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Ep. 071: Does My Horse Need a Blanket in the Winter? What the Research Says

Co-hosts Dr. Tania Cubitt and Katy Starr and guest Dr. Michelle DeBoer discuss whether or not horses actually need blankets in the winter, based on scientific research.

Episode Notes

On this episode, co-hosts Dr. Tania Cubitt and Katy Starr and guest Dr. Michelle DeBoer discuss the hotly debated topic of whether or not horses actually need blankets in the winter, based on scientific research, including:


  • Changes in hair coat length and diameter in blanketed and non-blanketed horses
  • How body weight, body condition score and dry matter intake are impacted in blanketed horses
  • The next scientific research project in the works to evaluate whether horses should be blanketed or not


Can horses actually TELL us if they want a blanket or not? Dr. DeBoer also shares the results from a fascinating research study answering this question. 


This is only part one of our interview! In Episode 72, the second part of this conversation, releasing Tuesday, December 5, Dr. DeBoer discusses the physiological processes that keep horses warm and if deciding to blanket, the right way to do it to keep horses at a healthy body condition and safe through the winter.


Have a topic idea or feedback to share? We want to connect with you! Email


Connect with Dr. Michelle DeBoer on:


Scientific references – 

~10:14 – Peer reviewed and published research study – “Changes in Hair Coat Length and Diameter in Blanketed and Nonblanketed Adult Horses in the Winter” -


~18:56 – Peer reviewed and published research study – “Dry Matter Intake, Body Weight, and Body Condition Scores of Blanketed and Nonblanketed Horses in the Upper Midwest” -


~27:50 – Peer reviewed and published research study – “Winter blanketing practices: An online survey of North American horse owners” –,Winter%20Blanketing%20Practices,(46%25%3B%20Table%201).


~41:02 – Peer reviewed and published research study – “The effect of weather conditions on the preference in horses for wearing blankets” -





  • *Views and opinions expressed by guests are their own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Standlee Premium Products, LLC.*

Katy Starr (00:00:01):

Hi, I'm Katy.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:00:02):

And I'm Dr. Cubitt. We're going Beyond the Barn. Come join us on this journey as we bust equine and livestock nutrition myths, and interview some of the most intriguing experts in the country.


Katy Starr (00:00:15):

We'll go behind the scenes of how premium Western quality forage is grown and brought to your favorite farm and ranch retail store. We're so glad you're here. 


Welcome back to another episode of Beyond the Barn. Dr. Cubitt, we have a special guest and a very interesting topic today.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:00:35):

I am excited to hear everything she has to say about blanketing horses.


Katy Starr (00:00:39):

Yes. One of the hotly debated topics in the horse world. So our next guest grew up just outside of Twin Cities in Minnesota. She has actively competed in a variety of horse disciplines and currently competes in endurance and dressage with her two Arabian horses. She received her Master's and PhD at the University of Minnesota with a research focus on equine nutrition, muscle biology and horse physiology and management. She currently resides at the University of Wisconsin River Falls as an associate professor teaching equine production and animal anatomy and physiology. We'd like to welcome Dr. Michelle DeBoer to the Beyond the Barn podcast. Thanks for being here with us today.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:01:21):

Thanks so much for having me. I'm really excited to talk about this subject.


Katy Starr (00:01:25):

Yes, it's going to be such a great topic. And so for our listeners, just before we dive into this topic, we just want to remind you that any of the topics that we cover on the Beyond the Barn podcast, they're more generalized and not specific to any individual horse or any specific situation. So be sure to always work with your veterinarian or nutritionist before making any drastic changes to your horse's feed program. Or you can always feel free to reach out to us and talk directly with Dr. Duren or Dr. Cubitt on any specifics that you would like to know. So Dr. DeBoer, could you just give us a little bit of background on yourself? When did you first get your start and interest in horses and how has that kind of evolved over the years for you?


