Monday, December 29, 2014

Blanketing

Blanketing is something new to me. When I was a kid, I didn't know that whole horse blankets existed, or maybe I am just so old that blanketing became a thing between my youth and my middle age (Yes, I am going to live to be over 100, so there.) My horses were never blanketed. In fact, they were turned loose on 60 acres in the fall and put on weight eating the grass buried under the snow. They grew nice thick winter coats and were shaggy and rotund from October through May. Grooming them the first part of May was one of my favorite things to do, as they dropped thick handfuls of hair under the brushes and curry combs. I made more than one horsehair saddle blanket but stuffing a gunny sack with horse hair and then stitching it shut and using it under my saddle for the summer.

The idea of blanketing, or clipping and then blanketing, had never occurred to me, nor was I around people who were showing and keeping their horses clipped for that reason. I guess my philosophy is that I would prefer to leave my horse natural, housed outside with shelter and plenty of food to eat during the winter. I want him to be able to experience the elements and changing temps, to have some say in how he experiences the weather. I might at some point in the future, decide to do a clip, but I would need help and direction and a pair of clippers. Ultimately, I prefer to manage the hairy beast and monitor my riding/his sweat in a way that precludes clipping. Not that I'm dead set against it, I just don't know enough to know how to do it without creating issues.

When I first brought Ashke home, I purchased a heavy weight horse blanket to help him until he gained enough weight to maintain his body temp. He was still wearing the blanket six months later, when the weather turned in October of our first year. Then I moved him to TMR, with it's heated barn and the absolute refusal to have the doors open if the weather is colder than about 50 degrees. This means that for the past two years, Ashke has not been in normal weather. He was locked in a box stall if it rained, if it snowed, if it was windy, if it was cold. His winter coat is slightly fuzzy, but certainly not a real shag fest. Even so, many of the horses at TMR are blanketed all year long, from sheets and coolers to heavy blankets. Some of them were blanketed under two sets of blankets when it got cold. In a temperature controlled barn.

When we moved to SQA, one of the things I was really excited about was the fact that Ashke could pick and choose his surroundings. He is in a box stall with a run. The stall and the run are separated by hanging plastic curtains, which he has learned to negotiate. He is on four flakes of grass hay a day, plus two feedings of the barley fodder. Howcver, the feed is not enough  make up for the lack of a winter coat. He is still fairly slick and as he has demonstrated, he is not very good at making the choice to stay inside when there is inclement weather. I have found him shivering several times, even with the blanket on and so was very afraid when the weather turned bad this week.

I talked to the BO about buying an extra bale of grass hay. One of the key things you can do to help eliminate shivering is to ensure your horse has access to unlimited grass hay. This morning when I got to the barn to check on Ashke, he was warm and still finishing his breakfast in his stall. There was a bale of hay sitting on top of my tack box (Thanks Mike!!) waiting for me. I gave Ashke his first mash of the day and then put about half of the bale of hay into a hay net and hung it in his stall. Ashke finished his mash in record time, then turned around and saw the hay net, spooked violently (I honestly think he would have kicked out at it with a hind foot given the chance) and bolted out into the balmy 10 degree weather.

When we went back tonight to check on him, he was standing in his stall munching on the grass hay. He got more Triple Crown Senior with carrots and felt toasty warm under his heavy blanket. I had planned on layering his BOT under the heavy mlanket, but since the temps outside were close to zero and he was nice and warm, we just dumped a bale of shavings into his stall for warmth in case he laid down overnight. He still had a flake of grass in his feeder and a little more than half of the hay still left in the hay net, plus a pile underneath the hay net. I picked his stall (he prefers to pee in the shavings but will almost always go outside to poop), and then spread out the bedding. I plan on going back tomorrow morning to replenish his hay net and give him another wet mash.

I am hoping this process helps him make it through the cold spell. I felt really bad for all of the other horses standing and listening to him munch on his unlimited hay. It is good to be Ashke.

