Saturday, November 19, 2011

Blanketing Question for the Blogosphere


....I am changing Harley's turnout routine back to 24/7.  My in-at-night experiment barely lasted three weeks.  Although, my horse looked blissfully happy tucked in his stall with his dinner buffet, there have been  repercussions.  My horse has started coughing.  Unacceptable.  I noticed that he coughed a couple times when I was riding last weekend, but I thought that it might be the change in weather.  He does seem to get mild seasonal allergies (sneezing, coughing, and occasional slight eye puffiness).  When the pollen is high, we sneeze together.  We make a nice chorus, but it is nothing serious or lasting.  Then my barn owner called and said that Harley was coughing in his stall in the morning.  No fever and a healthy appetite, but I still called the vet and he is being treated.  I also spoke to the vet about returning to 24/7 turnout and blanketing.  Harley has been out all day and all night for two years straight with the exception of blizzards, tropical storms, and hurricanes (Irene!) and has not suffered any illnesses.  In at night for two weeks and he is coughing.  Hmmm.  This does not feel much like a coincidence and after speaking with my vet, the decision is easy.  My horse will once again be coming in for meals only and will be walked back out for his evening hay and the night with his good buddy, Cisco.  Cisco's mom will be very happy about this!  We both keep our horses bare and were commiserating about keeping them stalled at night.  Her trimmer (the same woman who taught me how to trim) could tell that Cicso was no longer turned out all night, just by looking at his feet.  I had not noticed any detrimental changes in Harley's feet, but my eye is not as trained as hers, so that could also have been possible.

Ta-da!  Harley looks dashing in blue!  This is the first horse blanket that I have ever purchased.  I stayed away from anything that resembled magenta, because I once purchased a pretty magenta halter and it was found with busted hardware laying on the ground by the gate.  Defective halter or horse with something against pink and purple?

Doesn't he look cozy?  I am liking this.

After reading like one-hundred million reviews, setting up and canceling several shopping carts, and shutting down my computer in despair at least half a dozen times, I finally decided to buy him a Landa Freestyle turnout blanket of medium weight by Weatherbeeta.  Please do not tell me that this blanket is going to fall apart.  After all that reading and researching, I just cannot take it!

Here is my question:  When should I blanket Harley?

My vet has given me her input and since we are past the fifteenth of November, he has probably reached his coat's maximum thickness, which is THICK.  I have never observed him shivering or huddled in the paddock during the winter.  In fact, he is usually out and about, walking around like he does all year round.  He has access to a shelter and I also purchased a fleece cooler which could double as an extra liner if need be.  I do not own a heavy weight blanket.  The reason I am considering blanketing at all is because his body reveals that he has lost weight and condition when he sheds out in the spring.  I do not live at the farm so I am not available to change/remove blankets during the day.  New Jersey can get very cold (freezing and below) in late December continuing into February.

I am curious to read your advice.  What do you think?


  1. Good idea to move him outside - he might be a horse that would develop COPD if kept inside.

    Blanketing - protect only against wet, extreme cold and very high winds, and be careful to not overblanket - if you can't get out there to unblanket in the a.m. be sure he won't overheat during the day, and be sure that he's unblanketed, if only briefly, at least once a day to check for rubs. Horses with heavy coats usually do well unblanketed in snow if conditions are cold enough and the snow isn't going to change to rain.

    And remember to have your blanket rewaterproofed every spring.

  2. Bravo, Val! I love 24/7 turnout. I am certain more people wished they had access to it.

    While my horses are in "stalls", they're not the kind that you all have in those colder climates. I think my stalls are 36 x 24 feet - not really a stall. They have a roof and two partial walls. Speedy can get his nose over the top of the shorter wall. The rest of his space is open rail fencing. Not real turn out either which would be my first choice.

    I never blanket. Okay ... never is a strong word. I put a fleece cooler on Speedy the night before the last two shows. He had a bath in the late afternoon and was still damp as darkness fell. I knew he'd be warmer throughout the night, and more importantly, he'd be clean for our early a.m. departure.

    I have blankets ... lots of them. I have thin sheets all the way up to arctic-style heavy blankets. They were used primarily for camping and endurance races where the weather could be drastically colder than at home.