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:02:10):

Yeah, so I went to pony camps as a kid and I grew up in the suburbs in the Twin Cities. So I always wanted a horse but it was always just a phase. So my parents just were waiting it out and hoping it would, it would dissipate over time. And so I didn't end up getting into more actively riding until I was in high school and I was actually 16. So I got my license and I started driving out to the local barn to take lessons and eventually I had been saving up my money for quite some time and I decided I wanted to use it to buy a horse. And so I got my first horse right when I turned 17 and she was a little Arabian mare and it worked out really well where that's kind of how it all started. And I did a bit of everything with her.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:02:53):

We began with speed events and hunter jumpers and that kind of evolved over the years in in the different disciplines we tried. But I decided to go to school for equine business management. So I went down to Missouri and I got my degree there. Before, I worked at a dude ranch for a season and then I worked as an assistant reigning trainer for another year before I finally kind of got the courage to apply and go to grad school. So that was really fun when I ended up kind of switching from more of the barn facing position to more of a research and school educational side. So then I went to grad school there and after that I got my job at the University of Wisconsin River Falls where I've been teaching for the past about six years. So it's really fun how it evolved. And I think 16 year old me would be very, very happy with where I ended up.


Katy Starr (00:03:42):

And you're like, it wasn't just a phase


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:03:46):

Exactly. Oh my parents still, we were looking at a horse property a few years ago and my parents were like, but what if you get out of horses? I'm like, you guys . I have my PhD in it. I think we're probably set


Katy Starr (00:03:57):

At this point. , that's so funny. You briefly kind of mentioned a couple of the things that you did, but when you, you and I were talking a little bit earlier on, there was a number of different like events and things that you, can you talk about some of those different ones because you're a very versatile horse woman.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:04:18):

Yes. it was such an amazing experience. So this little mare I bought, it was so funny. I looked at probably 30 like quarter horse geldings. I just wanted something like sturdy that could teach me the ropes. And I ended up with a six year old grade Arabian mare and she was a little crazy. I was a little crazy but we just clicked and it was, it was amazing. She was the most willing horse I've ever ridden and just anything you ask, she'd just do it for you. So we started off, we did like our local circuit for speed events and then we moved kind of into some hunter jumper stuff where we'd show on some of those circuits in college. Then I switched her over and we did Western Pleasure for a bit. So we do kind of the all around where I'd do both English and Western and the patterns and then we could do speed events in the afternoon after that.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:05:05):

And she'd get high point in both. She was so great. We'd do team sorting. So we got into cattle for a bit, especially after I took her out to the dude ranch in Wyoming. So we got a workout there together and, and then we did polocrosse and we did a cutting clinic for a bit. So we just kind of my, I think my most random event I tried with her was called mounted orienteering and it was a while ago, but you go out with a compass and they like give you clues and you have to find, like they'll give you like, oh from this point you have to go X amount of steps. And it's, it was very technical and I remember going with a bunch of barrel racers and we just go from point to point and I just wanted to try it one Saturday And so we just drove to the local place the trails and gave it a shot. So


Katy Starr (00:05:49):

Wow. Barrel racing horses, huh? That sounds like a very interesting task for barrel racing horses. .


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:05:56):

I know, I think they all kind of got together once a year and they're like, oh we're just going to give it a try. But it was so funny because I think the people who were actually competitive in it, they had a very good strategy and the people I was with were like, we're just going to run from point to point and figure out what happens. And it was, it was really fun. .


Katy Starr (00:06:11):

That's awesome. So what is your discipline preference? Is it English or Western or is it really just both? Do you have one that you like better than the other?


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:06:23):

I love them both for very different reasons and I kind of laugh now because like being an endurance rider, I'm not really an either of them I guess because it's a little bit in between. But I really like the English saddle. I like how light it is and how out of the way it is. But I used to joke because I'd ride on a daily basis in my English saddle, but most of the competitions I would do was in a western saddle. So we'd kind of just go back and forth how that would work. But having worked out in Wyoming, I love that like authenticity of like the cowboy way and the traditional parts of Western as well.


Katy Starr (00:06:55):

Yeah, that's really interesting. So what actually piqued your interest to go to Wyoming to work on that dude ranch because that's kind of just an out there decision.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:07:06):

Yeah, it honestly was for me, I was kind of, I was, I worked really hard through undergrad and I was able to graduate a year early and so it kind of got to like our winter break and I was like, well I should probably think about what I want to do when I'm done. And going to a liberal arts school, I wasn't really exposed to graduate school so I really didn't know the steps to get there. And one of my friends was like, I'm going to go work on a dude ranch. I'm like hey that sounds pretty cool. So I did a bunch of research and I looked at a bunch of places and there was really just one dude ranch where I just kept coming back to, I'm like, this is where I want to go and if I don't get offered a job there, I'm just going to find something else to do.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:07:43):

So I applied there and I actually sent in a video of me riding that little arab bareback, bridleless and they saw that video and they offered me the job and I was, having done school in three years, I was a little burnt out, I was taking between 18 and 21 credits a semester. So I was like, I need this break. And it was my husband, he yells at me about it but I always say it's the best summer of my life. I go back and he's like, what about me? What about after we met? And I'm like, no. But it was amazing. I, we'd go to different places in the Bighorn Mountains and in the basin and so we'd end up hauling a six horse trailer to our destination for the day and take the guests out on cattle drives and trail rides. So it was a really cool change of pace where I never studied abroad in college because I didn't want to leave my horse. So this was kind of a fun way to see just like a different lifestyle and meet a bunch of fun people along the way.


