings that I clean out every day – for almost a year now. The main reason is that I want a place to ride him. The barn can get cold but he’s never been blanketed and he grows his pretty white hair as quickly as he needs it and yes, he may look furrier than a lot of them in there but he seems like a happy guy and I don’t have to deal with getting him strapped into a blanket. Cleaning out the stall is enough!

    My sis has suggested blankets to me a couple of times (she uses them) but I have always leaned toward Mother Nature’s protection for her animals, even though I end up brushing a LOT of fur. (No, I don’t believe in shaving them, either!)

    • says

      Hi Lori,

      You’ve given another excellent example of reasons not to blanket your horse based on a specific situation. What a wonderful contribution. Thank you.

  6. Julene says

    Hi Stephanie,

    Wonderful article. I agree with what you are saying, including that there are always exceptions. My horse seems to be one of them as I have tried going without blanketing but he develops a cough. I live on the west coast of Canada and one of the things that happens here in the winter is, while it doesn’t get as cold as the rest of the country (or many of the States) the constant damp is very penetrating. My horse has free choice hay (which I have tested) and a non-grain feed once a day that has his ration balancer and herbs for his arthritis as well as free access from his stall to the fields 24/7 for maximum movement.

    I tried going blanketless with him and found that he would develop this phlemy cough into late November. I started blanketing him regularly beginning of November about 3 years ago (he’s turned 20 this year) – no cough. What would seem to be worse is, 2 years ago I actually got him a neck cover as well because I’d come out and his neck would be freezing cold from the rain and he’d be stiff (keeping in mind he has free run to come and go from his stall and the fields – nothing is keeping him from getting out of the bad elements). He seems to like wearing it and when he makes clear overtures that he doesn’t want to, I don’t put it on.

    I would say that anyone living in an area where you get high winds and driving rain in the winter AND have a horse(s) that will instead stand out in that weather until they are soaked to the skin (with free choice hay and balanced nutrition) might be in a situation where blanketing needs to be done.

    I would say to folks like me who have found they have horses that seem to require blanketing in the winter – look for the lightest weight fill you can get away with. Or even see if just keeping the dry will do and go with a rain sheet. Most of the time a rain sheet has worked for my guy. The hay keeps him warm from the inside out and the blanket keeps him dry.

    Each horse is an individual and nothing is ever “one size fits all”. We have to figure out what works best for each one.

    It’s all about the horse. First, last and always. – Julene Warwick.

    • says

      Hi Julene,

      As mentioned in my article, if you have a compromised horse it may be necessary to blanket temporarily. However, I would not use it as a crutch – in other words, as a reason to not dig deeper into why the horse is compromised in the first place. There are no hard and fast rules, but most of the time blanketing is done to make the equine guardian feel better, not the horse. As long as a horse can get out of the elements, has a good wind block, and they’re healthy, they are fully capable of regulating their own body temperature. That’s how they’re built, pure and simple!

    • Rhonda Doiron says

      Hi Julene

      I am an equine professional living in a cold northern climate where winters can be severe. I enjoyed your response, found it was clear and well thought-out . I especially liked your last two paragraphs, which I completely agree with: “Each horse is an individual and nothing is ever “one size fits all”. We have to figure out what works best for each one.

      It’s all about the horse. First, last and always. – Julene Warwick.”

      While this article on blanketing does give some things to think about for those that just automatically blanket without asking themselves why they are doing it and if it is necessary, I am concerned that with the internet an article from Texas stating horses are “fully” capable of regulating their own body temperature is way to much of a blanket statement (pardon the pun). Horses are domesticated animals, most of them part of generations of human-controlled breeding programs. These horses are bred for various traits, the least of which being a healthy winter coat.

      I agree there are people out there who automatically blanket without question, and they should question. However, in the area where I live (northern Alberta, Canada), I condone having a blanket ready for every horse you own! At our boarding facility we try not to put blankets on in early winter because we want the horses to develop as much of a winter coat as possible.

