The weather patterns the past few years have me second guessing my blanketing strategy. Normally, my horses go unblanketed for the entire year. They have access to a shelter and plenty of hay. Colder temperatures in the fall and rain have me concerned because my horses refuse to use their shelter. Should I throw a sheet on them? Will their coat stop growing if I do that? I do not want to blanket them all winter, I just want to get them through the colder fall rainy days.
When it comes to blanketing practices there is not a “one size fits all” approach. Ultimately, the decision to blanket will depend on the individual horse and your management style. With that in mind, there are some key things to consider in your situation.
A horse’s winter hair coat continues to grow as the number of daylight hours declines. The hair coat naturally insulates the horse by trapping and warming air around the horse. When the hair coat is flattened, wet, or muddy it loses its insulating value. Therefore, a blanket is warranted if your horses are standing in the rain during cold weather and do not have access to shelter. In your situation, shelter access is provided even if the horses choose not to use it. Thus, a blanket or sheet is not necessary but can be used if you prefer. While a sheet can keep the rain off your horse, remember that a sheet has little to no insulating value. For reference, horses with a summer hair coat can maintain their body temperature until air temperatures fall below 41°F. Thus, a lightweight, turnout blanket may be a better option for shedding the rain while warming your horse during fall weather.
Using a sheet or lightweight blanket on rainy fall days will likely not affect your horse’s hair coat going into winter. A recent study demonstrated that blanketed and nonblanketed horses had similar hair growth patterns over winter (October to March). Hair length and diameter on the hindquarters were comparable between blanketed and nonblanketed horses. However, hair length on the neck (not covered by the blanket) was shorter for blanketed horses than nonblanketed horses in January and February. Further research is needed to explore the effects of short-term or intermittent blanket use during fall or winter months.
Autor University of Minnesota Extension