Saturday, December 6, 2014

Does Your Horse Need a Blanket in the Winter?

   With the coming of colder temperatures during the day and freezing nights, we all hunker down with a warm blanket, a cup of cocoa, and a hot fire to keep us toasty.  Some short haired pets need a sweater when they go outside.  But those who are fortunate to have the joy of owning a horse or mule often wonder if their favorite critter really needs a blanket, or rug during the coldest, most brutal time of year.  A serious question requires some thought. Is your horse REALLY cold?
     People often  anthropomorphize (attribute human form or personality to things not human) and honestly believe if they are cold, then the horse or mule is as cold as they feel.  It is easy to take human thoughts and actions and apply them to horses.  This can be detrimental to the health of horses and mules.
     A horse begins to grow a thicker winter coat in early fall (usually around mid September), depending on the weather.  Horses in warmer climates grow their winter coats a bit later as the days progressively get cooler.  To ensure a good healthy, dense winter coat, you can supplement with a diet rich in protein and calories.  Providing a good hay will help with extra calories needed to help your horse use his own body heat to make himself warm.  You can make adjustments to increase their food portions during the winter months, as these cold blustery days and nights can really be hard on an animal if they are not getting enough food to help withstand the elements.
Once your horse or mule gets that 'fuzzy bear' look, it still can be deceiving.  Check your horse weekly around the rib area for a moderate fleshy cover.  If your horse is thin, you will know as you feel around his ribs.
     Providing shelter, whether it be in the form of boarding in a stall, or in an enclosed run in shed can help block the wind and elements.   If there is no way you can provide shelter, and the temperature is much colder than 10 degrees Fahrenheit, use a blanket as a last resort.  Keep in mind the sudden changes in temperature that would affect the body temperature of your horse.  Once the air temperature gets warmer, your horse will as well.  You do not want a sweaty horse exposed to the cold.  His winter coat with natural oils will provide a healthy thick coat on its own when you give him the proper nutrition during the winter.

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