      Whenever we get severe weather or sudden drops in temperature we keep an eye each horse and assess how they are coping. If a horse is shivering it’s a sign their coat isn’t sufficient to handle the current weather and their body is trying to compensate. We’ve had a lot of success bringing the horse in until it stops shivering then turning it out with a blanket until the weather improves. If we notice a particular horse has to brought in often, we keep a blanket on them for most of the winter and have a second blanket to put on during severe weather.

      • says

        Hi Rhonda,

        This is in response to what you recommended to Julene (comment above) on blanketing:

        You’ve brought up some excellent points and I like the way you described your thought process when deciding if you should blanket a horse or not. Some of it may help other readers of this article. However, it should go without saying that horses are fully capable of regulating their own body temperature. Not only has the horse done it for millions of years, science backs up this statement.

        What most people miss in the blanket vs. no blanket “debate” is that the longer a horse is kept in an unnatural situation (such as in most boarding facilities) and fed an inappropriate and unnatural diet, then it’s likely a person will need to blanket their horse because those practices do not promote health and vitality.

        Blanketing has nothing to do with being in Texas vs. Canada (you may want to re-read my article and the other comments) – either your horse is healthy or she’s not. A horse who is thriving and healthy can regulate her own body temperature and is very adaptable. However, the more the human gets in the way and micro-manages a horse, then it’s inevitable they will not only need to blanket their horse, but also feel like they have to.

        A horse who can adapt to severe cold or hot climates, and drastic weather fluctuations – like we have in Texas – is much healthier than one who can’t. Adaptability is the key to longevity and health in both horses and humans.

        It boils down to how much has the human consistently gotten in the way of a horse’s innate ability to regulate their own body temperature. This ability is in every horse.

        Most people put in a lot of of unnecessary effort trying to justify unnatural horse keeping practices that do not fully promote the health and well-being of a horse. It goes back to the human’s natural tendency to be anthropomorphic rather than understanding a horse’s true nature – we’re only human.

        In the end it’s up to the horse guardian to choose and use their best judgement based on the health of their horse. This article is intended to help educate horse guardians on one of the many traditional, unnatural, and unnecessary horse keeping practices that work against a domesticated horse and her innate ability to adapt and thrive despite being domesticated.

        You may want to read the article I have listed in the “Additional Resources” section. It could shed some more light on this subject for you, and to my knowledge it’s not written by a Texan. :-)

  7. Jackie says

    I live in Canada and don’t blanket my horses. We get extremely cold weather ( -45 C) and the horses do fine. They have free choice grass hay, heated water bowls and shelter they can choose to go in and out of. They have the run of about 25 acres. On the worst blizzards they rarely go into the barn. My theory is they want to see what is (the predator) coming! They usually back their butt into a bluff and hunker down during the worst of a storm. I have only blanketed a sick horse or occasionally as mosquito relief.

    I do have a question regarding blanketing. We are trailering our horses about 4 days to Arizona. It may be cold when we are on the road for the first few days. The trailer is completely enclosed with windows, vents…. Would you blanket while trailering? My gut says no, but wonder what you think? I also have believed horses hair up based on daylight hours. Why do horses in warmer climates develop less winter coat even though daylight hours are diminishing? I wonder if my horses who are starting to grow winter coats will shed a bit in Arizona this winter?

    Thanks!

    • says

      Hi Jackie,

      Thank you for contributing your experiences as someone who lives in Canada! I love it when I get someone like you commenting on this article because Canada gets some very harsh weather.

      You’ve asked excellent questions. The answer is, go with your gut. If I were in your situation, I would not blanket on the way to Arizona as long as your trailer is enclosed during the drive on the colder days. Horses are masters at regulating their own body temperature as long as they’re healthy. They’ll also do this even if you haul them to a different climate.

      We get severe fluctuations in weather here in Texas and horses adjust fine. I’ve experienced hauling from Texas to a much colder climate for a clinic and my horse adjusted fine without blanketing.

      As for more education on blanketing and horsekeeping, although I do not agree with Strasser when it comes to hoof care (trimming), her writing is excellent on this subject. She goes into why blanketing a horse is a very bad idea. If someone needs more information than what my article provides in order to be convinced that this practice is not good for a horse, I’d recommend Strasser’s book called, A Lifetime of Soundness. Just ignore the trimming advice because it’s an invasive manner of trimming and is one reason natural hoof care has gotten a bad reputation.

