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Are Blankets Worth Their Weight?

Does your horse need to be blanketed? Dr. Lydia Gray answers.

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Hi, Dr. Gray! I have a question about horse blankets. I have never used one, but I was wondering if I should. All my horses are pastured 24/7, but I am not down there every day to adjust the blanketing if need be. I think one would be fine since she is overweight and the extra fat would help her keep warm, right? I have only had her for one winter but she seemed to do alright. The other quarter horse is a very hard keeper and always loses weight in the winter, however I have had him for 7 years and he has always been this way, he grows a long winter coat and stays under the shed most of the time. The thoroughbred I got from the racetrack last January. I kept him stalled but this year he will be out in the pasture. Should I put a blanket on him? If so, what kind is best since I wouldn’t be there to switch light/med/heavy weight every day, only 1 or 2x a week. Also, should I get a cooler for my two that I ride? What does a cooler do exactly? Thank you in advance sorry for the long question!

– KG, Oklahoma


Dear KG,

Yes, a very long question, but also a very good one. Unfortunately, although it sounds like one or two of your horses could benefit from a blanket this winter, the fact that they are pastured 24/7 and you are not there every day to adjust their blankets probably means they shouldn’t wear them for both health and safety reasons.


Let’s say they’re wearing heavy blankets because it was 10° but a warm front moved through and suddenly it’s 60°. Now the horses are sweating with no way to cool off.


Suppose a strap breaks and the blanket slips. The blanket could get tangled up in the legs or neck. Your best bet is making sure there’s a shelter that all three can get in (sometimes one horse is dominant and while there might be adequate physical space for three horses, the one horse has decided the shelter is his and his alone). Then keep high quality hay in front of them all the time to provide calories as well as heat from the fermentation process in the hindgut. Will someone be checking on their water supply? Plenty of fresh, unfrozen water is a must year-round—snow will not suffice—so if you can’t be there every day, enlist a neighbor or fellow horse person to guarantee drinkable water is available.

Now to your cooler question. These are a type of horse clothing specifically designed to dry a sweaty horse after a workout and keep them warm. There are not quite as many styles and materials of coolers as there are blankets and sheets, but you’ll find opinions vary as to wool or fleece, square or fitted and when and how to use. However, since you only anticipate being able to ride on a relatively infrequent basis–just one to two times per week–I’m assuming you’re only doing light riding to maintain your horses’ conditioning and training, not long hard work where they would get hot and sweaty.

So, in your particular situation, you might not even need a cooler. It might be a good idea to have one on hand, though, in case your session goes longer than anticipated or it’s warmer than usual.

For more blanketing tips and tricks, check out the SmartPak Ultimate Blanket Destination.


About Dr. Lydia Gray

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal.