I am sharing this blog because FINALLY someone says what I think and believe about blanketing horses. When we had our horse farm in northern Indiana, I requested everyone blanket with waterproof blankets because the weather is simply awful there in winter. Wet, cold and miserable. Now we have moved to Prescott, AZ the high desert. It can be sunny and warmish 40-50ish in winter, but darn cold at night..20’s. Usually a good 15 or more degree difference with sunny warm to cold nights. The horses and mules have access to open barn stalls and overhang. I always blanket Praise Hallelujah who  will be celebrating his 28th birthday in May. He loves his snuggly blanket and is so warm underneath it. I hope this blog will share some important facts:

Monday, January 14, 2013

Blanketing is NOT Bad, and YOU Aren’t “Natural!”

I cannot believe I have to write this.

Blanketing. A. Horse. Is. NOT. Bad!

No, blanketing does not make it more likely that rainrot or other skin problems will happen.
No, blanketing does not permanently damage a horse’s ability to grow a winter coat.
No, blanketing has no real affect on a horse’s coat.
No, blanketing is not just a gimmick created by blanket makers to get money.

If you believe any of these things, you have fallen for what we call Bunk Science. Meaning bullshit, urban myths, quackery, superstition, stupidity. Perhaps you have been reading, or listening to someone talk about, one of these:

  • A fake article about a non-existant study done by Colorado State University that proved blanketed horses were actually colder than unblanketed ones. This study NEVER HAPPENED. Read this articlewhere the CSU Equine Sciences department says it’s all fake.
  • The idea that “blanketing is unnatural.”
  • An “article,” aka sales pitch, created by Mac’s Equine, talking about how normal blankets are bad: “[blanketing damages the] ‘arrector pili’ muscles which are continually flattened with long term rugging. Eventually the horse loses its natural ability to keep warm by raising and lowering its hair follicles.” Guess what? They want you to buy THEIR fancy Cool Heat blanket that won’t cause this! Just $200 plus shipping!

Let me explain it to you, in words a three year old would understand.

When animals get cold, they get goosebumps on their skins.
The goosebumps make fur (hair) stand up straight.
When the fur stands up, there is more air in between the hairs.
The animal’s body warms up the air between the hairs.
The extra warm air helps keep animals warm.
But if it is raining, or very windy, the hair can’t stand up straight.
There are no more pockets of warm air to keep the animal warm.
The animal’s fur doesn’t work very well. The animal gets cold.
Putting a blanket on an animal can fix this.
Blankets make pockets of air inside the cloth, like a quilt.
Blankets can be waterproof and windproof, so they still work in rain and wind.
Putting a blanket on does not hurt an animal’s ability to make goosebumps.

Is that too complex for you?! Try this: WEARING A HAT DOES NOT MAGICALLY MAKE YOUR HAIR UNABLE TO KEEP YOUR HEAD WARM. HAT HAIR IS NOT PERMANENT, OR HARMFUL. HATS ARE GOOOOOD.

*SIGH* Still not getting it? Think about your wool blanket, or your down feather coat, or your quilt, or hell, any piece of clothing you own. They work on the same principal’s a horse’s coat does: they trap air to keep you warm. But when it’s wet, or very windy, they can’t do that. You can’t keep warm under a soaked shirt. Oh, and YES, snow DOES count as “wet.”

Also, young or old animals might not be strong enough to warm up the pockets of air in their coats by themselves. This is also true if an animal is sick or skinny. They just don’t have enough energy to spare. They may be able to trap the air in their coats, but without being able to heat it up, it’s useless.

Look people, if you don’t want to blanket your horse, that’s fine. I didn’t used to blanket my own horses. As long as they are healthy and have food and shelter, they will probably be JUST fine. But do NOT go around telling people that blanketing is bad! There are situations where it’s important! If you are seeking to justify your behavior, maybe you should just give in to your guilty conscience and buy your horse a damn blanket instead!

Oh, and I almost forgot:
Blanketing Is Not Natural– But Neither Are You or Your Horse!

Pretty much nothing about having a horse is natural. We’ve bred them into specific shapes and coat colors, kept them in boxes, fed them things they’d never get in the wild, ridden them (which they would never be in the wild), protected them from predators they would otherwise face in the wild, and provided vet care, which they would never get in the wild.

So when it comes to blanketing, why the Hell do we suddenly care about what is “natural?” If you want to give your horse more freedom, less harsh training methods, and more “natural” food, good for you– but don’t confuse “natural” with “lazy.” Let’s talk more about what’s “natural,” shall we?

  • Horses 15H and over are not natural– humans bred them that way. In the wild, horses are smaller, and therefore require less energy to keep warm. In fact, the vast majority of native wild “horses” areponies, with small body masses and very shaggy coats. No, mustangs don’t count– those are feral horses introduced by humans. Those tend to be smaller too, however!
  • Keeping a horse in a small enclosure is not natural– they should be able to run and walk as far as they want to help stay warm.
  • Horses in North America aren’t natural. Yeah yeah, the ancient ancestors of horses evolved in North America, but they went extinct– horses as we know them came from Asia and parts of Europe, where winters are usually less harsh. Horses aren’t “naturally” adapted to below-zero temperatures or three feet of snow.
  • In the wild, horses have access to forage 24/7. Continually eating helps keep them warm. Domesticated horses often don’t have that option– they are often fed a limited amount of hay and possibly grain, 1-2 times per day.

