Monday, January 20, 2014

Blankets

I've had some questions about blanketing from several readers and my blogging friend over at Mulewings also asked me to weigh in on this debate.  She had a very interesting post on the subject a couple of days ago that raised some interesting points, I may share some thoughts on that later as well.  So, for Janet, Cynthia, Val and others who have asked about blanketing, here are my thoughts on the subject.

First and foremost, blankets are a risk to a horse or donkey's safety.  Anything that can constrain, restrict or entangle is a danger. No matter how well made, well designed or well fitted, blankets are a risk.  With that in mind, always think hard about your reasons for blanketing before doing so.  All the shiny catalogs and slick advertisements would have you believe that any responsible, caring owner would blanket every horse.  NOT TRUE.  A healthy, well-fed horse who is well acclimated to it's environment will be better off without blanketing.

That said, there are times when blankets are necessary.  Older horses, horses in poor health, thin horses or horses that have been relocated to a colder climate form a warmer one may all need blankets.  Donkeys pose a separate issue depending on the environment they are living in.  They can handle cold temperatures, but from what I have observed, it takes them much longer to grow enough coat to deal with exteme cold.  They are very adaptable, but seem to take much longer than horses to do so, which leaves them vulnerable.  Baby donkeys are especially susceptible to cold.  Do not be fooled by the the fluff they have, especially if you live in an area like this one where it can be 60 degrees one day and 10 the next.

Last year, Emma and Ramsey finally got their full winter coats in February or March, just about the time the horses started shedding theirs.  This year they seem to be doing the same.  Winter came early and hard this year as well and they were both cold, which is why they are both wearing clothes.  Also, donkeys are not equipped to deal with wet weather.  While they have thick coats, they lack the water shedding ability of horses and become saturated easily, they need protection from wet.  Their longer, coarser coats do not protect from wind as well as a horse's short, dense coat either. 

The decision to blanket should be based on the individual animal's needs, not a blanket generality (no pun intended:).  If your critters can do without a blanket they will be better off.  They will be safe, have healthier skin and be more comfortable. 

The decision to blanket should never be made lightly.  It is a significant commitment in time, energy and money.  You will likely need more than one (of varying weights) for each animal.  Blankets have to fit properly, be kept clean and checked daily.  Good grooming and hygiene are imperative to prevent skin irritation.

The question I get most often is, "how do I know if I need to blanket?".  My answer, "ask your horse or donkey".  I know this may seem flippant, but it is not.  Think about why you want to blanket and take a close look at your horse.  What does his coat look like?  Do you know what a healthy winter coat really looks like?  Does he shiver?  Does he have adequate shelter and food?  Is he maintaining weight?  Is it hard for him to maintain weight?  Is the horse body clipped?   Is your goal just to keep him clean for riding or does the critter need heavy, warm blankets?

A healthy winter coat is short, sleek and shiny and can poof up or slick down quickly and easily, which is how equines regulate their temperature.  A lot of very long scruffy hair is often mistaken as a good thing, but it is actually a sign that the horse has been unable to grow a good coat and is compensating by growing extra guard hair.  All that long scruff hides the fact that they lack the dense undercoat which provides true warmth.  In horses, this is usually a nutrtional problem, but can also be a sign of an underlying health problem.   Donkeys naturally have longer, coarser coats. 


The other question I get most is, "how do I know when to blanket?"  This is the one that is really hard to answer because there are so many variables.  You really have to know your animals and pay close attention to the weather.  The main thing to keep in mind is that if you have chosen to blanket, you have to keep up with it, it is an all or nothing proposition.  If you have made it this far without blankets and your animal is doing well, then leave well enough alone.  If you have an older horse who starts losing condition, a donkey who is struggling to keep warm or has to deal with a lot of wet weather, a highly stressed animal or one who is being ridden a lot, then a blanket may help.  Be very careful about it though, especially this late in the season because you absolutely do NOT want a horse to be sweating under a blanket.  That is a very dangerous and unhealthy situation.

Your horse or donkey should feel toasty warm under a blanket, not hot and not cold.  It is up to you to check frequently and adjust accordingly.  Blankets take away the animal's innate ability to regulate their own temperature and put the responsibility for that on your shoulders.  Be obsessive about weather watching.  Take them off at every opportunity.  Keep them and the animal clean.  Check them often.

