One of my favorite sayings about horse people is “ask two horse people a question and you will get three different answers.” Everyone has their own ideas about the right and wrong ways to care for their equine friends. Many of us crazy horse people would agree on a lot of the major things but still disagree on the minor things, or vice versa.
A topic on which you can certainly get a lot of opinions would be blanketing. Some people think you should never blanket an unclipped horse, some people will crack out the heavyweights as soon as the temperatures dip below 60, and then there are the in-betweeners.
I guess I am an in-betweener. I like a natural lifestyle for horses, or maybe I should say somewhat natural since no domestic horse lives anything close to approaching a truly natural lifestyle. My own horses, even my fancy show horses, live outside. I don’t ever stall them because it is supposed to be cold, wet, windy, etc. I do stall them sometimes for my convenience during the day to have them handy when I have time to ride. I guess where I digress from the ‘natural’ approach is I do blanket.
I will freely admit that some classic anthropomorphism is coming into play. It is going to be cold this week, and has been cold this weekend. Daytime temperatures hovering around or just below freezing and overnight lows in the teens. That is pretty freaking cold in my opinion. We get a week of this every winter at some point and I hate it. I will admit I would rather be on the verge of heatstroke than be cold. Today I happily sported the staypuff marshmallow look and wore two pairs of socks, insulated paddock boots, long underwear (top and bottom), jeans, turtleneck, polarfleece sweatshirt, coat, ear band, hat and gloves. I was still cold.
The problem is we never get adapted here to truly cold weather. Our average daytime high in the winter here is right at 50 degrees, of course some days are colder and some warmer. But that does not prepare you well for this week’s weather. All of the horses have blankets on right now. This isn’t the first time I’ve blanketed them this winter either. The rain sheets have also seen some use.
I know horses have winter coats and nature provided them with the ability to insulate and blah, blah, but my personal feeling is I would rather just put the blankets on and not worry wondering who is cold. Because some of them will be cold, there are a couple of residents (Tony comes to mind) that I sheet/blanket much more aggressively than most. There are also a few (Apollo, Homer, Lily and Sebastian come to mind) that might be naked when the others have sheets, or have on sheets when some have blankets, although everyone has a blanket this week. I also think it is important to keep some of the older, more arthritic residents warm to help keep them from getting stiff. At least twice a day someone is putting their hand underneath every blanket to see if anyone is too hot (or too cold), and so far everyone has been comfortable.
Now I am not one that really thinks it gets too cold (at least where I have lived) for the horses to be out. I should clarify that I am talking about UNCLIPPED horses in this entire post, clipped horsese are a whole ‘nother thing. When Jason and I lived in Vermont my four horses lived outside 24/7. They had two run-ins to choose from that opened in two different directions, as well as a tree line for shelter. There were days where the high temperature did not go above zero, and we saw -20 for the standing temperature (no wind chill included) a few times for the lows. I don’t even want to know what the wind chill factor was. The horses did fine, they mostly just parked themselves at their hay. (On the other hand I had pneumonia twice the first winter . . . ) I could look out my window and watch them and even in those conditions they did not use their shelters much. My blankets did get quite a work out though. I will come clean and say I stressed and worried about the horses living out in the Vermont winters endlessly. I would stand in our den and watch them out the windows wondering if they were miserable, how cold they were, generally just drove myself and Jason crazy. I admit I wouldn’t choose to have my horses living outside in that kind of winter again, but they did survive it fine.
I also think that when it is in the 30’s and raining that can be hard weather on a horse. You can make it easy weather on a horse by just putting a rainsheet on and keeping their core dry. I’ve seen more than one ‘naked’ horse shiver in this weather, and I’ve never seen a horse with a rainsheet on be cold in this weather. Keep the core dry and the horse is fine.
I guess I like to think of their rainsheets and blankets as their portable shelters. Instead of wondering and fretting if they will make use of man-made (or natural) shelter I prefer to just put their shelter on them and be done with it. This is certainly a topic that raises many opinions. Obviously many people would disagree with my philosophy. It seems to work well for the horses on this farm. You do have to treat each horse as an individual of course, when it comes to blanketing one rule does not fit all. Also, it is my personal opinion that you cannot blanket by a temperature chart. 40 degrees and bright sunshine is a lot different than 40 degrees with hard rain and wind.
It looks like we will all ring in the new year bundled up in our jammies, horses included! My horses will be off from work this week as the footing in my arena is frozen. I’m sure they wish it would stay that way all winter but unfortunately for them it is only for a week.
Faune, Winston and Asterik
Clay, O’Reilly, Chili, and Slinky
Teddy, Lucky, Snappy and O’Reilly
Chili and Lightening
Homer, Dustin and Levendi
Chance and Elfin