Blanket Yes? Blanket No? My Winter Blanketing Experiment.

In case you haven’t noticed, now is the time to buy blankets!  Red, Green, Purple, Blue, Plaid, Tye-dye, Peace Sign!  All the colors all the flavors!  “I love the ones with the foxes on them!  So cute.”  Oh don’t even start me on the ones with the foxes on them.  I’m not going to lie, when I was a kid, I wanted a farm full of matching blankets, in my barn colors.  Now as a grown up, I want a fun blanket for every day of the week.  I don’t have that but I want it.

“I read that horses don’t need blankets, it was on Facebook so it must be true because everything on the internet is true.”  If I didn’t know any better I would think you actually believed that, but since you are the queen of sarcasm, I am pretty sure your statement is “fake news”.  I too read the article about horses not needing blankets and it shows the super furry ponies standing in like 12″ of snow with 2″ sitting on their back.  As a frugal and rather busy person, I wondered, what would happen if I ditched the blankets all together.  Just think, no having to risk life and limb every time you pull the blankets out sometime in July to finally wash them, only to find them housing about 5 black widow spiders!  “Most people are done with blankets sometime in March, why not wash them then…” Hello, show season in Texas, I ain’t got no time for that.  Also, my washer would be ecstatic not to have to go through the summer blanket washing ritual.  So this year, I decided to do a little experiment.

First of all, we don’t get snow down here.  Don’t let the pretty picture fool you, that is solid ice, not snow.  When we had the “Icepocalypse 2018” a few weeks back, our tropical hamlet got down in the 20s for days.  I know, you folks in the northern half of the country are scoffing, I know via a very brave friend that there are places in the continental US that get to -32 quite regularly in the winter, I’m looking at you Montana.  But just to put things in perspective, we scoff when you have a heat wave in the 90s, heck you may get to the 100s for like a day or 2, we don’t understand how people die from this, we have weather like that for 3-6 months out of the year.  “3-6 months?  That’s a pretty big range.”  It’s Texas, if you don’t like the weather, give it an hour.  “So true.”  So, when we get snow/ice, we have like 1 salt truck for all of Houston, and ain’t nobody got a snow plow or even a snow shovel.  Don’t worry, we all think you are nuts for not having central air conditioning, down here, everyone has it.  The point is, we aren’t prepared for snow and ice, or really cold temperatures, our fireplaces are mostly for decoration, neither are our ponies.

Buddy with his hay pile.

So, back to my experiment, poor Buddy the donkey got to be the test subject.  If you have ever owned a mini donkey/horse/whatever, you know they get fat on air, Buddy puts on 10lbs just looking at feed.

So naturally, Buddy is obese, we won’t discuss the things I have tried to do to help, that’s a different post for a different day.  Buddy has gone all winter without a blanket.  “How could you deprive that poor adorable donkey of his

This was in November during our Christmas card pictures, his belly is so wide.

warm blankie?”  It was pretty easy actually, I just didn’t put it on.  Now, I will say,  in the beginning, I felt a bit bad, but since Pearl is 22, she didn’t need to be a guinea pig for anything, Emma is a youthful 17 but she loses 5lbs, just because I looked at her so she doesn’t need any help, and Lily’s hair is about 1/4″ long, and since I am still showing her, I like to keep her cleanish and she doesn’t need additional stress, so after much deliberation, Buddy got selected as the test subject.  Also to be considered is that Buddy is the fuzziest of all, by far.

The test:  All 3 girls got blanketed when it got below 40 for more than a few hours, the blankets came off if it got near 60.  They all have medium to lightweight turnout blankets (150-200g fill).  They were turned out in the pasture that has a 3 sided shed, the back of the shed faces north, we get really harsh north winds here, due to us being in prairie land.  Inside the shed is a round bale of coastal/tifton mix hay.  Buddy had access to the same things as the girls, just without a blanket.  The feeding regimen for all 4 test ponies did not change.

Buddy this morning, his fat lumps on his back are smaller.

The Result:  Buddy has lost considerable weight, I would say 30-50lbs.  That is 10% or more of his body weight.  The farrier who sees him every 6-8 weeks commented on how much better he looks.  So if you have one that is a hard keeper or you want to pay less in feed/hay to maintain condition.  I have found the older guys easily lose condition in the winter and it’s difficult to put the weight back on until spring when the grass comes in.

