March 30, 2012

Reflecting on a Blanket Free Winter

Now that spring has officially arrived and the occasional spring rainstorm has cropped up, I started to reflect on our winter without blanketing.

Blanket Free
Prior to this winter I have always trace clipped and blanketed any horse I've had, Rose included. Even the winter before she was started under saddle she got clipped and blanketed. I would watch the weather forecast like a hawk, neurotically updating the weather widget on my phone, making sure that wherever we were boarded they knew at which temperatures to put which blankets on, and I would make sure it happened too. My biggest concern was her getting overheated and sweating under a blanket, although I was worried about the mild weather cold as well.

In winters past, my husband would always point out horses in random fields happily munching on a pile of hay without any blankets on in sub-freezing winter weather. I never had a good answer for him as to why I had to blanket my own horse when those horses were fat, healthy, and completely content looking despite the weather. My response was always, yeah, but we live in Oregon and it rains all the time. Rose needed a rain sheet at the very least. Deep down I knew this was a fib that I was telling myself, since every time it rained, rain sheet or no, I would find her bone dry standing in her run-in shed. My husband's argument against blanketing was that why would I needlessly blanket a horse when they don't need it and cause myself all the trouble of constantly having to wash, hang-dry, and repair winter blankets that Rose was intent on destroying. Not to mention the huge cost in purchasing new ones as she grew. What he was saying made sense, and I didn't have a good argument in my defense, so as one should in such a pinch I'd just change the subject.

Then last spring we moved to Montana and soon after I got pregnant. I decided to only ride through about 20-weeks as per doctors wishes. That put me out of the saddle at the first of December. It seemed silly to trace clip a horse for one month of riding (November). So, I decided to tough it out, leave her naked through the fall, and see if she grew a thick winter coat. I still figured I'd put blankets on her when it got cold though.

Fat, Happy and Blanket Free
At some point in early winter, I listened to my husband, got the opinion of other competitive horse people in our area, and I stopped being neurotic about it. I was still anxious at first though. The first few cold nights, I made sure that she wasn't shivering and then I stopped worrying. Rose managed to deal with occasional temps down to -11ºF, and average night time lows in the single digits/teens without a blanket. Most often winter daytime highs are in the 20's and sunny here. My other concern was she'd loose weight due to the cold temps. Again, a silly concern. Given free choice hay in her paddock, Rose held and gained weight through the winter. She's the perfect picture of a slightly pudgy hunter right now. Horses really are made for the cold, and I've experienced it first hand.

Since Rose made it through the winter blanket free so well, I'm not concerned about spring rain. She has a huge run-in shelter, and always stands under it when it rains. When the temps spike and it's sunny out she romps around her pasture happy as a clam. I never have to worry that she's stuck sweating under a blanket or rain sheet. It feels great to be free from the hassle of blanketing, and I just wish I'd tried it a long time ago. Rose is much happier, and the lack of weight and pressure points from heavy blankets has likely been really good for her back.

My goal for next winter is to see if I can keep Rose in work through the winter and still not blanket her. It is so dry here in the winter that she dries off really quick, so I think that we will be able to manage. I'm excited and looking forward to trying it out, and feel liberated from my blanketing neuroses.

Happy trails and swooshing tails!


  1. love this! It was really interesting to see what Pia did sans blankets this year out at camp. She's never grown much of a coat (even on her neck without a hood..), so I was pleasantly surprised to see she reliably turned into a fuzzy yak when left to her own devices. I'm pretty sure it's "better" for them to be without blankets as much as possible, but the convenience factor of a clip with cold/sweating evening rides is certainly motivating...

  2. We went blanket free for the first time this year, too! Much to my surprise, Dee did get fat and hairy and did just fine. Not the delicate little princess I thought she was. And you're right, in our dry climate cooling her out was not that big a deal over the winter. And it sure was nice not worrying about her darn blankets all the time. No wondering if somebody had the good sense to remove her blanket on an unexpected 70F day. No blanket rubs. No blanket repairs. It really wasn't that bad. That said, this past winter was a bit of a wimpy winter for Montana lol.

  3. Since I work at a barn, I spend lots of time with both clipped and unclipped horses. I will say this: the convenience factor of a clipped horse is HUGE. All that long, fluffy hair just attracts mud and yuck and is hard to clean up (even just elbows and girth area for riding) and it's very uncomfortable for the horse when it's done.

    So if you have a great, dry, mud free situation, it probably isn't a huge deal. We just get a lot more rain than snow.

  4. I left my horse blanket free this winter. And I worried.

    It was one of our roughest winters in history. But knowing my horse had access to a feeder full of hay in a dry loafing shed, protected from the wind and elements, helped when I listened to the raging storms on those dark (no power), nasty nights.

    My horse did well, coming in out of the weather to stay dry. And I didn't miss having to pull off/put on blankets nor spend the money to have them cleaned/repaired.

    I brushed him often and as spring has arrived I've been able to manage his shedding. Not fun, but still encouraging to see the gleaming new growth of hair coming through.

    I'm not saying that blanketing a horse is bad, but I sure don't miss the hassel and my horse seems to have done just as well without one as he did with one.

    Blanketing a horse requires monitoring. I feel sorry for the horses I see out in fields with blankets hanging sideways or up on their necks, wet in the pouring rain or sweating in the warm spring sun. I wonder what their opinion would be?

  5. I'm the opposite of you - I always let my yak get super yak-like and never clipped or blanketed, til this winter. I did a neck and belly clip in January and she got much more comfortable with work, and still didn't need a blanket. She is truly yaklike, so your mileage may vary - but if Rose is hot at work and hard to cool out, try a minimal clip next winter. We're in Reno NV, so similar cold dry windy winters, I think.

  6. Yay! I'm so happy not blanketing worked out so well! I've never blanketed my horses except when Chrome was a weanling. He shivered so I put a blanket on him, but that only last a month or two. :D



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