    I did buy a winter blanket for Sydney because I wasn't sure what kind of winter coat he would grow. It turned out to be polar bear thick so I have nothing to worry about. My opinion on blanketing, and take this with a grain of salt since I live in a much milder climate than you do, is that unless it is very wet AND blowing hard, horses can pretty much take care of themselves. If they have access to a shelter and good quality hay, the weather shouldn't bother them.

    I am very fortunate that at my new barn, RM, the property owner is happy to remove blankets in the morning and if needed, reapply in the evening. Since I am at the barn nearly seven days a week, evening blanketing would be easy for me. If we get some pretty out of the ordinary weather, heavy rain with low temperatures (like in the low 40s), I'll throw a blanket on for the night. Other than that, I don't blanket.

    I don't think Speedy wore a blanket at all last year. On occasion he'd get the polar fleece sheet to help him dry off after an evening ride, but that's it.

    I am curious to hear what cold weather readers say. If I lived somewhere where the temperatures were regularly in the 30s and below, and the rain fell in buckets, my opinion about blanketing would probably be different. I hope you'll do a follow up to let us know how your blanketing schedule works.

    Karen from

  3. Thanks, Kate and I agree about the COPD. We do not want that! I am worried about overheating, more so than cold really.

    I have to get my blanket rewaterproofed? I will have to look that one up.

  4. Karen- I love the huge stalls at your barn. I was drooling when you did the video tour. Harley has not worn a blanket or cooler since I bought him nearly five years ago. The barn owners will remove it in the morning when they feed him, so that is a very good thing. I wish that I had your collection to choose from and your mild winters!

  5. I blanket now - I was told that blankets would discourage winter coat growth, but research seems to indicate that angle of the sun / length of daylight cues growth and shedding.

    Our routine is:

    Low fifties + raining + windy - rain sheet at night

    Low forties - light blanket at night

    Low forties + raining / windy and thirties at all - medium blanket

    Freezing or below - heavy blanket with neck cover

    I've got enough blankets to swap out when they're wet, and for layering. It's another chore to put on and take off, keep clean and dry + off season storage, but it's worth it to keep Val comfy.

    Any shared info on blanket re-waterproofing would be appreciated. Val is pretty easy on his clothing, lucky for me so I get to repair and re-use.

  6. I am so glad you posted this as I too have many questions. I will be taking a photo of my boy in his Weatherbeeta "rainsheet" and cooling blanket. He looks so handsome in them. My horses are 24/7 pasture board, but they have multiple rotating fields and a "dry" paddock as well. They also have a nice, nice large shed to protect them from rain and wind. I am lucky that the four gelding all get along and share the space quite well. Our weather doesn't usually get below 30 degrees at night, but it can! Last year it snowed for several weeks, but I didn't have horses then.

    My PLAN is to keep the raincoat on them on cold WET days and nights. And that is it. I noticed a lady at the barn put a light blanket on her horse during the day... it was sunny and 45-50 + degrees. Her horse isn't clipped and I just didn't get it. But I am a "newby" and what do I know? I will be following this conversation and thanks for bringing it up!

  7. I live in WA and the weather is wet 364 days a year. We battle rain rot and bacterial infections just because of the humidity. I do blanket, especially during the rainy cold season, but I only blanket with a rain sheet and nothing more. They still get lots of fur to stay warm, but the sheet keeps the wind and rain off of them.

  8. I once cared for a grand old gelding that had COPD, and that is a problem to be avoided at all costs. It's a tragic thing to watch an otherwise sound, healthy horse die from a preventable lung disease. I think Harley's better off outside!

    I don't even own a blanket (I probably should) but my three do really well in the winter--even in zero-subzero temperatures. They have a run-in three-sided shelter against the wind and rain, but the only time I see them using it is in high-wind situations. I do worry sometimes because my Walker mare doesn't develop quite the furry "bear" coat that the two Quarters do, but I've never seen her exhibit cold distress.

    I think access to a heated water trough is also really important for an "outside" horse. You might try just feeding him a little more if he's losing weight during the winter--I always give mine ground flax and a gut probiotic when they're on straight hay.

  9. Calm, Forward, Straight- Thanks for the detailed routine. I am guessing that Val does not have a thick coat. I will not be blanketing above freezing and maybe even lower. My vet actually did not recommend blanketing until the teens, but Harley's coat is thick like a bear. "Wet" and "wind" seem to complicate the formula, so I am very happy to receive your input and strategy.

  10. Margaret- Blanketing is a mystery to me, too. I have never blanketed Harley and plan to be very conservative as I do not want him to overheat.

