Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The debate on blanketing horses

We've been enjoying a gorgeous Indian summer in Colorado, with temperatures in the 60s, 70s, and even the 80s all throughout October.  It's very welcome after our rainy, cooler summer and early fall.  Yesterday, however, was blustery and very fall-like, and today is cold and threatening some freezing rain or snow.

With cold weather finally making an appearance (briefly -- it's supposed to warm up again tomorrow and stay nice for the rest of the week), blanketing season isn't far out.  I only blanket under 20 degrees and for snowstorms, so I'm not blanketing yet -- but I sure was tempted today.  I sure felt cold, and the horses were acting like they were a little cold, too.  I do want them to grow winter coats, though, so I resisted the temptation.  I may go back later if it rains or snows, but as long as it stays dry I'll leave them unblanketed.

Some people get really fired up over the debate over whether or not to blanket.  I know people who don't blanket at all, even when we get below-zero temperatures as we did last winter, and I also know people who own blankets in every imaginable weight and blanket the minute it gets the least bit chilly.  The mare in my boys' corral was blanketed last week for an overnight low of 35, which I thought was ridiculous, especially considering it was gorgeous and warm the next day.

I think I have found a happy medium -- I don't blanket so much that I inhibit their winter coat growth, but I do blanket if it's extremely cold (especially at night), or if it's wet or windy.  I take off blankets during the day when it's warm enough so that my horses have a break from them and don't get itchy or develop blanket rubs, and so they can enjoy the sunshine during the day.  It means that I have to make more trips back and forth to the barn to put on and remove blankets, but it also means that my boys are more comfortable, which is ultimately my goal.

The customary argument against blanketing is that it's not natural -- that horses have evolved to survive in cold weather, so they don't need us to interfere.  I completely agree with this article in favor of blanketing horses, however, in that we have already interfered so much that we've limited their ability to stay warm on their own: Most horses in human care don't have the ability to eat constantly or move around enough to keep their bodies warm the way that nature has designed them to.  Plus, I would make my own argument that surviving and being comfortable are two different things.  Sure, they could survive it, but that still doesn't mean I want my horses shivering and cold all night long -- nor do I want to ride them when they are a jittery mess the following morning.  (Panama especially is always very jumpy and unfocused when he's recently been cold.)

Do note that the often-quoted "study" that is usually attributed to CSU, which claims that researchers found horses can keep themselves warmer without blankets, is a fake study.  While I do think some horses stay plenty warm enough without a blanket, it seems to vary according to the horse.  I think Panama gets cold pretty easily, plus he's low man on the totem pole, and doesn't always get into the shelter.  Panama is also fairly obvious when he's cold, as he gets jittery and turns into a bit of an asshole.  I am starting to suspect, however, that Rondo is even more sensitive to the cold than Panama -- he just is less demonstrative about it.  He has always come right to me when I bring out his blanket, but now I'm noticing that when he's not blanketed and it's cold, he's always as far into the shelter as he can possibly get, even if that means he has to stand all by himself.

What about you?  How do you feel about blanketing?  I find that there is a range and everyone falls into a slightly different place.



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