And if you also happen to have an aging Border Collie who can't stand to be left out of anything, but who also becomes very lame if he gets cold, suck it up and make sure he stays warm as well.





12 comments:

  1. Very interesting information - - and I don't have large animals. You sound very well educated in the care of all your pets. What you said makes sense though. We don't have any dogs anymore - - thought about getting another but have fence repairs to make first as well as the emotional and time commitment to do it right. Your blog is quite interesting with a lot of variety in the subject matter.

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  2. Thanks very much for writing this! You said it much better than I could.
    I have moved our elderly mule inside to the round pen inside the machine shed. Her coat is exhibiting that scruffy look and she lost weight this winter.
    Her age is somewhere between 29 to 34. This and her teeth [floated] are her only issues.
    I borrowed a blanket and tried it on her.
    She tried to rip it apart as mules often tend to do.
    Thank you again.
    May I link this post for a follow up later?

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  3. Your blogs are always so informative.

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  4. I totally agree with the things you have said here. When in WY I only blanketed when it was 10* or lower. And I do not blanket here in AZ. Well I take that back. I did blanket Trax once but only because we had ridden and it was a nice day but with his winter hairs he had gotten very sweaty. I hosed him off and then squeegied as well. I put him out in the sun but by time the sun was going down he was still a little damp. On that night I blanketed him because it was chilly at night. But first thing in the morning it came off again.

    I see lots of people down here blanketing horses, I guess to keep their hairs down. I can't do that.

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  5. I did try to get Morris a coat for those times it is so cold here. He wore it once and it got terribly wet when he decided to go in the creek.
    At this point in time since he is now 10 yrs old, I make sure the weather is not too cold. Plus he is small enough for me to carry him.
    He asks when he is cold by running up and putting his paws on my leg then when I bend down, he leaps into my arms.
    He will stop a mule this way to ask for a ride.

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  6. I think you all might find this article of interest. Great post as usual Kris. Thanks!
    http://www.academialiberti.de/en/articles/read/22/Thermoregulation-in-horses-in-a-cold-time-of-year/

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  7. http://www.academialiberti.de/en/articles/read/22/Thermoregulation-in-horses-in-a-cold-time-of-year/


    I think you might find this article of interest. Great post as always Kris!

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    1. Excellent article a keeper for sure!

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  8. Hey Kris, good info - thanks! I have blankets and liners (fleece) but think of them as "emergency only."
    I've used a blanket on a donkey who is recovering from colic or one that is elderly and thin but I don't blanket unless it's a real necessity. Donkeys need shelter from rain, wind and snow more than blankets. Also if there is any possibility of rain rot or other skin problems due to wet weather, a blanket will exacerbate the problem! I have understood that donkey hair is different from horse hair too - not hollow shafts and more subject to water saturation.

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  9. I've owned horses for 20 years and agree with you on blanketing sparingly, if at all. I've rarely needed to blanket my guy, but he's 30 this year and I can see he's clearly not as peppy in the winter cold as he used to be in his prime. We're back down to minus digits this week and yes, the blanket went on him this weekend.

    BUT, I didn't know the difference between donkey and horse hair. Clearly I need to do some more reading. Thanks for that data, didn't know that I didn't know!
    So my next question is, where did you get yours? When I look online, I'm not finding ones specifically designed for donks.

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    1. You won't find blankets designed specifically for donkeys unless you have one custom made. Blankets made for ponies or minis are the only options that I am aware of. Donkeys are measured the same way horses are and once you know what size to look for it is a matter of searching for someone who sells those sizes. They can be very hard to find. The best sources that I know of are: justforponies.com, sstack.com (look for their junior sizes), Dover occasionally has pony/mini sizes. Chicks saddlery sells a foal blanket made by Tough 1 that fits the smaller minis, it's a decent, inexpensive blanket, but i don't like the placement of the leg straps, it may need to be modified for safety.

      Do a web search for "mini horse tack", if your donks are small enough, there is quite a lot available for them. The hardest sizes to find are for the donkeys who are bigger than a mini, but smaller than a medium pony. If your donkeys are true minis, you should be able to find quite a few options.

      Ramsey's blanket is a size 52 Rhino "wug" that I bought from Dover. Emma's is a 58 Weathabeata from justforponies. If you can find the option, I prefer the high neck version like what Ramsey is wearing over the open neck like Emma's. They tend to fit donkeys better and don't slide backwards. Good luck.

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