  11. HammersArk- Your rain sheet strategy makes sense. This does not prevent your horses' hair coat from puffing out to create an insulating air layer? This is something that concerns me about blanketing in general. I do not want Harley to be colder with a blanket than without because his hair coat is flat.

    Anyone else have thoughts on this?

  12. Fetlock- You are me (sort of). ;) I did not own a blanket until last week. Harley definitely gets "bear-like fur", polar bear actually, with his black skin and nose. I have increased his hay (and he is on a weight gain supp with pro/prebiotics), but his paddock mate eats much faster than Harley, which may contribute to unequal sharing. I am relieved that he is back outside. I never really stopped worrying about him being in at night.

  13. This is great! Please keep the advice coming!
    And if you know about the effects of blanketing on flattening the hair coat or rewaterproofing a blanket, please chime in!

  14. Don't blankets with an insulating layer trap the air, same as the hair would?

    Hope my comment wasn't tmi ;) I still feel equivocal about blanketing, so having a protocol makes it easier on me.

    And yes, Val doesn't get furry at all - plus he was blanketed by his prior owners. Also, the nearly constant wind and humidity make it feel much colder here than temps would indicate. I hate to see him lose weight over the winter...

  15. Thanks for the question. I did a little experiment a few weeks ago. I left them out without rain sheets on. It rained. They were shivering from the rain and wind combined. They BEGGED to come inside the barn. I put their rain blankets on. Similar conditions if not a bit on the colder side, they were happy as clams and did not want to come inside. I think that for the conditions my horses live in, it is much better to keep the blankets on because it's the rain and wind that gets to them, not the cold. If it's going to freeze at night, I try to bring them into my barn which has a lot of airflow, but lets them get out of direct wind and any rain.

  16. Our winter night time temperatures get into the mid 20s on a regular basis, dipping into the upper teens once or twice. I read somewhere that horses do well without blankets down to about 14F. We do not blanket unless: The wind is howling; the horse is elderly; the horse looks cold (shivering because he chose to stand outside in the rain instead of in his stall/run in); or the horse is clipped. Jackson does best coming into his stall at night. Flash prefers to be outside 24/7. I have had excellent luck with the brand/style of blanket you bought. I don't plan to clip or blanket this winter. I also worry about the blanket squishing down the winter coat and lessening it's ability to keep the horse warm. Our boarder wants her horse blanketed in 40F weather although he has a very thick winter coat and is very happy without a blanket. It's hard convincing her he doesn't need it.

  17. Putting on a rain sheet does flatten the hair, but so does rain - a thoroughly soaked horse loses its insulation. Wind plus cold can also cause a loss of insulating value. The hair flattening only becomes an issue if your horse is blanketed constantly - otherwise the hair can fluff right back up when you take the rain sheet or blanket off.

    Rewaterproofing - some tack stores offer this as a paid service. You can also do it yourself - at a laundry that has large heavy duty washers (and won't complain about smelly horse stuff). There are special rules - there are special blanket detergents you can buy (idea is not to use soap which removes the waterproofing) and some people don't use soap at all. After air drying you have to thoroughly spray the outside, sometimes more than once, with an appropriate rewaterproofing spray. Melissa at Paradigm Farms had a blog post recently about rewaterproofing where she mentioned the sprays she uses.

  18. Calm, Forward, Straight- Protocol is exactly what I am looking for. Your comment was perfect!
    I am trying to develop a plan for Harley. Something that I can write down and the barn owners can follow. they want it to be my decision when he wears the blanket and when he does not.

    Thanks, HammersArk- Do you use a "no fill" waterproof blanket as your rain sheet? We have a shed, which keeps Harley dry, but the vet did mention that rain and wind are worse than just cold temperatures. Makes sense.

  19. Annette- I am so relieved that you have had good luck with my blanket choice. Thanks for telling me that.

    My vet suggested very conservative blanketing, not until the teens or when rainy/windy. Harley would definitely be hot if I blanketed him at 40 degrees F. He was warming up when I just tried it on for the pictures.

    About the hair coat (C,F,S and Annette) barn owner is very concerned about this one. She says that once I start blanketing, I must continue to blanket for the remainder of the winter because Harley's hair will be unable to fluff up and keep him warm after that. The vet said that I can remove blankets as necessary, which is what I will do. I was wondering if anyone else had the impression that once I blanket I must continue to do so.

