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Why Not All Equines Need a Winter Horse Blanket -
Stable Blankets Can Make Some Horses Colder in the Winter.

When the cold winter weather hits, many horse owners automatically bring out the horse blankets. However, a horse’s normal winter coat is much more insulating than a blanket, and unless the horse has been clipped, is outside without a windbreak, or has been moved to a colder climate during winter months, it will usually actually be warmer without a blanket.
The longer winter coat helps to trap the body heat against the skin. Also, tiny muscles in the skin raise the hairs, creating tiny air pockets that heighten the insulating effect. Flatten this ‘fluffed-up’ coat by adding layers of light blankets, or even one heavy one, can actually make the horse colder.

If a horse is not accustomed to being blanketed, it can put the horse at increased risk. If it becomes overheated, it will begin to sweat. The dampness causes it to become chilled later, which then increases the risk of

pneumonia or other respiratory infections. If a horse must be blanketed in the colder temperatures of morning, make sure that you or another responsible hand is there to take the blanket off when temperatures rise later in the day.

Picture of horses covered in blanketsTherefore, it is important to choose a blanket that is appropriate to how much extra protection from the weather that the horse genuinely needs. Modern blankets are much warmer and resistant to weather than traditional wool blankets, using inner and outer shells with an insulating fiber between. Outer shells are usually made of synthetics which are water repellent and windproof, while the inner lining is smoother than wool so it won’t chafe against the horse’s skin. The filling between them provides warmth with much less bulk than older blankets. This means the overall blanket is light enough not to flatten the horse’s coat, and is more durable than their wool or cotton predecessors.

The outer shells, made of nylon fiber, will not snag or tear and are treated to be waterproof, which also makes them resistant to rot and mildew. This waterproofing also helps to hold heat in, but in the most extreme cold, the coating might crack. Foam particles or fiberfill usually make up the filler due to their insulating properties, without weight.

Making sure that the blanket fits the horse properly is important, regardless of the blanket type. One that is too tight will irritate the skin and put the horse at risk of developing abrasions and sores, while a blanket that is too large can slip down under the horse’s belly. Not only will that result in the loss of almost all the blanket’s insulating ability, if the horse gets its legs tangled in the blanket’s straps, it can be seriously injured. Putting the blanket on properly also helps to ensure a good fit. Put it on well forward, then slide it gently back into position to keep it from pulling the coat the wrong way.

Each horse should have its own blanket. Sharing blankets can facilitate the spread of skin problems such as girth itch, ringworm, and other fungal infections. Even if no horses in the stable have known skin problems, fungal spores can cling to the blankets and be spread to other horses. The blankets should be washed if they are used often during the winter, at least twice, using cold water and a disinfectant soap. Rinse the blankets well to make sure that no soap residue remains to irritate the horse’s skin.

Cold water washing is preferable to dry cleaning. Dry cleaning will not remove odors, and the heat and chemical solvents can dissolve the waterproofing and shrink the bindings.

Read the next horse care article on Grooming, Brushing and Cleaning.
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