When to Blanket a Horse Temperature Guide

Horse with a Blanket

Whether you clip your horse in the winter or not, there are times when you will need to use a blanket. With all of the blanket choices out there, it can be overwhelming to determine which one is the one you need. This handy guide will explain why horses need blankets and how to choose the right ones for different situations.

How Do Horses Keep Themselves Warm?

By nature, horses are meant to roam and graze. As the days grow shorter and winter approaches, horses naturally grow a thick winter coat. The hairs are actually different from those of the summer coat as they are longer and coarser. They begin growing in July. The summer coat is made of finer hairs that lay flat on the horse’s body but the winter coat stands up and is bunched together to trap heat in. This ultimately helps to insulate the horse from the cold.

In addition, the food your horse eats helps to regulate its body temperature. That’s why it is necessary to supplement the winter diet with additional hay. As the grass dies and the ground is covered, horses aren’t able to get enough calories from it to maintain their internal temperature. Hay helps horses to continue to keep themselves warm during the winter.

However, when temperatures drop below levels where your horse’s winter coat and caloric intake can maintain the internal temperature, you need to use blankets or some method of providing additional protection from the cold. If you don’t, your horse will burn energy just to stay warm and this can translate to weight loss.

Does Your Horse Need Blankets?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, which is why you will always hear people debate the topic. There are five factors that will determine whether your horse will need a blanket, including its living setup, age, coat, body condition, and the lowest temperature at which it is able to keep itself warm. These conditions vary from horse to horse; in fact, they can vary in one horse over its lifespan.

If your horse is clipped and you live in a climate where temperatures go below 50 degrees, you will need to blanket. It really becomes a matter of which blankets to use more than anything else.

The Horse’s Living Setup

The horse’s living setup is whether or not it is stabled in a barn or outdoors, as well as the structure and build of a barn. It also includes factors such as whether there is a shelter for horses that live outside.

Horses that live in an enclosed barn may be fine throughout the winter without a blanket. If the barn is closed up during the colder temperatures and horses are in adjacent stalls, their body heat may keep them warm enough.

Horses that live outdoors will have days when they need a blanket if the temperature goes below 40 degrees. The purpose of blanketing goes beyond keeping them warm; they also need to stay dry. When horses have a winter coat and get wet, it is very hard to dry the thick hair and this will make them cold much more quickly.

Generally speaking, an unclipped horse should be blanketed the following way:

  • Between 30 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit: Light blanket (0 to 100 grams fill)

  • Between 20 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit: Medium blanket (150 to 250 grams fill)

  • Below 20 degrees Fahrenheit: Heavy blanket (300 to 400 grams fill)

For clipped horses, use the following guidelines:

  • Between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit: Light blanket (0 to 100 grams fill)

  • Between 30 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit: Medium blanket (150 to 250 grams fill)

  • Below 30 degrees Fahrenheit: Heavy blanket (300 to 400 grams fill)

You need to consider how much time your horse is outside and how wet it gets. Even above those temperatures, you may want to use a lightweight rain sheet on wet days to keep your horse dry.

Your Horse’s Coat

Obviously your horse’s coat plays a huge role in how you will blanket. If your horse is clipped, you will need to blanket earlier in the year and you may need to use more than one blanket to keep the horse warm. If your horse is unclipped, you will want to look at what kind of coat it has. How thick is its coat? You need to look at the horse as well to determine if it is losing weight or looks cold.

Your Horse’s Age

As horses age, they are less able to regulate their internal temperature. This factor will vary widely among different horses so there is no particular age rule. Some horses age well and others show their age sooner. As you blanket your senior horse, make sure that you don’t go too far the other way and cause it to overheat.

Your Horse’s Body Condition

Horses that have plenty of fat and muscle can go longer without blanketing than those that are naturally thinner and more nervous. Nervous horses use up a lot of energy in general so they are less able to regulate their body temperatures when it gets cold in the winter. If your horse is a nervous type and has trouble keeping weight on when it’s warm out, it will only be worse when the temperatures drop.

Geographical Location and Internal Temperature

Every horse has its own internal temperature regulation specifics, which is the temperature at which the horse needs to use energy to stay warm. You will learn this by watching to see if your horse drops weight on the same feed. If it does, you should blanket. Your geographical location matters in terms of what the horse is used to. If your horse has just come to the north from Florida, it will need blanketing sooner because its body isn’t acclimated to the colder weather.

What Blankets Should You Use?

There are a lot of different types of blankets but they fall into two basic categories: stable blankets and turnouts. Within each category, you can choose sheets or blankets. Look at the following:

  • Stable Sheet: Normally cotton or nylon blend, provides a little warmth, keeps horse clean inside

  • Stable Blanket: Has some fill, comes in medium or heavy weights, not waterproof, keeps horse warm inside

  • Turnout Sheet: Lightweight, waterproof, designed to keep horse dry rather than warm

  • Turnout Blanket: Medium or heavy weight, waterproof, keeps horse dry and provides warmth