Monday, December 8, 2014

Caring for Older Horses 101 - To Blanket or Not to Blanket

Since I generally blog about abstract thoughts and opinions, I thought I would actually share something useful that I've learned in my 17 years of living with horses. With winter drawing nigh, the age old controversy of blanketing rears its head. Here are three tips I use when determining whether or not to blanket my horses: fat, fur, and factors.

A horse's first defense against the cold is a healthy layer of fat. Without it, the cold can penetrate easily and they get chilled. Some older horses have a harder time keeping on weight. This can be caused by a variety of reasons. The first culprit is usually teeth. As horses age, the cumulative wear and tear on their teeth create sharp points which inhibit the proper breakdown of food. Usually, having their teeth floated every year or every other year is sufficient to keep their teeth functioning. While teeth are usually the first thing to check, sometimes weight loss is simply a result of the natural change in metabolism that accompanies aging. Or it can be a symptom of a more serious issue. A quick vet check can help trace the root of the problem.

A horse's second natural defense is their fur. For most horses the combination of shortening days and lowering temperatures will naturally stimulate the growth of fur. During the first month of winter, I avoid blanketing unless absolutely necessary so that my horses can have the chance to grow a nice, thick coat. However, depending on the breed, they may need a little help. Drafts, ponies, and foundation breeds such as quarter horses and walkers rarely need blanketing; Appaloosas, Arabians and Thoroughbreds, on the other hand, are notorious for their lack of locks. A healthy winter coat should be at least 2 inches long with long, coarse hairs overlapping the shorter, insulating fuzz.

Finally, you must take into consideration environmental factors. The roliest poliest pony with the thickest coat will have a hard time staying warm in sub-freezing temperatures with high winds and driving rain. If your horses are in the pasture 24/7, is there a wind break they can hunker down behind? A run-in barn? A rule of thumb I like to use is the frozen forty. If it's below forty degrees with a combination of rain and/or winds greater than 20-25 miles per hour, I will blanket. If it's perfectly still and clear (no wind, no rain, no snow, etc.) I won't blanket unless it gets below 17-18 degrees.

Now that you know my three tips, hopefully you will have a better idea of determining when and when not to blanket.