Katy Starr (00:08:36):

That's awesome. I love that you did that. That's so cool. So getting kind of into our topic for the day, what has actually inspired a research interest for you in blanketing and thermoregulation in horses?


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:08:50):

Yeah, so it really started as a passion project. I just, I kept seeing like blog articles and just people posting things about like, you shouldn't blanket your horses. It's not natural. These are all these problems. And I'd read through them and I was like, we just didn't have any science to go one way or the other. And being a researcher, I'm very big of like I want the science, I want to prove it. Like I'm not going to believe something that I read when I don't have someone who has the credentials and the work behind it to really prove it. So I kept reading those things and I'm like, some of them didn't sound right, others, I'm like well that makes sense but like do we really know? And so that's kind of what set me down that path of I had all these questions that even just as not only a scientist but as a horse owner, I just wanted the answers to. And so being in the position I was, we're encouraged to do undergraduate research and I'm like, this would make really fun projects.


Katy Starr (00:09:40):

Yeah, that's awesome. And we all know how much people talk about it in the horse world. So I think it's a very valid one to be pursuing and actually throwing some science behind it. So yeah. That's fantastic. So why don't we kind of get started talking about some of the different research that you have done around this topic. So I believe it was in October of 2019 you had done one in changes in hair coat length and diameter in blanketed and then non-blanketed adult horses in the winter. Is that correct?


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:10:14):

Yes we did.


Katy Starr (00:10:15):

So why don't you talk to us a little bit about that study, kind of how you had it set up, the horses that were involved and lay that out for us.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:10:22):

Yeah, so this was kind of the first blanketing study that I really got into. And so at University of Wisconsin-River Falls we have a pretty big horse herd and our most of horses donated are reining horses. So we have a big reining horse population. And so what we did is we ended up selecting 16 horses out of that herd and they were all just kind of mature horses and we blanketed half of them and we left the half I guess naked so to say. And we did that at the end of October. And so we waited until temperatures fell consistently below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and that's when we decided to place those blankets on them. All the blankets were a medium weight blankets, same style. And then those horses kept those blankets on for the entire winter season. Every single month we would take body weights and body condition scores for those horses and we'd also take hair samples. So the hair samples were from either the middle of the neck on their non mane side or from their like hind quarter region. And then we would take those samples, you know, record the horse, it was from the month it was from and then the students would end up measuring for hair length and hair diameter.


Katy Starr (00:11:31):

Excellent. So what kind of results did you come away with when you were measuring the length and diameter? Yeah,


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:11:37):

So the results were really interesting actually. So we did see changes over time and those changes over time, so we took them from October and we ended in March, it actually ended March, 2020. So we ended a bit sooner than we wanted due to COVID and sending the students home. But we found out that like hair length peaked around January and February but really by March they were pretty close to their baseline like October hair length and diameter. And so we did find that neck hair, neck hair length was actually what changed for those horses and was actually longer in our non-blanketed horses compared to our blanketed horses. And the difference was about a little over half an inch, so 0.6 inches. So it was a pretty substantial difference. I was very surprised it was neck because the horses just had a regular blanket on that did not cover their neck region. And so for the flank or like the hind quarter hair, we saw numerical differences but nothing was significant. It just, I just don't think the, the hind quarter hair grew long enough for us to really see a strong difference. But really what that showed us was that when you do blanket you are going to see a systemic change in the horse is it's not just impacting the area that the blanket covers, it is going to impact the entire horse and result to those, those changes throughout their hair coat.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:12:58):

How did that time correlate with daylight?