“How could he lose that much weight?  It just doesn’t get that cold down here.”  Well, it gets back to what we are used to right?  One theory I have been rolling around has to do with light.  I wrote an article a while back about a “Light Mask”, that would allow you to keep light on your horse 24/7 so that they would keep their summer coat all year long.  So, in the winter we get less light, which is what triggers them to grow a long fuzzy coat, however, even in the dead of winter we still get sun from about 7am-5pm, about 10 hours worth, but when you go to Norway, in the winter they get sun from like 10am-3pm, half the time we get down here.  Thus, they will grow a longer coat, just because nature told them to.  So, those ponies much closer to the equator will have short coats, Lily being an extreme example, I have been asked if I have clipped her, nope, she just doesn’t get fuzzy.

Breeding is another factor, your big heavy draft breeds are made for colder weather, they have thicker, heavier muscles, think about the big burly, works out like 6 days a week, guy 2 desks down at work, that guy is always hot, and then there is the skinny small girl 2 cube rows over that is wearing a parka in the office regularly.  We all have that friend with the warmblood that needs to be clipped in November, January, and sometimes again in March.

Mini Engineering Equestrian, and a
Bear, or a huge dog named Bear.

Another factor to think about is wind, 40 degrees isn’t bad until you have 20mph wind.  Since we live on the plains, the wind from the north can be brutal.  Anyone that has lived in Texas for a few years will tell you that when a cold front blows in, it will drop 20-30 degrees in a few hours, usually on the tails of 15-30mph wind.  Sometimes just for fun, we get rain with the temp drop and wind.  Would you want to run outside in soaking wet clothes when it’s 40 degrees and blowing wind?  “I wouldn’t want to go outside in wet clothes in 80 degree weather, I just don’t go outside in 40 degrees at all.”  This is why my guys have waterproof turnouts, they have shelter but still, they can’t get out of the shed for water without having cold water hit them.

A few other things to keep in mind when thinking about blanketing: Horses run around to keep themselves warm, I see it all the time.

Buddy wearing a quarter sheet and a towel, he was wet.

My guys gallop to breakfast and dinner when it’s cold.  If you keep your horses in a stall, they can’t run to warm up.  Also, if you  have clipped your horse, you are removing their warmth, I like to compare a full body clip to taking off all your clothes.  “For the love of god, please don’t take your clothes off.”  Ok I won’t but at most a full body clip will leave you with a thin t-shirt and shorts.  How many layers would you want to put on before going outside with just a shirt and shorts?  If I full body clipped one of mine, I would consider a medium to be the minimum for the really cold days here, maybe even a heavy blanket, especially since mine are exposed the wind and rain.  In the north, like Montana, I would probably skip the clipping and rough out for the winter, unless you are in a facility with heated barns and riding areas.  “Well what do you know, you haven’t lived north of the Mason Dixon Line in 20 years.”  So true, if you aren’t sure, talk to your trainer or local horsey friends to see what they do.

Purchase suggestions:  I haven’t paid more than $150 for any blanket at my house.  Down here, my guys wear their blankets maybe a total of 3-5 weeks a year, last year they only needed their blankets for like 5 days.  My guys are not blanket destroyers so my cheapo blankets last 3-5 years.  I have Bit of Britain ones but the binding and straps tends to fall apart and fray, I have one from Dover “North Wind” great blanket but the tail flap is a bit small and the clips and t-lock fasteners were cheap compared to the others, and Centaur which is my favorite, the chest clips break but once replaced the blanket is awesome.  I had Amigo for 2 months for Lily, she didn’t like them at all, they didn’t have shoulder gussets so that may have been why.  Emma had a Saxon for 5-6 years, it had a buckle chest instead of clips and the leg straps weren’t replaceable, once the leg strap broke, I traded up.

Yes, I am standing on my water trough, my neighbor gave me this great idea.

If you have destructo pony or you live somewhere that requires a blanket 3-5 months out of the year, these cheapies might not make it through a year which will just leave you frustrated.  It will be worth spending the money on a quality blanket to get you 2-3 years of use, or maybe even more.  I have seen Rambo blankets hold up 10 years, I also saw a 17 hand destructo attempt to kill a Pessoa blanket and he couldn’t, this was right when they first came out but I was impressed by the quality.  I had a Weatherbeeta with my first horse that lasted 5 years and still had lots of life left when I sold it.  I want a new style or color before I could wear out one of the expensive ones, so I stick with the cheap jobbies.

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