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Do Horses Get Cold? How to Know When to Blanket

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Do horses get cold? It’s a good question. One every horse enthusiast may find themselves asking when winter approaches.

After all, we get cold when temperatures drop, and unlike humans, horses can’t go to the store to buy a thick winter jacket. On the other hand, you may be freezing your tail off in 40 degree weather; meanwhile, your horse’s tail is seemingly unaware of how cold it is.

horses standing in the snow

So, do horses get cold? You might be surprised to learn the answer.

Horses can get cold depending on terrain, availability of shelter, coat length, age, weight, and health.

Horses are pretty hardy animals. There’s a reason the saying goes, “healthy as a horse”.

But part of what makes them so hardy in the winter months… can be found in their gut!

In this article, we’ll take a look at exactly how a horse fairs on it’s own in cold weather; and what measures (if any) you should take to ensure your horse is comfortable this upcoming winter.

First of all, horses put on a lot of weight in the summer, when foraging is best. This weight won’t be burned off quickly in domesticated horses, and can help them to “ready up” for winter.

Horses’ metabolisms also go up in the winter time, allowing them to burn calories fast; which, we know, produces heat.

Depending upon your horses’ health, horses need around 30% more food in the winter, than they do in the summer. If they are an older, sick, or skinny horse, up that percentage to about 50. (source)

cold horses in a snow storm

Burning calories isn’t the only thing a horses’ digestive tract can do to produce heat, however. When horses eat fiber-rich foods (like hay), the microbes in their cecum, and large colon product heat. This heat helps to maintain their core temperature, so it is essential that you provide your horses’ with plenty of fiber-rich foods.

As if fat reserves, body heat, and even more body heat wasn’t enough: horses also grow a thick winter coat! The coat hairs stand out, which keeps wind, and moisture off of their skin.

Unfortunately, not all horses are alike in health, and coat length. Some horses seem to grow little, to no coat at all. Some horses have trouble gaining weight, or a digestive issue which prevents them from eating.

Furthermore, if your horse isn’t accumulated to cold weather, this can be another reason to take extra measures in winter.

How to Tell If Your Horse Is Cold

mare and foal in the rain

You should first know the signs of a cold horse, before doing anything else. If your horse isn’t cold, and you blanket them, it could cause trouble for both of you. Thankfully, you don’t have to guess at whether or not your horse is uncomfortable. A cold horse is obvious at first glance.

There are various signs a horse will show when they are cold. Here are a few of the most common:

  • Shivering
  • Tucking their tail between their legs
  • They feel cold to the touch
  • Absence of body fat
  • Absence of a winter coat
  • Moisture on skin, or in coat

A great way to prevent your horse from ever getting too cold is to regularly check their temperature. You can do this with a digital thermometer, inserted into the rectum.

A normal body temperature for an adult horse is around 99.6 – 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit. If it drops significantly below this, your horse needs immediate care, and possibly even medical attention. (source)

When to Blanket (Or Not Blanket) Your Horse

horse in snow in winter blanket

What kind of blanket you use is really important; as not all blankets are equal. Keep the blanket clean, and make sure it isn’t too itchy, or uncomfortable for your horse.

It is imperative that you make sure your horse stays dry. Horses can tolerate cold weather, only if they are dry.

Regularly check your horse for sweat underneath the blanket. If your horse is sweating: get them to shelter (like a barn), remove the blanket, dry, and then clean their coat. If your horse continues to sweat under a blanket, odds are, they don’t need it; or you’re using a blanket that’s too thick.

7 Types of Horse Blanket

The seven different types of blankets are as follows:

  • Turnout blanket
  • Quarter sheet
  • Stable blanket
  • Day Sheet
  • Turnout Sheet
  • Rain sheet
  • Cooler

Turnout Blankets

Turnout blankets are made of materials much like the ones we use to make weather proof clothing. They’re waterproof, windproof, and will end up being your go-to blanket for keeping your horse warm.

Turnout blankets usually cover the majority of the body, but can come in a variety of sizes and weights; and it’s up to you (and your horse) which weight, and size you want to opt with.

Quarter Sheets

Quarter sheets are great for people who still ride in the winter time. A cold muscle is a delayed muscle.

Also called quarter blankets, these cover the lower back, and hind legs of your horse while riding; enabling their muscles to warm up to exercise a lot more quickly in the cold winter months.