      Here’s a good quote from Dr. Strasser,

      Though one’s intentions may be well meant, the human is not capable of judging, and therefore should not interfere with, a horse’s thermoregulation. For the horse’s health, he should be constantly exposed to his natural environment.”

      I hope that helps!

  8. Aly says

    You say “in general need extra nutritional support and that doesn’t mean “grain”.” Besides good quality hay minus grain, what is another option? I have a 16.3 OTTB who survived the Mookre Tornado in May, lost most of his front teeth but does graze again naturally. He’s still thin and I’ve put him on cool calories of course mixed with grain. I am lettering his coat come in for winter, but feel it would be necessary to blanket/rain sheet him because he gets wet and shivers…I know shivering is a way to keep warm but it uses the energy to keep him warm. Ideas? His rain sheet is a 70g poly fill, his mid weight is 150g fill and I paid 100 plus shipping for both. The 11 horses I have do have a run in shed as well as a barn to go in. Thank you for the good article. I would love to hear more about less grain during these cold months.

    • says

      Hi Aly,

      Excellent question about grain. There’s an abundance of options when it comes to high quality food sources for horses other than grain. I talk about some of them in my Feeding a Horse Naturally series as well as in a few articles I wrote for Natural Horse Magazine.

      If you sign up for our email list you’ll get access to that library immediately. As you can see, I offer a lot of free advice on this website as well as through my email list. Other than my free articles, I also offer consultation services for those who need more assistance. Just send me an email through our Contact Us page and we can schedule a session.

  9. Sue says

    Thank you about your advice on blankets. I owned two horses for four years at a farm that didn’t use blankets. They were always very healthy. I just adopted a rescued Arabian 13 year old mare and I thought I had to blanket her. I’m glad to know that I don’t have to and I can save myself that money and still keep my horse healthy in the cold weather.

    • says

      Hi Sue,

      I’m glad I’ve helped put your mind at ease. I’d recommend reading through all the additional comments on this article for more information. It’s important to understand why it’s not necessary to blanket a horse and to read other people’s experiences and questions regarding blanketing.

  10. Bobbie says

    I have never blanketed my horses. They are very rugged mares who have always weathered our Northern Canadian winters quite well. However, this year, I am considering blanketing my eldest …she’s 30 and despite getting additional nutritional support, she has been dropping weight over the winter season. Her veterinarian suggested that I consider it so I’ve been trying to do some research.

  11. Heidi says

    I’ve never blanketed horses in winter, unless (like the author says) they are ill or have some other pressing reason to be blanketed. A hot endurance horse on a spring or fall ride, tired and perspiring with a cold night coming on, has been my primary reason for blanketing…but as soon as they are home in their own pasture, they are once again blanketless.

    We frequently have sub-zero temps, and we free-feed big bales to our groups–and one can see the consumption rate go up as the temps go down. But one will also see that the horse’s natural insulation is so efficient at keeping the body heat in that in a snow storm, the snow will actually accumulate on the horse without melting. Our horses are healthy and frisky in the winter, and only seek shelter if the wind is extreme.

    I agree–no blankets, as a general practice! Thanks for bringing this up!

  12. Marie says

    I blanket in rainy or windy weather, simply because my boarding barn does not have shelters. Horses come in during severe weather, but not always if it’s precipitating or windy. I realize it’s not an ideal situation, but in our area, this barn is definitely our best bet, weighing all other factors and etc. Someday I hope to have my own barn, complete with run-in stalls or shelters. The other reason I blanketed in the past was when my horse was in full work, and some light showing during the winter and I needed to clip him.

  13. Elaine says

    Hi there – i have one horse almost 30 yrs old who is very thin – have been told this is purely due to age – her muscles are wasting away – she is blanketed in winter . There are two other horses I look after – one is already developing her winter coat but the other a dun coloured pony never seems to develop much of a winter coat – she was shivering recently so I thought I ought to blanket her. The other wasnt shivering so she obviously feels the cold more – she had a blanket on when I first arrived to take over their care. If they are shivering does it mean they need to eat more? I have to say I am at a bit of a loss about all of these things!

