Cartoon of horses talking about horse blankets

Blanketing horses is a hotly debated and often misunderstood subject. I often see blanketed horses who are owned by people who I otherwise think are good horsemen and women. The horses are blanketed because the owner thinks they are cold, because they, the owner, is cold or they think the horse will be cold without a blanket. What those people forget is they (the horse owner), doesn’t have a thick hair coat and a cecum full of hay that is fermenting and giving off heat.

Horses keep warm two ways. They have a coat with long hairs that stand up in the cold and short hairs that are underneath next to the skin. (Remember those mats of hair that come off in the spring). They have the horse equivalent of a down coat. Second and maybe more importantly is a gut full of hay fermenting and giving off heat.

If I haven’t bored you, keep on reading. If you don’t want to know the “whys” just go on down to the take home message and the short “pitch” for Forco.

First, let’s start with how horses heat themselves. Remember heating themselves is different than staying warm, in other words maintaining a body heat that is comfortable. The best, most efficient way to heat a horse is to feed them hay. When hay gets into their stomach it starts to ferment, giving off heat. By the time it gets to the cecum it really gets going and is giving off a lot of heat. Very simply, the cecum is a fermentation vat. Most of the time, even when its cold, horses are giving off heat rather than trying to conserve heat. Horses need more energy to maintain their body temperature when the lower critical temperature is reached. The lower critical temperature is defined as the temperature below which a horse needs additional energy to maintain body warmth. The lower critical temperature estimate for horses is 41° F with a summer coat and 18° F with a winter coat. In practice, the lower critical temperature is reached differently for each horse. In general, four variables interact for that temperature to happen in an individual horse. Those variables are; the horse’s overall condition, (condition score) hair coat, the environment the horse is in which consists of temperature, wind, precipitation and the amount and type of food in the horse’s gut system – the cecum in particular. Horses can stand the combination of any two of three conditions, temperature, wind and precipitation, but not all three together.

If you feed a cold horse grain it’s like a candy bar, they will get a relatively quick burst of energy and heat that doesn’t last very long.

Very simply, when a horse’s gut is full of forage (hay) and the cecum is giving off heat the lower critical temperature can be very low. I will give you two examples.

  1. A few years ago, I got one of those weather stations that tells you everything you wanted to know and some things you don’t. It has a remote sensor which I put on the barn roof. I have the weather station programmed to tell me the wind chill at the barn. Shortly after I got it, we had a blizzard. We live on the eastern plains of Colorado and it can get pretty cold. Anyway, the wind was howling, it was snowing, an all-around nasty night. I had a fire going in the stove and thought, “I’ll go take a look at what the wind chill for those horses is”. The wind chill was fifty below zero. I thought, holy smoke, I better go out and make sure the horses are doing ok. Some horses have access to the barn, some have shelters with a roof and most have a windbreak. All of them have access to hay 24/7. I bundled up and went out. The barn and shelter horses looked at me as if to say, “what are you doing out here on a night like this”? When I went to the pen with the wind breaks, half the horses were at the feeder and the other half were in the lee of the windbreak. There was not a shiver in the bunch of them.
  2. I used to have a team of Percheron mares. I was living outside of Silverthorne Colorado on the Williams Fork river at the time and leased the mares to a sleigh ride operation. I would come and drive the horses. The horses did two rounds of about forty-five minutes and temperatures ranged from the thirty’s to around five below zero. After the ride they would usually be sweaty, I would bring the horses in, unharness them and check for harness galls, give them as much cold water as they wanted and sent them out on the pasture with plenty of hay. The first thing they would do is roll in the snow, regardless of the temperature. I would usually check on them just before I left and if it was really cold steam would be billowing off their backs. Never got sick, never colic’d, did just fine.

Here’s the “take home”

  • Horses are not cold when you are cold.
  • Horses may not be cold when you think they should be cold.
  • Blanketing interferes with the horse’s ability to regulate its own temperature.
  • In my opinion, horses should not be blanketed unless:
    • They are clipped in the winter
    • Any age if they are in very poor condition (condition score 3 or below)
    • They are old and skinny
  • If you do blanket them, be sure to take the blanket off during the day, if it warms up. The blanket flattens the horse’s hair eliminating it’s “down coat”. If it’s warm, the horse will sweat trying to get rid of heat and when it gets cold the horse will be sweaty and will be cold instead of warm, so the blanket is doing the opposite of what intended it to do.

There are a zillion different opinions on blanketing and you can find most of them on the internet. My opinions and observations come from the perspective that we do the most good for our horses and our wallets by basing their care on how they evolved and how their bodies work to process food, produce energy and using their nature to develop a respectful relationship that allows both of us to have a good time.

The “pitch” for Forco

Remember, the whole reason I post this good information is to encourage you to help keep your horse’s digestive system working well by ordering some Forco. and if you’ve already ordered some to order more and to order it from me.

How your horse produces heat is directly related to how well its digestive system is working. The more efficient the gut is the more efficiently the horses uses the nutrients we present to it. When the digestive system is not very efficient the horse poops out more nutrients than when it is more efficient. The efficiency of the horse’s gut is almost entirely dependent on the health of the microbes in its gut which are helping to do the job of digesting its food. Forco is microbe food, not horse food. Healthy gut microbes make for a healthy horse.
Forco will benefit all your animals, I feed it to my dogs, the barn cats and our chickens. I try unsuccessfully to keep it away from the sparrows and grackles.

Order Forco …… please.

Best regards,
Jim Rea
Forco Colorado

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