  20. Kate- Thank you so much for your follow up on the hair coat and the rewaterproofing. I will be stopping by Paradigm Farms to read Melissa's post!

  21. That's the exact same blanket Solo has and it's going on its fourth winter, I LOVE it.

    As for when to blanket, my rule for unclipped Solo is below 35 or 40 if it's rainy. We get a cold wind and the windbreak helps.

    Also, your BO is just flat wrong about the hair. A blanket causes no damage to the hair coat and insulates very well, the horses are far warmer to the touch with it than without on a cold day. When you take it off, the hair can fluff up just fine.

    Blankets are not a Bad Thing. They are not spandex; there are plenty of air pockets around the horse as they move and the blanket shifts. High tech insulation does a far better job keeping them warm on wet windy days than hair ever could. I don't want my horse shivering his weight off (especially Encore!) so I help him out.

  22. Stalls are bad news for horses in general, my two will never live in them again. They didn't develop coughs or stall vices but their minds suffered terribly- and that was with turnout nearly every day!

    I think having a blanket on hand is a good idea, that way if you need it you've got it but chances are you won't need it as often as you'd think especially if his pasture has sufficient wind breaks and he can move around to keep warm.

    I've recently been rethinking blanketing my guy, I didn't put one on him unless it was 14F or below but I'm wondering if he really needed it. Gwen does, but she's a hothouse flower.

  23. Calm, Forward, Straight- Thanks for the link!

    eventer79- Four winters and counting? That's what I like to here! Thanks for the hair coat info., too.

    smaz- In a way, it is good that he did show clear signs that it was not working for him. It makes it easier to justify changing his routine when I must ask others to do stuff for me. My horse never looks cold. I have never seen him shiver in the least and I have seen him on some very cold, windy, snowy days. My vet recommended not blanketing until the teens.

    How does Gwen let you know that she needs a blanket?

  24. I'm visiting new blogs today for the first time, so i also thought id wish you a Happy Thanksgiving to you and your readers. And i hope that the day is spent generating positive memories for years to come. Richard from Amish Stories.

  25. I use a "no fill" turnout sheet for both. They both seem to be happiest in their blankets, but in a climate less wet and windy, I wouldn't blanket.

    Oh! I should also state that when I know it's going to be a nice day, I remove their blankets and let them run "au natural"... hence the muddy pony in my first set of pictures of my new pony :)

  26. Thanks for stopping by, Amish Stories!

    HammersArk- Thanks for checking back. I wasn't sure if there was such a thing as a "rain sheet" or if it was just a "no fill" blanket. Now I know!

  27. Well she shivers, looks miserable, clamps her tail up close against her hindquarters, and nickers at her blanket when she sees me bringing it out. That's not scientific at all, but that's all I have to go on.

    It would be so much easier if they could speak sometimes- of course that would open up another can of worms...

  28. smaz- Yes it would!
    Scientific or not, Gwen is being very clear in her communication. :)

  29. Hi Val!
    This was a great post and discussion!!
    I a bit selfish in my reasons to blanket. Mud, and a mare who can get it embedded everywhere!! Everyday more and more.
    I've got problems with my nerves in my arms and hands, so the repetitive movements of demuddifying her makes me go into painful bouts of swelling and weakness.

    Plus, she looses weight too easy. The
    30's- 40' with wind/rains are too brutal here for bare horses that may go 8 hours without hay. That's not the norm but, it happens far too much at my facility, they work long hours.

    Calm, forward's critical is mine as well. I have an arsenal of weights for blankets!!
    The one you got is excellent!

    You are so wise to be on top of what was occurring in the stall situation!! I think 24/7 with a run in shelter and hay in a slow feeder is OPTIMUM!

    Mine mare has my second choice for stabling. A 12x14 stall that is never closed. A covered porch to a fine gravel 50 foot run , to another 100 foot run that goes under fir

    You have got it good !! I have my blankets professionally cleaned once a year , if more than once ,then I waterproof them again ( they do it).

  30. allhorsestuff- You must be strong and healthy to take care of your horse (and yourself) so your reasons for blanketing against mud are very practical. No judgments here. :)

    I agree with your optimum, which also puts Harley at a close second choice for turnout management. He does not get free choice hay. He is fed his meals on a schedule. We tried a slow feeder, but it was a failed experiment. That is a story for another time. Thanks for stopping by and adding to the discussion.


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