    • says

      Hi Elaine,

      You have to use your best judgement in situations like yours. Horses will shiver to increase body heat. It’s important that your horse has access to free choice grass hay at all times and has the choice of 24/7 turn out for plenty of movement. If a horse shivers on occasion she must also consume enough calories to compensate for that additional energy being used.

  14. Katie says

    I am a creature of habit. I used to use blankets all the time, and this year I am trying to not too. It’s hard especially on this 27 degree night ( South Carolina ain’t supposed to be this cold!!). I have three horses, an 8 year old Percheron, a 3 year old Tennessee walker, and a 21 year old quarter x. They have free choice hay, and are pretty healthy. Thank you for this article!

  15. Lynn says

    I gave my horse blankets away two years ago to a rescue. The girls hated getting them on in the morning, they always rolled in them and I worried about getting them caught up in their legs. They have this huge shelter they never leave so I gave them away. Our barn is not heated, but I do bring them in at night in the winter. I sleep much better knowing the old girls are bedded down safe at night. Call me crazy, but I do ask them after they have eaten, ( I thought they only came in for their dinner ) if they want in and in the winter they run to the barn doors to come in. However, in the summer months they just stare at me from their shelter like I am crazy to be calling them in, so they stay out. I figure they want in, if they come running to the barn doors.
    Gracie is 27 ( a rescued standardbred ) and Paige is 23 ( a rescued thoroughbred ) and I think they didn’t have very nice lives before they came here. I also think because they are racehorses, they were used to coming in at night. I don’t know, but for me, I just sleep sounder knowing they are in and safe and content. Call me crazy, but I believe you have to do what your gut tells you to do.

  16. Ruth says

    enjoy your articles – most are very much in line with my own thoughts about horsekeeping. I am in an excellent boarding situation of 24/7 turnout with trees, run in sheds and free choice hay. Some boarders blanket, some do not. I use a t/o sheet when we get cold. soaking rain. The horses go into shelter when they get uncomfortable but typically as we go through winter the uncovered horses get rain rot in varying degrees. This is my primary reason for covering my horse.

  17. Katie says

    Hi Stephanie,

    I understand that in the best habitat situation (plenty of pasture space, a walk in, and available food 24/7) a horse would be able to take care of maintaining its body temperature to best suit its weather situation. But, I also tend to want to jump right in and try and help my animals at the first sign of struggle, and at the first sight of shivering I assumed that, like us, they would be cold unless assisted by a blanket.

    So, I have struggled with “to blanket or not to blanket” and your article has helped ease my mind some. But I still tend to worry and wonder if there are situations that stepping in and assisting would benefit them. Like, if we get back from a hard run and they are sweaty, and the night will be significantly colder, would a light blanket be good for that night? Or, if it is raining a cold slushy rain and they don’t go under their walk in, they would rather stand out in it like a goof ball getting soaked to the bone, can we put a rain slick on them that has no padding, but would keep them dry? Are those the type of situations that don’t fall under normal circumstances and would be okay to step in and help, or are they still naturally equipped and protected enough that I would actually be hindering their natural defenses by doing those things for them?

    And, if I see my horse shivering, should I be worried or is that just them getting their body up to the temperature they need and once they get there, they will stop? I want to be the best help I can, but I’m struggling with knowing when I’m doing too much or something that really isn’t necessary. Do you have any advice to help me know when to step in and to know when they will be okay on their own?

    • says

      Hi Katie,

      The more the human micro-manages and creates unnatural situations for a horse, the more problems with the horse’s health the human will cause. What it boils down to is this, do you want a naturally healthy horse? If so, then every decision you make must be with intention and must support that goal.

  18. E. Bonham says

    Well, it’s Nov. 22 and the coldest day of autumn yet. My horse is the only one at the barn NOT wearing a blanket, in fact he’s one of 3 that are still outside – the tough guys. The rest are locked up in stalls with “comfy” blankeys. People give me funny looks and say, “it’s going to be in the low 30’s and he will be cold.” How can you just leave him out in the cold?” Any minute I think the SPCA will come to fine me.