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:13:02):

So great question. So the photo period is a huge role in the hair coat and really what we believe to be the main or the…


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:13:08):

The driving force. Yeah.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:13:10):

Yeah. Some people even say the sole one. And so what would happen is we have our, our different solstices and so at the end of December we have that winter solstice when the days get longer and then it at the end of June is when we have that summer solstice when the days begin getting shorter. And so really what we saw is technically at the end of December, when the days get longer is when the horses are going to be triggered to begin shedding that winter hair coat and replacing it with that summer hair coat. And so in January and February when we saw those longest lengths, it was kind of right after that period of time which demonstrated this lag time between when that photo period is observed and when the hair coat is going to begin shedding. And so we did begin seeing that hair shortening as short as February. So we really are going to see like that four to eight week window of when the horse begins shedding and really getting back into that summer hair coat.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:14:02):

Kind of interesting if you extrapolate that to people turning on lights in their barn to whether they're trying to trigger reproduction or it's a show barn that you may have to have the lights on for a couple of months before you actually start to see anything. So just from a management standpoint that would be interesting because you know horse owners, “I turned the lights on last night and they don't look like a show horse already.” So just, I like to give people realistic expectations of how long it might potentially take. So that's very interesting.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:14:34):

Yeah and on that note, I think something to kind of bring up with this research is like we didn't begin blanketing till the end of October and they did studies with heated barns and things like that as well that evaluated how, you know, being an unheated or insulated barn could impact hair coat and they found that you want to make those changes before that like autumnal equinox in September to really start observing those hair coat changes. So we waited until temperatures were changing but if you really were to make changes sooner, that's probably when you'd be more likely to see more significant hair coat differences. So when you choose to begin blanketing could really impact what you'd see in terms of hair coat changes.


Katy Starr (00:15:13):

Yeah, interesting. So if you had the chance to do this study again, did everything kind of go as you felt like it would or did anything happen where you were like, I wish we had done this or if we were to follow up on this study this is then what we would do?


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:15:30):

Yeah, great question. Honestly I was very surprised at how well things kind of all went for the project. Especially being our first project we kind of start a lot of these projects with like, oh maybe it'll be preliminary data or we'll kind of test some things out but then we get the results and we're like hey, like this turned out really well. Everything went very smoothly and I think the project itself did ended up being executed very well and it was very smooth and we saw some very interesting things. If I could do anything, which I think most researchers would say is I'd love to have a larger sample size. I'd love to have, what I'd really love to look at is, I know some other studies have looked at this but different breeds of horses. So I mentioned and we had some variety, I think we had one or two Arabs in the study and thoroughbreds as well as our quarter horses.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:16:15):

But looking at the differences between even like our draft horses versus you know, our quarter horses and then more of our like hot bloods like our Arabians and thoroughbreds to see what those changes would be. Something else that also kind of interests me with hair coat is in cattle they were able to find differences in hair coat traits based on like the hair color. So in the same cow they look at the white versus the black hair. So like how does coat color impact this? How does breed impact this? Even things like body condition score is you know they've seen that horses who have a higher body condition score, like they might not be seeking shelter as frequently as horses who don't have as much of that extra insulation. So I think there's a lot of other variables that could be tested which we couldn't extrapolate on just due to having 16 horses in the study. But maybe in the future if I get some really determined students who want to measure a bunch of hair, maybe I can get there.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:17:08):

In general though, do you feel like your 16 horses were all pretty similar though, similar body condition, sex, all of that? So they were similar as you could get them, it wasn't like you had some that were super thin and some that were…


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:17:21):

Yeah and I think we kind of had a really good mix where we had enough diversity where it is representative of like horse populations while also these horses were all a mature age and they were all a healthy body condition score. But as I mentioned we did have Arabians, we had thoroughbreds, we had some Arabian quarter horse crosses and then with that we had horses of every single hair coat. So we had dark horses and light horses and chestnuts and bays. So I think it offered a good diversity that could be representative of just horse populations while also we didn't have anything complete like some 25 year old horse that was a body condition score before . So,


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:17:58):

And I think as researchers we want to have everything so the same, same, same, same. But when you step away from being a researcher and you get into the real world, you realize nothing is the same in the equine industry. And so sometimes the things that we consider flaws in our research actually strengthen it. I know statistically a statistician would say you're crazy, what are you saying? But you're more representative of what's really occurring and you were able to show yeah okay so it would've been great if it was 50 horses that were all very diverse but you really are doing a little, it's a little bit more practical.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:18:38):

Yeah and the fact that yeah with those 16 diverse horses we were still able to see a difference. It's like okay, like it has to be real to some extent at least versus you know, if you did a bunch of white quarter horses or something it might, it might look a lot different than what we see on an everyday basis.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:18:54):

Yeah. Perfect.


