How to Weigh Your Horse Blanket Options
With Bobbie Wowryk, Town n’ Country Tack
By Jess Hallas-Kilcoyne
Q - How do I determine the best winter blanket weight for my horse so he doesn’t get chilled or overheated?
A - When choosing a winter blanket for your horse, a number of considerations can help you avoid under- or over-blanketing your horse, including climate, your horse’s hair coat, and his environment. But first, let’s review the various horse blanket weights available.
The warmth a horse blanket provides is determined by the amount of insulating fill (the fluffy material sandwiched between the lining and the shell of the blanket) it contains. Measured in grams, the fill weight starts at about 100 grams for a typical lightweight blanket, 200 to 250 grams for mid-weight, and anywhere from 340 up to 500 grams for heavyweight.
Depending on the climate and the individual, a healthy horse with a thick winter coat will be comfortable without a blanket as long as he has shelter from rain, snow, and wind. Photo: Robin Duncan Photography
Consider your climate. Look at last winter’s lowest temperatures and plan your horse’s wardrobe accordingly, but do not over-blanket. Horses are outdoor animals and can cope with cold much better than humans.
Most horses living on the wet and mild West Coast of British Columbia can comfortably withstand the rigours of winters without the heavyweight blankets often required by horses in other parts of Canada where sub-zero temperatures are the norm.
Unless you live in an area that experiences extreme sub-zero weather, Bobbie Wowryk, owner of Town n’ Country Tack, a horse blanket manufacturing company based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, recommends against purchasing a blanket with more than 500 grams of fill.
“It’s really important that people don’t go absolutely crazy on the thick polyfill unless you need it,” says Wowryk. “When we get into minus 50 degrees Celsius, you’ll need it. But the second it goes to minus 30 degrees, change that blanket!”
Nature’s blanket – your horse’s hair coat – plays an important role in determining the blanket weight he needs. A horse whose winter coat is allowed to grow naturally will typically never require anything heavier than a midweight blanket, except in cases of extreme cold or poor weather. A woolly bear should not have a 500 gram polyfill blanket.
“A horse with a healthy winter coat might end up sweating under a heavy blanket, and that’s not healthy, says Wowryk. “Bring it down to a 250 gram polyfill.”
Fully or partially clipped horses need a heavier blanket with more fill to compensate for the loss of their hair coat and protect them against winter weather. Photo: Robin Duncan Photography
Some unclipped horses with thick hair coats are quite comfortable without a blanket if they have adequate shelter from rain, snow and wind. However, if your horse is body clipped you’ll need to compensate with a blanket of appropriate weight.
Also keep in mind that senior horses and ponies, even those with thick, shaggy coats, may require heavier blankets than their younger herd mates due to certain physiological changes characteristic of old age, which include reduced appetite, slower metabolism, and an overall decrease in the ability to regulate body temperature.
Finally, your horse’s blanket should reflect his environment. A clipped horse enjoying turnout during winter will need a heavier blanket than his stabled counterpart, and wardrobe changes may be necessary for a horse turned out during the day and brought into the barn at night.
Factors that influence the choice of blanket for a stabled horse include the construction of the barn including whether it’s insulated or heated, and the number of horses in the stable generating body heat.
Once you have chosen the appropriate blanket for your horse, be sure to monitor temperature and weather changes, and adjust his wardrobe as needed. Check your horse daily for signs that he is shivering or overheated.
This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Canadian Horse Journal.
Main article photo - Robin Duncan Photography