    The truth is, up until last year I used to be one of those 55 degree and under put-on-a blanket horse owners until I learned about equine thermal regulation and the harm blankets actually do. When I arrived there tonight, it looked like he had rolled in the mud and perhaps I interfered with his thermo-reg by brushing it off. Could be that was something he did to keep heat in?

    I also learned how they heat themselves by fermenting in the hindgut, so forage is the major component. My horse does have a windblock shelter where some hay is on the ground and then some is on the ground in the paddock – oh dear it might get a little wet?

    Thanks Stephanie for helping me to not feel so alone. I would like to know about warming the water, though, from the standpoint of how long will it stay that way in 30 degree temps? I put a small amount of molasses in flat back buckets to encourage drinking with the large volumes of hay being fed. Well, I hope it goes well tonight; it’s the first time we’ve thrown out the blanket and thrown in more hay (free choice). As long as tack stores sell flashy rugs and humanize them, horses will be wearing blankets.

  19. Kaitlyn says

    You don’t mention a basic way to tell whether your horse is cold and needs a blanket. Owners can put a hand up behind their horses elbow or inside of the stifle. If it is warm, the horse does not need a blanket.

    If your horse is sweaty behind the ears and biting/kicking at the blanket they are far too hot.

    Blankets prevent a natural winter coat from growing in, which most (even older) horses are quite capable of growing if the owner allows it.

    Two questions on the loose unrefined sea salt. Where do you purchase this from? I have never seen it in my area (near Boerne, Texas). How do you provide it to your horses?

    • says

      Hi Kaitlyn,

      The way I tell if a horse needs a blanket is if they’re not healthy. If you’re promoting your horse’s health naturally, then more than likely they’re also healthy, which equals not needing a blanket. It also boils down to your core values. Do you choose to nurture your horse’s true nature or choose to partake in inferior horse keeping practices such as blanketing.

      To answer your question about salt, I wrote a book on that very subject called Salt for Horses: Tragic Mistakes to Avoid. It will answer all your questions. Click here to find out more about it.

  20. Doreen says

    I am a new horse owner in Wisconsin with two Arabians(12 and 20 yoa). We have a small (3,4 acres) pasture and we built a small shelter(one side open) w/ a small dry lot. I am glad to read your article as I had planned to not use blankets, but was getting some disagreement.

    I note in many of the responses that others mention free choice hay. As I don’t have the equipment or storage area for large bales, we purchase small bales(timothy only) and I have been placing several small piles in and just outside of the small lot as well as in two feeders in the shelter twice a day(the dominant horse will guard food).

    The horses have free access to the pasture which still has a small amount of grass(not much with winter approaching). Should I measure hay or give them as much as they will eat? I did not feed hay until recently when the temp dropped and our grass is disappearing. With a small pasture, do I ever need to lock them into the lot/shelter area – like when there is heavy rain – will my pasture turn into a mud pit? I assume they will seek shelter as needed so I prefer to leave open access.

    • says

      Hi Doreen,

      Yes, you need to provide your horses free choice hay. They especially need more hay during the winter months. It’s not practical to answer all your questions, or fully discuss the subject of feeding free choice hay in a short comment. I would be happy to help you. If you need further assistance, I offer consultation services. You can click here to email me through our contact form.

      Also, please read our comment policy. It will help you determine what is appropriate when leaving a comment on this site. Thanks!

  21. Nancy says

    Hello Stephanie,

    I’ve enjoyed reading these comments the past few nights!

    This is all new to me. After 41 years of waiting, I finally have my own mini-barn complete with two horses and a miniature horse. The reason I have the barn is to store my hay and tack. As well as have a place to keep my horses if they are ill. The horses are free to come and go as they please.

    One of the horses has never been blanketed. He’s fine in the elements. The other, a 20 yr old Arabian, has been blanketed most of, if not all of, his life. I live in the Black Forest in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It get’s pretty extreme here. But we have trees that buffer a lot of the wind.

