Monday, February 23, 2015

Blanketing

We're having record setting cold in my part of NJ, and everyone is freaking out. My Facebook is flooded with "My neighbor's horses are outside with no blankets, ABUSE!"

I hope they're not talking about me....

My horses are currently outside with no blankets, for various reasons. Spider has a coat that would make a yak envious and he sweats like a three dollar whore if he has to wear a blanket. Spots has made his views on wearing blankets perfectly clear by running like hell anytime he sees me get blankets out and throwing himself around on the ties while I try to put it on, but standing absolutely perfectly still when it's time to take the blanket off. Jack slithered out of his blanket a few days ago and left it inside out in a snow drift, it's still drying out.  So, my boys are outside naked and they couldn't be happier. Now, they could go into their generously bedded and very warm barn anytime they like, I even drug two bales of hay down there to load up all the stalls with piles of hay to lure them in, but they're outside playing instead.

They look abused, don't they?

When thinking about horses and cold weather, it's important to remember that what you feel is not what they feel.  All mammals generate heat from various internal functions, but horses' bodies are designed to conserve that heat, while humans' are designed to dissipate it. And, yes, I know the argument is "Nuh-uh! We've bred them to be DIFFERENT!" No, we have not. We've specialized them to a small extent, but we have not changed their anatomy and physiology to the point where they feel heat and cold the same way we do.

Unless your horse looks like this, in which case you probably have bigger problems.

Humans have long limbs with our muscles pretty evenly distributed down the limbs, this helps dissipate the heat generated when we exercise to keep us cool.  We have small, short noses so that the air we breathe in doesn't heat up too much. Our skin is thin, mostly hairless and vascular, so that our blood can circulate to the surface and release heat very effectively. We have thin, flattened torsos to provide more surface area for our skin to dissipate heat.

Horses' muscles are concentrated in their torso, they have few muscles in their legs, which conserves the energy generated by the muscles. Their noses are long and thick to heat the air before it gets to their lungs. Their skin is thick, hairy and doesn't have as many capillaries, so heat does not escape as easily. Their torsos are thick and full of huge, heat generating muscles with much less surface area to dissipate heat and their digestive process generates much more heat then ours.  It is much easier for a horse to become critically over-heated than it is to get hypothermia.

For most horses, blankets aren't really necessary in cold weather. If the horse is clipped or unhealthy, then it needs a blanket, but otherwise most horses are just fine with the coat they grow on their own. What they do need in cold weather is shelter, plenty of liquid water, and as much hay as they care to eat.

So, before pitching a fit about how evil your neighbor is, go see if the horses have shelter, water and hay. If they don't, then you have a valid concern. However, I can tell you that bitching about it on Facebook just makes you look like a sanctimonious jerk.  Most people don't leave horses out with no food and water just because, so maybe instead of brandishing your ethical superiority all over social media you should go over to your neighbor's house and ask them what's up or report it to police, animal control, ASPCA or some other authority who can check it out. The horses may have a nice shelter with food and water somewhere you can't see on the property. The pipes may have frozen or the barn doors are frozen shut and they're having difficulty getting food and water to the horses. Maybe your neighbor is ill or dead. You don't know and can't help until you ask or report it.

However, if the animals are really in trouble and when you bring it up the owner and the authorities brush you off, then feel free to blast it all over social media. I'll be right there with you.





12 comments:

  1. Shelter from wind and wet, forage, water, all is well. That said, individual horses can differ - I have one "princess" - doesn't look at all like the picture - who hates wind and cold and has to be blanketed a lot of the time. If it makes her happy, it makes me happy. My others are out in exposed pastures with no shelter from the wind or wet, so more blanketing than I'd like. I try to listen to the horse.

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  2. Preach! :)

    I blanketed Apollo this year because he was clipped but most years he's "naked" in the winter and grows and appropriate coat. I usually only blanket if the temperature drops below -25 with the wind chill. There are always exceptions (I have to blanket Henry because he drops weight like crazy in the winter unless he is bundled up). I find more people give me crap because I do blanket my horses (it's not "natural").

    People should mind their own business (barring neglectful cases of no shelter/skinny horses etc).

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  3. As with most things re horses... no hard and fast rules. And the opposite problem here - I get commentary for blanketing. From people whose horses are looking pretty slim when spring rolls around.

    I recently read a post relaying a vet who supposedly stated that no horse ever needs a blanket until temps are below 18 degrees. I beg to differ.

    My tb has already blown a great deal of his coat - shedding since early January. He has shelter and unlimited hay, but chooses to spend most of his time out in the open. While we're not the great frozen north here, this winter low temps have been record breaking - teens and twenties with wind chill sub zero some days. That combined with 30 - 50 mph winds + rain / sleet means he will on occasion be wearing a blanket. Several times when I was on the fence about the conditions, I've found him shivering in the morning. And a wet hair coat can't properly piloerect (love that word).

    If I hold it up and he puts his head in willingly, I'm trusting his judgement. And while he may not be in jeopardy of dying, I'd rather not have him shiver all the hard earned weight I've kept on him.

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  4. excellent post. I have not blanketed my horses for the past few years and Irish (my delicate flower) is actually doing better than when I did blanket. I do use a rain sheet when it's sleeting so that that they don't get wet.

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  5. Preach! Great post and I 100% agree. I went out to the farm today and it was 15 degrees. Hampton is only wearing a medium weight and he was WARM. He could have easily gone without a blanket. I keep one on him though because there is no shelter in his field. So I feel it is only fair.

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  6. My horse is the only one on the farm wearing a blanket and it is only a medium. Horses are amazing well adapted for cold weather, much more so than us or our cats and dogs.

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  7. It was -40 with the windchill here this weekend. My horses are naked. They have access to all the water they care to drink, two roundbales of excellent quality hay, and a shelter that they can use whenever they feel like it. At their fall check up at the vet, they were all ranked "above average" on the body scale chart and the vet was happy with that considering winter was coming up. Especially for my TB who has always been a bit 'ribby' until this year. I bundled up and went to check on my ponies during the coldest part of the day yesterday and they were all content and not one showed me that they were cold or miserable.

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  8. ABUSE! I'm calling the SPCA. Could I please just have your address first?

    Even my clipped beast resists his blanket these days. It's not particularly chilly (in the 40s at night) in California, but he shuns even a sheet on all but the coldest nights. Usually I just let him make the choice.

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  9. AMEN.

    Love always,
    Fellow Frozen Jersey Girl with Happy, Naked Horses

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  10. lol those poor playful ponies are *clearly* neglected ... :) i agree about the 'no hard and fast rules' thing, and generally just blanket when it's very cold + dry, or just around freezing + wet.

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  11. I blanket my guys, but I'm sure they'd be OK without. They have shelter and plenty to eat. They are all in medium waterproof blankets. I have had some shivering in the past when they've gotten wet, and it soaks to the skin, so I just feel better with the blankets on.

    Someone asked me about it just this past Sunday. Her children had seen a number of horses outside without blankets and were worried about them. I explained, as you did, that horses really didn't need blankets provided they had shelter from the winds and rain if they wanted it. Oh, yes, and plenty to eat. I reassured her, ending with. most of the time the blankets are on just to make the owner feel better. *G*

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