It is a generally accepted rule that horses that are in good health and are neither very young nor very old, do not need a winter blanket. There are always exceptions to the rule; if the horse doesn’t have a thick hair coat, or is thin skinned, or perhaps is a show horse who is shaved, then you would want to put a winter blanket on them when it dips below freezing.
However, what about senior horses with health problems?
I frequently feel the disapproving eyes of ” blanket skepticals” when the temperatures are halfway decent and I’m dragging out my lightweight blanket for Molly. What they don’t know, is not only is Miss Molly 25 years young but she is Insulin Resistant which is diabetes, more or less, and blanketing is recommended in temperatures of 40 degrees or less. The reason behind this is that horses with IR cannot keep themselves warm in the same way that healthy horses can, and the cold can have adverse effects including but not limited to foot pain that can lead to Laminitis or Cushing’s.
I would never in a million years have blanketed my horse in such warm weather in years past, however last winter in 2014, Molly scared the hell out of me. Since she’s always been an easy keeper (affectionately called Mooolly by some) watching the weight just fall off of her was dreadful and highly concerning. I thought it was going to be my last year with her. I couldn’t figure out what was causing the weight loss except she had what seemed like constant muscle spasms but was otherwise healthy. The weather started to warm and I hoped the “shivers” would disappear but even on 45-50 degree days she was still shaking.
It finally occurred to me, like a smack in the face, that it was probably her insulin resistance that was contributing to the problem. I worked hard all summer to put fat and muscle back on her and was very successful; she is now at a good winter weight and I purchased 2 brand new winter blankets. One is a lightweight for when it’s dry but still dips into the high 30s and a polar blanket for when it’s wet and/or in the teens or negatives. She seems very comfortable in both and so far has kept her weight on and there have been no signs of her shivering.
Just for reference, she is fed a low starch/low sugar high fiber diet of soaked timothy pellets (I sometimes add alfalfa/timothy for extra warmth, but don’t recommend it as a daily feed), along with Platinum Performance CJ, and about a cup of corn oil for extra fat. She does very well on this diet.
I guess my point is just to pass along that not every horse is the same. Some need blankets, some need shoes, some need special diets. Always treat each horse as an individual and remember that what works for one horse may not work for another, and don’t call out another horse owner for a practice you don’t agree with until you know the reasoning behind it. Most importantly, as in everything, just use your common sense.