    Even after reading all these comments, I am still so unsure what to do with regards to blanketing this Arabian. His coat is not as long or thick as the other horse or the mini. It worries me that he needs that blanket. Yes, he has access to choice hay, he gets Equipride for supplements, has trace mineral salts available always, fresh water from a heated watering system and freedom to move and be where he wants to be.

    We’ve had some extreme weather here this past week. One day was a glorious 56 degrees, that night it was -8 degrees. Last night he got wet and it was cold and windy. I did put him in his stall and closed the stall door. Usually I don’t do that. He was warm and dry this morning.

    Today was in the teens and snowing. I did not blanket him today. But tonight he looks thinner. My gut says put a blanket on him and let him be where he wants to be. But I am a newbie and am not sure what is best for him – mainly because he has been blanketed most of, if not all of, his life. I want him to be and remain healthy. Thanks in advance for your advise!

    • says

      Hi Nancy,

      Most times for a horse who has been unnaturally kept, there will be a transition period as you get them more healthy. If a horse is too thin that can be an indication of many things. Most times, in the winter months if a horse is too thin they’re not getting enough forage and/or nutritional support.

      During the transition period where you are helping your horse regain their health, you have to use your best judgement. It sounds like you’re headed in the right direction. Just do what you have to in order to support your horse but with the end goal in mind of implementing natural horse keeping principles.

  22. Anna says

    I just brought home my new 5 year old healthy mare. She has been blanketed. I have never blanketed my horses so I took it off right away, but the temp is above freezing in the day, and only slightly below freezing at night.

    Here is my concern. We are heading into our first big freeze of the winter in a couple of days. The temp will drop about 20 degrees. The other horses are all thick and fluffy. I am very concerned that my new mare will not have enough coat to keep her warm and feel I should blanket her, at least through the freeze. I just brought her home in late Nov. The freeze is starting Dec. 3. Any advice is much appreciated. I don’t want to stress her any more as she is already stressed at the move.

      • Anna says

        Thank you for the reply Stephanie. I decided to leave her blanket off and monitor. She fluffed up fairly quickly- there was more coat under that blanket than first met the eye. We went to 20 below and so far she’s just fine. She has two other horses to warm up with, loafing sheds, lots of hay and water. She’s doing fine. I’m very glad to have found this forum. Thanks for the direction to your reply to Doreen. I had already implemented a transition plan with her feed, which is going well.

        I also have an elderly horse that I never blanket. Yes, he’s getting a little thin, but he gets lots of good quality feed and is fine in the cold. (My mother is elderly too and has gotten thin, and I don’t blanket her either. She does, however, spend the winter inside!)

  23. Doreen says

    I am a new horse owner and gathering as much info as possible to care for our horses. I have a 12 yr. old Arabian and a friend’s 20 year old Arabian who has foundered and was quite ill before(she seems to be doing well now although she needs frequent hoof care). We live in Wisconsin and get some severe winters.

    I don’t plan on blanketing my horse, and she blankets hers in severe weather. I have a small shelter/ with a small lot, about 4 acres of pasture w/several trees, and will normally allow 24/7 access. I notice many comments mention free access hay and was wondering about that. I have been feeding hay(timothy only) twice daily and have not been measuring amounts. I often read/hear about how much hay to feed, with many referring to flakes of hay. Should I worry about giving too much hay? The horses move well around the pasture and seem to get plenty of exercise. My horse also gets a very small amount of grain in the morning as a treat.

  24. Nancy Smith says

    Stephanie,

    I realize you wrote the above article some time ago, but I wanted to say thank you for backing up what I keep saying. I live in mountains of Colorado and two geldings.. we are in the mist of a terrible storm with high temps barely above zero. My boys have lots of water and food and great loafing shed that is so warm I have to take off my jacket when mucking in there.

    About three years back I bought two very expensive blankets, that I have NEVER used. The more I found out about the horse’s own ability to maintain its body temps the more I thought twice about blanketing.

    I think we all too often worry too much about our horses, they have managed to exist without human interference and I found when you watch your horse constantly you do more damage than good.