Stable Blankets

Stable blankets are just that: for keeping warm inside of the stable. They cover much of your horses’ body, and come in a variety of different weights; but if your horse is accumulated to cold weather, or your stable is well insulated, you may only need a light weight stable blanket (or none at all).

Stable blankets are typically not weatherproof because they are not intended to be worn outside of a barn. The benefit to this is usually that they are quite a bit more breathable.

Day Sheets

A day sheet is often used in winter time during the day, especially when horses are body-clipped. This is designed to add just a thin layer for the horse during the warmer parts of the day.

Like a stable blanket, day sheets are often not weatherproof and very breathable. Typically they are made of a nice cotton material. During very cold winters, some day sheets can be used as a blanket liner for added warmth.

Turnout Sheets

Much like day sheets, turnout sheets provide a lightweight layer for the horse during the warmer parts of the day. In very cold climates, a heavy blanket might be used at night but swapped for a turnout sheet in the morning.

Unlike day sheets, however, turnout sheets are typically weather resistant and can keep a horse that is exposed to the elements from getting soaked by a mid-day rain, for example.

Rain Sheets

Rain sheets are large, full-body sheets that typically cover a horse and saddle during rainy weather when the rider is not mounted though there are many models, like the one above, where you can ride the horse in them.

They’re lightweight, waterproof (obviously), and comfortable. Whatever region you may live in, rain sheets are a great investment for any horse farm.

Coolers

Coolers are another great winter riding blanket and highly recommended to anyone who rides in cold weather. They cover most of the body of a horse; and they’re made of absorbent materials (usually wool or fleece).

Unlike the quarter sheet, a cooler is not used while riding. They are most beneficial after a ride when they are all sweaty. The cooler absorbs moisture from your horse’s body, whilst also cooling them off.

Sweat is your horse’s cooling mechanism doing it’s job but, in the winter, once they stop working the sweat combined with the cool air can cause them to cool down way too quickly and catch a chill.

Coolers help regulate the cooling process.

Horses and the Cold

snow covered horse

It’s good to keep in mind that healthy horses can withstand temperatures below 12 degrees fahrenheit. (source)

Of course, this depends on the climate they are used to. But, if your horse has spent many winters in the bitter cold, grows a thick winter coat, has access to adequate shelter, and plenty of food, blanketing your horse may be unnecessary.

Clipping your horse, or owning a horse that doesn’t grow a good winter coat will mean you’ll likely need to blanket them if temperatures drop too low. This is also the case with sick, old, or skinny horses; and foals.

The table below is a great tool to use, if you need to know just how cold it can get before you need to blanket your horse.

Natural Winter CoatClipped / Short CoatTemperature (°F)
UnnecessaryUnnecessary40+ degrees
UnnecessaryPreferable20 – 40 degrees
PreferableNecessary0 – 20 degrees
PreferableNecessaryBelow 0 degrees  

This table doesn’t show the data for sick, elderly, or skinny horses, and foals. A good standard is to blanket these horses if the temperature drops below 30 degrees.

Which blanket should I use?

We went over the different types of blankets. Now we’ll go over which blanket to use. Blankets can be lightweight, medium, and heavy.

You’ll want to use a lightweight blanket when the temperature drops to 40 degrees, for unhealthy, clipped, or compromised horses; and 20 degrees for healthy horses.  (source)

horses in turnout blankets

Switch out thickness every ten degrees. So, when the temperature drops to 30 degrees Fahrenheit, switch to a medium blanket for unhealthy, clipped, or compromised horses. Another ten degrees, go for heavy. (source)

In healthy horses, switch to a medium blanket when the temperature hits 10 degrees Fahrenheit. At 0 degrees Fahrenheit, switch to heavy. (source)

There’s no right brand of horse blanket to buy. So long as the blanket is made of sturdy material, clean, and it won’t feel itchy and uncomfortable to your horse; it will do just fine.

Honestly, if you make sure your horses’ are well-fed, healthy, and have access to proper shelter, there’s no real reason why you have to blanket your horses’ (if you don’t live in below-freezing conditions). But, if you simply wish for your four-legged friends to be extra cozy in the winter months, there’s no real reason why you can’t blanket your horses’ either.

Blanketing or not blanketing doesn’t make you a bad horse owner. Do the research, listen to your veterinarian, and you (and the horses) will be just fine.

References

April Lee

I've owned horses for 25 years and have a particular love for gentling wild horses. I write these articles to help others learn more about horses. If you enjoyed the article please take a moment to pin it to Pinterest or share on social media. It really does help! Check out my about page for more detailed information.