And let’s not limit our examination of what is “natural” to horses. What about humans?! YOU, sitting there in your heated home/office, in front of your computer, are NOT NATURAL. You should be outside right now, dressed only in poorly-sewn furs, attempting to hunt down your breakfast in the snow! Don’t bother putting on your glasses, grabbing your cell phone, or taking any medication before you head out there either, because those aren’t natural, and God forbid you be unnatural!

Hope you’re ready to have 6 kids, ’cause condoms ain’t natural either!

By the way, here’s what Lodi Equine Vet has to say about blanketing:

“The hardest part of cold weather for horses is battling the wind, being wet, or a combination of the two during the cold winter months. If your horse is NOT blanketed all winter, you can purchase a lightweight, waterproof blanket to use on your horse during these harsh conditions. When the temperature drops below zero on a windy day you can blanket your horse these days as well to protect them from the cold.”

“When blanketing horses piloerection of their hair follicles is not permanently impaired.”

More information on blanketing here:

Farming Magazine says blanket drafts when it’s drafty!
Cherry Hill recommends blanketing in wet and windy conditions.
SmarkPak says DO blanket, and shows you how to measure your horse for one.
Equus Magazine explains when you should blanket.

Oh, and here’s a summary of horse evolution.

————————————————————————————————————-
EDIT 11/07/14

To date, this is the most-read blog post I have ever published. At 80,327 views, it seems to have reached quite an audience. I never expected that! Thank you for sharing. I’d like to take this opportunity to respond to some comments answer some questions:

“Blanketing Properly” was mentioned several times. Yes, of course you should not over-blanket, or get lazy about taking blankets off when temperatures climb. Remember, a horse’s normal body temp is between 99-101 F so they’re already “running hotter” than a human. Thanks to those who mentioned that.

Several people have said something like,
“If a horse shivers, boohoo! Call me a bad owner if you want…”

You ARE bad owner. Of course no one is going to blame you if your horse occasionally gets the shivers, just like you are not automatically a bad parent if your slip up and forget to dress your kid warmly enough a couple of times. But if you are regularly seeing your horse shaking with cold and you aren’t doing anything about it, you suck! We train and discipline our animals, we keep them confined, we ask them to work for us, and therefore in exchange we have a duty to give them a humane level of care. I guess some folks think of animals as machines to be used (and abused) and then left to sit. Personally, I see my animals as partners, and I would never sit by and watch them suffer.

“But shivering is natural!”
Yeah, and so is dying. Mustangs regularly lose ears to frostbite. Old and sick and young mustangs do freeze to death. If you want to give your own horse the same level of care that a wild mustang gets, what you are doing is not really “horse ownership,” is it? Also, if you still think constant shivering is OK, ask yourself: would you let your kid shiver? Your dog? Yourself?

“You’re just a tree-hugging, PETA-worshipping, idealistic idiot, aren’t you?”
Nope, I’m a steak-eating, horse-riding, venison-grilling, college-educated hick. I just happen to believe that animals deserve to be treated humanely until their deaths.
P.S. It’s probably fair to tell you when I blanket my horses. My young mare gets one when the temps get below 15 degrees F, unless it’s a sunny day. My old mare gets a blanket when it goes below freezing (32F) unless it’s a sunny day. My pony doesn’t get a blanket at all unless he’s sick– his hair is so fluffy he looks like a cotton ball with legs. They all have access to hay and heated water 24/7.

Despite my plea not to rely on quack science, one reader commented:

“…repeated blanketing can in fact stress those [arrector pili] muscles if it is not done correctly… the muscles may still try to raise the hairs, and will be unable to do so because of the blanket, which stresses the muscles as the animal is still cold and the hairs will continuously trying to rise to warm them.” 

If there are any actual studies that prove this, I will eat my hat and my helmet.
This makes no sense. If the arrector pili muscles can get stressed from trying to raise hairs, why would they not be stressed while keeping hair raised all the time? Finally, if a blanket is heavy enough to keep a horse warm, the horse won’t “get goosebumps.” If the blanket is NOT heavy enough to keep a horse warm, then it’s light enough for a horse to be able to “fluff up” under it.

One reader commented (sarcastically)  “…should I be blanketing my cattle too?”
In all seriousness, the answer is “yes, sometimes.” Just like with horses, if a cow is too young, too thin or too sick to
have the energy to produce body heat, then yes, you should blanket a cow– and many farmers do blanket young calves. Blanketing is less common for cattle overall simply because we care about them a lot less.



Why do you have to rant and shout and be nasty?
1) The sheer ignorance of some people in the horse world sometimes makes me very angry.
2)
It’s MY blog. Don’t like it? Write your own.

The bottom line, and what I was really trying to get at in this article was much better put by one of the commentors here: 

“I think you should blanket if your horse needs it. Period.”

Well said! Whether it’s age, breed, poor coat, illness, a sudden change of weather, or a harsh combination of wet and cold weather, just blanket your horse when he needs it.
Blanketing is NOT bad.

 

 

 

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