Katy Starr (00:18:56):

Okay so Dr. DeBoer, can you then talk a little bit more about the research that you did on dry matter intake, body weight, and body condition scores of blanketed and non-blanketed horses in the upper Midwest?


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:19:10):

Yeah, so this study was really kind of an extension of that hair coat study. So we had that whole study set up and we had those horses divided into treatment. They were blanketed, we had that all managed. And so another question came up and I'd always wondered if blanketing would change the amount that the horse ate. And so over our J term, which is about a month when our students are not here for classes, we decided to conduct this study in which we would monitor the intake for the horses. And so we moved them into identical pens and so we have these really nice pens set up where they're about the same size, they have about equal shelter space, they share a water, they're just right next to each other. So we organize these horses into those pens and then we measured how much they ate.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:19:55):

So we'd feed them round bales and we would weigh the round bales before we placed them and then we'd record how many hours they had access to the round bales. And then when they were done eating, the students would go out and they'd scrape up any leftover hay and they'd scrape it up, bring it inside those poor students. They were peeling mud and poop and everything off of this hay so we could just have our hay samples before we dried them and then measured that waste that they weren't consuming. And so based off of how long they, it took to eat the hay and how much hay they had wasted, we could then calculate well how much did they consume on a daily basis based on the percent body weight or their overall body weight per each pen.


Katy Starr (00:20:37):

And was that fairly consistent among the horses? Like for the ones that you did through that winter, the time that you were doing the study or how did that fluctuate based on I guess temperature? I'm assuming that you also tracked like temperatures, like outdoor temperatures and things?


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:20:55):

Yes, so January was a very cold month. It did hit about our historical averages, so it was very consistent. But looking at intake here it was, we had some pretty cold temperatures and some windy, snowy days. So I would say it's probably one of our colder months of the whole winter.


Katy Starr (00:21:12):

And so in this particular study then the only thing that you were measuring, was it just the waste that was leftover and the amount of time that they were eating?


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:21:21):

Yeah, so we ultimately, well and we'd also take body weight and body condition score and so we'd measure body weight and body condition score before and after each, we had ended up having three periods where they were eating the hay. So before and after we'd take both of those measurements, we'd weigh the hay, place the hay and then remove the waste to determine that intake.


Katy Starr (00:21:40):

Okay. And so what kind of, what results came from that research then? Did it kind of match what you expected it to be or how did that play out?


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:21:50):

Yeah, so I had really two thoughts going into it. My two thoughts were either the blanketed horses would voluntarily reduce their intake because they don't need to expend as much energy to stay warm or maybe they weren't really smart enough or it did not catch up with them to do that so they both ate the same amount and then the blanketed horses would gain more weight than the non-blanketed horses. So those were kind of my two thoughts that by blanketing they would conserve more energy and either gain weight or eat less. And we actually found to an extent both of those things, we did find that the blanketed horses ate about 0.2% of their body weight less and so they were at 2.31% of their body weight while our non-blanketed horses were at 2.51% of their body weight. And so they ate a smaller amount less but it was significant. And then we did find during one of the trial periods, the blanketed horses did actually gain more weight than the non-blanketed horses even though they ate less. And so we kind of saw both of those things is, if their intake was a little bit higher, we'd see that weight gain but otherwise on average their intake was just going to be less and they still maintained their body weight and body condition score as well if not better than our non-blanketed horses.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:23:03):

Were there any blips in the weather where it got much colder for a day or two and did you notice any kind of immediate change in their intake?


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:23:11):

So we had our three trial periods and actually trial period like the third session or the third kind of round of giving those hay bales, that was the coldest but it actually, their intake was about the same as the other trial periods. The only change we saw in intake was during the second trial period we saw slightly increased intake for both of the horses even though the weather was not substantially different and probably just right in the middle of the other two, which we kind of attributed to maybe the hay was a little bit more palatable and so they were kind of choosing to eat that bit faster.


