Dealing with Cold Weather: The Great Blanket Debate
I’ve addressed this in the past, and I feel the need to address it again. If I step on toes, I apologize but my goal of this particular article is to get people thinking. I know plenty of horse people that think horses should be treated like horses, eat only hay and never have shelter or a blanket on. I’ve got to tell you, that is NOT what being a horse is. A horse (in this instance and way of thinking) is about being a WILD horse, who almost always has a herd, shelter of trees if they want it, and who’s systems haven’t been interfered with (as in the case of Grace, who can no longer grow a winter coat). Wild horses also don’t eat “hay” and they don’t eat just grass either. They roam over huge lands and forage for all kinds of goodies. Grasses, berries, roots, mineral rich dirt…heck they will even eat kelp and fish if they live on the coastlines and can catch them! Wild horses also only live 15 years on average.
If your one lonely horse is out there shivering in the wet and the cold and you do nothing about it, I’ve got to be honest here, that’s pretty heartless! Surviving and living and two very different things! I can tell you that the week I spent taking care of a family in single digit temperatures without electricity last winter sure showed me the difference between the two, and is part of the reason this article is very important to me. There is a time and a place for blanketing, not blanketing, feeding a minimal diet and feeding a huge diet!
Since Grace has gone through the last two winters sans blanket, I have had to really look at keeping the weight up on a cold horse! I am guessing I ended up feeding double the calories as I would in summer, if not more, and still seeing her weight drop. Last year’s short stint of freezing temperatures caused her to drop a lot of weight even though I had her in a closed barn at night and really had me thinking what changes I could make this year. This winter I started increasing her diet early trying to put on some extra weight for the winter but still by the time the snow hit, she was already dropping all those extra pounds I put on her. Not only was she grazing all day, but eating about 20lbs of grass hay at night and enjoying two one gallon buckets of my “horse mash” with extra fats for burning easy calories for warmth. Now that Grace is blanketed, she has on her own reduced her hay intake by about half, while still spending a few hours grazing during the day and her buckets still have extra fats for fast calories.
Max, our only gelding, has had quite the struggle keeping up weight this year but he has always had digestive issues. He will be turning 30 this year and has already had two colicy episodes this fall. Max does not like drinking cold water so all of his food and hay is soaked with warm water, and I do try to give him warm water to drink but still we have issues. A part of that is wind sucking, so his colic episodes are made worse by gas bubbles. Fortunately, a big dose of Tummy B Calm made into a paste and put in a syringe and force fed helps to clear him out. However, he has a lifelong history of such issues (way before I got him) so even with all the changes in diet and herbs he still has issues during cold weather. Though I can improve on most issues with the use of herbs and the right diet, not everything can be healed.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are the mini mares. As they make their own little “herd”, love the barn, and grow coats like grizzly bears, I really have no need to blanket them. They also have the preferred center of the barn, which stays the warmest. I’m also not sure how I could get a blanket on them with all the fur! They also have enough sense most days to get out of the rain…as long as their covered area has food in it. But they are happily in the barn with the rest of the herd and all the body heat also keeps their waters from freezing and keeps the chickens and goats warm at night, as well.
So the great blanket debate…. I have noticed there are two schools of thought and not a whole lot of grey area. The people that never blanket and the people who blanket everything the moment cool weather hits! There is a happy grey area, I promise! As stated above, every horse is seen as an individual. I don’t blanket at a certain temperature but take each horse and their needs into account. Each horse also has a couple of different weights of blankets, and I feel under the blanket regularly to check their temperature. I know blankets can get pretty spendy but vet bills are even spendier and proper blanketing is important for the health of the horse. Also, properly blanketing will save on your feed bill, as it won't take as many calories to keep the horse warm and keep weight up.
In Grace and Mara’s case, it took a couple of weeks of being cold and wet to increase their willingness to be blanketed and stalled at night. I don’t like to force a blanket on a horse (unless they just don’t know what a blanket is) and even in Max’s case, I hold up the blanket and offer it to him. Most of the time he sticks his head right in but occasionally he refuses his blanket and I let him be cold for a night or two before I offer it again. He’s such an “old hat” at blankets that most of the time he knows when he needs it and when he doesn’t but sometimes he just refuses to have it and I let it be. He does have his favorite blankets and he for sure doesn’t like them when they are dirty! But he is a very fussy old man.
So whether you are a “blanketer” or a “non-blanketer”, take some time to step back and consider what you are doing. Are you over blanketing? Are you under blanketing? Why are you doing what you are doing? Chances are if you are reading this blog, it is because you have taken the time to step back and look at what you are feeding and why, so this is just another step at taking a careful look at how you are caring for your fur babies.
For those of you in warm climates who never have to blanket…just remember, we who live in the cold and wet generally don’t have things that want to poison us, so its all about trade off. =)
Keep an eye out for our next blog:
Dealing with Cold Weather: Diet