Saturday, October 19, 2013


One of my pet peeves is people that repost information without checking into it.  I agree that someone could easily share this, but to attibute it blindly to CSU just seems silly.

This is the result of a multi-year study done by CSU, using state of the art thermal detection equipment. Colorado State University is widely considered to be one of the top three equine veterinary schools in the country:

Blanketing horses is one of the worst things that you can do to a horse in the winter. Horses have the ability to loft and lower their coats to 17 different levels, so it's like exchanging 17 different thermal weights of blankets off and on them all day and night, depending on what they need- except that we don't know what they need as well as they do. Their 'self-blanketing' process works a little like 'chill bumps' do in our own skin. That's why long-haired horses may seem fluffier on some days than on others.

Only three things make the 'self-blanketing' process not work: blanketing, clipping, and wind. Not even snow or rain stops their own thermostats from doing the job. Also horses are in 'neutral' (meaning not using energy for either heating or cooling) when the air around them is between 26 and 38 degrees. Otherwise, they're using energy to control their temps. So- since they're cooling their bodies when the temp is over 38 degrees, they're having to use extra energy to cool themselves when blanketed in temperatures over that.

Any time a horse that is outside and has a long coat is shivering, it's because the horse has opted to shiver to warm itself, instead of using the option of moving. Moving generates a considerable amount of heat for a horse, but they sometimes stand and shiver while napping, etc. It does not mean that they need to be blanketed. However- a horse MUST have a way to get out of the wind in order for their 'self-blanketing' abilities to function fully.

It turns out that blanketing is done more for pleasing the human, than to fill a need of the horse. The horse blanket industry has done a great job of making us think that their product is a necessary part of good horsekeeping- when it is actually an item that is very seldom needed.

Another often unknown fact is that horses become dehydrated more frequently in the winter than in the summer. The horse feels less thirsty because they're not triggered by heat to drink more water, so the lack of appropriate intake often causes dehydration. A suggestion for this is to offer one or two buckets full of cool-to-tepid molasses-enhanced water per day. 50 lb. bags of crystalized molasses are available by order through feed stores (if they don't keep it on hand), and is easier to work with than wet [sticky] molasses. A 50 lb. bag of dry molasses costs under $20.00 and will last all winter for several horses. Molasses are high in iron, and make a good supplemental addition, in any case.

Another little known fact is that horses do not need more feed in the winter than in the summer. In the summer horses are using energy to cool themselves. In the winter they are using energy to warm themselves. Both efforts use similar amounts of energy. In fact, if horses have feed before them for more of the time during the winter, they are less likely to move about, which decreases one of their most efficient heating processes.

Now the issue that I have is that CSU hasn't done such a study.  I spent the morning crawling PubMed and the only blanket study I easily found was the different cuts and the amount of pressure they put on the withers.  FWIW--in movement, the V-Free type exerted the least amount of pressure while the traditional cut the most. 

When this crawled across my facebook yesterday (yet again), I corrected the poster, who was the Colorado Horse Council.  (S)He didn't seem amused by this.  That's fine.  State your opinion about blanketing, but don't wrap it up as research, when it's just that: an opinion.

Then again, ever the scientist, I have to disclose my conflict of interest.  I do blanket my horses.  They burn fewer calories this way, so less supplemental grain which my pocketbook enjoys.  I also like the fact that they stay marginally cleaner and also warmer, since when they end up laying down in thick gross mud, they mat down and lose the insulating properties of the coat in the first place.  And lastly, I blanket because I do occasionally clip my horses.  Terrible I know, but it enables them to maintain a most constructive heart rate during exercise and recover faster.  Interesting sidenote: I also found a study today that said just that.  Clipped horses have a lower heart rate in colder weather and recover faster and have less surface moisture.  Obvious I'm sure to some, but hey, they did the study to prove it.

On a blanket related note: it's starting to get cold here, so I tried out the Baker Turnout Blanket I got for a song at a yard sale.  Hurrah!  It fit the little red filly.  I'll have to take a picture of her and her styling good looks.  :)  

The Semi Feral Mare is domesticated enough to love wearing her turnouts too.     

1 comment:

  1. That's a very weird "study". I blanket and clip, but think it's kind of a 'to each their own' type of thing. The winters are so mild here in TX you can really do either with almost 0 impact on the horse's overall well being.


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