6 comments:

  1. The mental image of him spooking at the hay net is spectacular. What a silly, lucky horse.

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  2. I'm always horrified when I hear about barns that restrict hay intake. (And I've boarded at those barns like the one Ashke used to be at and I couldn't stand it. The facility was always very nice, but the care was just so unhealthy. I hope to never have to board somewhere like that again.) Hay not only helps keep the horse warm, it keeps his digestive system moving. Good for you for working to find ways to help Ashke - it sounds like the hay did the trick (except for him being terrified of it!). I hope someday he won't need his HW blanket anymore:)

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  3. I have a 3/4 Arab. She never grows much of a winter coat at all. No matter how bad the weather. My TB grows a coat like an alpaca!
    I too don't remember ever blanketing. But now that I ride year round I enjoy the cleaner horse!
    Happy trails.
    Carol

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  4. Some horses just don't grow much coat regardless. I'm in the clipping/blanketing camp, but I also show some in November & February and keep my horse in pretty constant work. For me, not having a winter coat saves a ton of time grooming when barn time after work is short and precious. Since our climate is pretty warm, I rarely worry about him being too cold.

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  5. Clipping and blanketing are an artform and a pain in the butt, especially when horses live outside 24/7. Our temperatures here fluctuate so greatly in the winter (60's and humid one day, teens at night 24 hours later, 40's and raining the next) that it is very hard to manage horses whether blanketing or not. My two sweat a lot regardless of temperature when worked w/t/c even if it's just for 20 minutes when they have their full winter coats and it can take over 2 hours for that shaggy coat to dry out under a cooler. Gracie's is currently 1" long, Lily's is almost 2" long in the areas that weren't clipped in October. It is messy and dangerous because they can become chilled while waiting for them to dry out. I have two coolers at the moment and if the mares were in full work right now, I would need two more coolers to be able to manage them appropriately: the first cooler will wick moisture away and become damp, so it needs to be replaced with a dry cooler to continue the wicking/drying process.

    Gracie has a higher extreme temperature tolerance than Lily, which is why she gets blanketed only when temps drop below freezing. She has a small bib clip down her throat, chest and the front of her shoulders to allow her to stay cool longer when being worked. These are also the areas that take the longest to dry out when she gets hot, as they get the most sweaty when she has her full coat. I gave Lily the blanket clip (naked head, neck, shoulders, belly and stifles) because she has a tendency to overheat when worked with a full winter coat. She is very sensitive to heat regardless of season. The problem with clipping is that they then need to be blanketed when there are big temperature swings. Even then, me clipping her allows blanketing like a regular horse in this area: when temperatures drop into the low 20's-teens, she is still quite comfortable with just a midweight blanket. I haven't touched up her blanket clip since the ride because she has been on an extended vacation; I'll most likely leave her as is until March when temperatures start rising again.

    Rain is the hardest part of winter here because wetness prevents the coat from fluffing out to keep the horse warm. Freezing rain can be a real problem because if the naked horse gets wet, even with shelter they will get chilled as the temperatures continue dropping. This is the main reason why I ultimately blanket. The mares get unlined sheets if it's going to be 60 or colder + rain, and midweights/liners are factored in depending on how much colder it's going to get after that + wind chill + more rain/snow. Winter requires twice-daily weather forecast consults to make sure the horses will be blanketed accordingly, as the forecast can change drastically from one day to the next. Blegh.

    Ashke is a very lucky horse, and I'm glad he's figuring out that he can stay warm by staying inside eating all of the extra hay you're providing!

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  6. I was like you growing up. Blanketing just wasn't a thing around here, so I didn't know anything about it. I later believed that horses shouldn't be blanketed because they are equipped to deal with the weather, but at that time I had really tough horses that didn't shiver. Then along comes Chrome lol. I don't know if it's his half Arab side or just him personally, but he is miserable if it is cold and wet. If it's dry he's totally fine even below twenty degrees. Last winter when I first saw him shivering, hiding in the barn acting terrified of everything around him (even with free choice hay) I was shocked and felt awful. That's why this year I got him a blanket. After personally witnessing how miserable and unhappy he is when he's wet and cold I will never believe that no horse should be blanketed. Even though I could survive in temps that make me shiver, why would I keep it that cold when I have the means to keep my house warm? If I have the means to keep him warm, why make him shiver miserably (not to mention he keeps his weight and eats less too!)? That's how I feel now. It is a very individual thing. I only blanket him when it's raining. The rest of the time he's totally fine and I like it that way, so I probably won't ever clip him. I just don't ride enough in the winter to justify the hassle of it. I'm glad adding the extra hay has helped Ashke stay warm. :D

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