To Blanket or Not to Blanket?


Your horse could be exiting the thermoneutral zone!

Sounds like something from a science fiction film, doesn’t it?

It’s actually more mundane than that but of great importance to us horse owners if we care about the welfare of our horses, especially at this time of year.

So what is it?

The thermoneutral zone or TNZ is the optimal range of temperatures within which bodies can comfortably maintain their own body temperature. For adult horses in mild climates, this is between 40ºF/5ºC and 77ºF/25ºC. On the other hand humans have a more limited TNZ of between 77ºF/25ºC and 86ºF/30ºC when naked.

This means when humans feel cold, horses are still well within their comfortable zone.

And the problem is we humans often make decisions about rugging/blanketing our horses based on whether we feel cold ourselves with the result that we may end up using a rug on our horses when it really isn’t necessary. For example, depending on the type of rug you use, body temperatures can rise above the TNZ and this can compromise your horse’s capacity to regulate his own temperature.

Which means selecting the right type and weight of rug for your horse and his individual conditions is vital.

You need to take into consideration the environment, your horse’s age, physical condition and history.  So how do you tell if you have the right blanket for your horse when it gets cold?

Let me tell you how I have dealt with the situation and see if it helps.

As you probably know my horses Jazz and Apollo (30 and 26 yrs old) moved from California to Maryland last year. They had lived in sunny San Diego all their lives and never really experienced a true eastern winter with snow and temperatures below freezing.

As winter began last year they started to grow their winter coats, but they only grew the same as if they were in California. So when it started to go below 40ºF/5ºC, I had to put a blanket on them. They were out in the pastures in the daytime and in the barn at night. Although it was probably about 10-15ºF/5.5-8.5ºC degrees warmer than outside, it was still pretty chilly in there.

I could tell though that they were very appreciative as they kept their blankets on and didn’t chew them, bite them, or try to take them off. I remember when I tried putting a light blanket on them at night in California they thought it was a chew toy and in the morning it lay shredded on the ground with 2 of them smiling about their evening adventures.

I only tried twice and twice ended up with shredded blankets so didn’t try that again!

So with the winter blankets I made sure I checked every day to see if they were sweating with the blankets. Plus if it was over 35ºF/2ºC the blankets came off during the day to help them grow a winter coat naturally. Their bodies have adjusted though this year and their fur has started growing and it is now very thick and they don’t need blankets yet. Maybe when it gets down below freezing, but I will see how it goes.

So there you go, that’s how I’ve handled it. It’s a matter of trial and error but as always keep a close eye on your horse as he will let you know one way or another what’s going on!

Hope you have found this useful but let me know if you have any questions

Until next time, happy horses!

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