    This morning in a whooping 2 degrees with snow… they were running around the corral and rolling and just have a blast in the snow…..I don’t think they were cold at all. thank you again for such a great article.

  25. Brandy says

    Great article! Thank you Soulful Equine! A couple months ago we brought home a 19 year old Arabian/Quarter horse mare, a little overweight, who had always had a blanket all winter. We have a 24 year old Standardbred gelding that has never been blanketed. They both have good winter coats.

    I never felt like we needed to blanket her but felt obligated because this horse came from a neighbor.

    From a little experience, reading, gut instinct, and then more reading( including this post)…… I am thankful for all information shared! We all want to do what’s best for our horses :)

    BTW.. I’m in Ontario Canada … And it is darn cold right now!

    • Lynn says

      Well, they went yesterday morning, minus 35 celcius windchill. I had made my mind up to leave them in the barn, as it was blizzard like conditions in the valley at 8am but when you have two old horses practically sawing their way out of their stalls, heads rolling, kicking at their stall doors, I simply said, WTF out you go. Blanketless, I might add. They ran straight to their shelter, and waited for the morning maid to bring them their pail of carrots and hay.

      I have never been so cold in my life. Yet, the fat old girls were perfectly content when I left for work. There they were, in the back of their huge shelter (with wind shields on the sides) snow swirling all around, with their heads buried in their hay happy as stink that they were out. No blankets, they are out of the wind, and fat. I brought them back in at 3pm when they told me they were ready. Hooray, we made it through the coldest day ever, none the worse for wear. Except for me, I am still thawing out a day later.

  26. Debi says

    I am a Farrier in Western PA, we get regular winter temps., not many days in the below ZERO temps. We do get a few weeks that are ZERO and slightly above and I NEVER blanket my horse. I have an 11 yr old Pueto Rican Paso Fino and he does just fine. Gets a super thick and fuzzy coat and I rarely see him shivering. He has a 3 sided run in shed that protects him for all the elements; funny thing is that he NEVER goes in it.

    This year it has dipped to -12 at the coldest and he was just fine. I give him plenty of water and free choice good hay plus a quality feed. I totally agree with the one poster that WE tend to put our own HUMAN feeling and emotions and discomforts on our animals While that is super nice and compassionate, in the end, they are animals and horses have been here longer than we have and WITHOUT blankets. Also, take a look at Icelandic ponies, they live in freezing temps all the time.

    I’m sure the “man upstairs” has put the best practices in place when it comes to his creatures. On another note, I have free range chickens, and they too did just fine in the below freezing temps. Its just Amazing how adaptable they are.

  27. JulesK says

    I agree with the people saying that very old horses might really need that blanket, although I definitely support the overall thrust of this article. People are absolutely ridiculous about blanketing. They just love dressing their horse up so he’s “cozy”, and it’s hardly ever much good for the horse.

    In Nebraska I was very fortunate to have an old farmer who provided all the beautiful brome hay the horses could eat (always kept clean and dry, of course), heated water, and a three sided shelter. My horses were never blanketed there, despite very harsh winters. However, one day when we took my oldest, very healthy gelding out for his trim, he began to shiver. The others did fine. This same facility brought its very oldest horses into an (unheated) barn every night. I’m not sure if they blanketed any of them, but they did get them completely out of the wind. They certainly weren’t “blanket people”, and neither am I.

    As for my old guy, we started putting a blanket on him for the worst winter trims (one I had from my own “Barbie horse dress up days”). I would remove it before releasing him back into the lot. He was fine with the windbreak, along with all of the supports I mentioned, but the trimming incident made it clear that his ability to keep himself warm was not quite that of a younger horse.

    With the healthy young horse, we’re just getting in the way by blanketing, or justifying it because we’re not providing the supports (hay, shelter, water, and even other horses huddle with). To be fair, providing the *ideal* level of those supports might be just about impossible for horse people in some places. My old guy is one of those lucky ones that is in a nearly ideal environment and there may still come a point when a blanket and/or spending the worst nights inside might be better than what my old guy can do himself, although so far, he’s still doing very well at 27. I think things can really, really change when they get into their 30s, much less mid-30s.