Katy Starr (00:23:46):

I think it's really interesting that the horses, they are just self-aware enough to know with the blankets and not the blankets. Like just knowing like you could eat more, you know what I mean? Like especially when you think about us as humans when we're eating like we eat because we're hungry. But that's super, super interesting that they kind of stop themselves because they're like well I probably don't need to eat more like if I'm doing it to keep myself warm.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:24:11):

Yeah, that honestly amazed me too. I didn't really expect that they would be able to like self-regulate in that way. Especially like our horses tend to be a little bit on the higher end of the body condition score and so I was like oh they probably just will eat as much as they're given. But yeah, I thought that was interesting. My kind of question off of that though was these horses were blanketed since October. I'm very curious if a horse was blanketed for a shorter period of time if how quickly it would take them to learn that and adapt. Like if I'm going through a cold snap and I throw a blanket on my horse, are they automatically just going to be, oh I'm not expending as much energy like I can just maintain this how much I'm eating, or would it take them a while to kind of figure that out? So I'm very curious in that that time lapse between those two.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:24:56):

And when they're on a round bale they pretty, they have free choice access to hay. Had these horses all been adapted to just having round bales or when they came to your trial, was that the first time that they had kind of ad-lib access to hay?


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:25:09):

No, these were about the same living conditions. The only thing that would've changed for them is they just went from like a larger pasture setting into these smaller paddock settings, but they were on the exact same hay given to it in the exact same way.


Katy Starr (00:25:22):

Interesting. Okay. And so you kind of mentioned one little thing there, but if you had a chance again to do this study, are there things that you wish you would've done differently or are there things that now you're like, you know, if we were to do a follow up on this, this is like what we would want to pursue?


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:25:39):

Yeah, I think one big thing is like, like you kind of mentioned before we did it in January which is our coldest month and we kind of extrapolated off of that but what about the more milder months that are still cold? Like are December, February, March, are we going to see as drastic of changes during those time periods or does it kind of level out? We couldn't do it because we had to find a time when our horses weren't being ridden because that would get in the way of that study and that research. Something else I, I really wish I would've done, which we didn't have enough square bales at the time but I wish I was feeding them square bales where we could have monitored their daily intake because that would've just given us so many more data points where we were doing the round bales which took them about five, six days to get through there, two of them. So as a result we could only get three trial periods done within that timeframe. If we were throwing them square bales every day we could have monitored daily intake and really looked at very specific changes with very specific weather condition. How precipitation and all that affected it.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:26:38):

That's kind of my, my question earlier and what happens in January in Wisconsin it's just consistently cold. Here in Virginia, it's 70 one day, it's 40 the next day. So we do have these kind of really big swings in weather and so I'm really curious. I know that my cows, they certainly eat more like they're out there laying in the sun right now but if it's really cold tomorrow they'll be eating and eating at that round bale. So it would be definitely interesting like if there are blips or more like go back to October when we're got more normal not as cold weather and then you just randomly get a couple of days that are really cold to see if daily they actually just increase their feed intake or hay intake based on that weather blip. But anyway.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:27:30):

Yeah that's exactly, I'd love to look into that more and then you could kind of be coupled with you know, a horse who's not maybe blanketed all season of like okay if I'm just blanketing them for this cold snap versus not, how would that be impacting it and what specific weather conditions because we know you know it's not all temperature, it's a lot precipitation and wind and how those could impact them as well.


Katy Starr (00:27:50):

Okay, so one of your more recent studies that you did Dr. DeBoer, was winter blanketing practices and it was an online survey of North American horse owners. So I'm really interested to see kind of how you set this up and how did you look to find who would be your survey takers, what your representation, your sample representation was for that and everything? 


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:28:15):

Yeah, so for this survey we really wanted to conduct it to try to direct some of our future research ideas of like why are people making the decisions they're making based on those decisions? Like what opinions do they have or where are they getting their information to do what they're doing. And so I partnered with the University of Minnesota and Wright State University and we created a survey on Qualtrics and then we did most of our advertising through social media. So Dr. Krishona Martinson has a big following on her University of Minnesota equine extension page. So she kind of took care of most of that for us and we got that sent out and we had about 1,450 respondents that we ended up we were able to use those surveys from. So we had to get rid of a few that got us down to that number. So really we just wanted anyone and everyone who owned horses in North America who was willing to complete the survey. And so I think we got a wide range between equine professionals and horse owners and kind of the only stipulation was you had to like owner manage at least one horse.


Katy Starr (00:29:17):

How was it kind of spread out by location from the results that you got back? Did it seem like it was fairly spread out or did it seem like maybe colder areas versus warmer areas happen to actually answer more?


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:29:30):

So the majority of our respondents did come out of the Midwest, which we're assuming is because that was our kind of key way to advertise. Following that we had quite a few from the northeast and then around less than 10% but probably averaging about five or six percent from our other regions that we classified in. Something that was interesting though was that geographical region did not impact blanket usage so we kind of expected that we'd see more people maybe blanketing in the northern parts of North America and we saw the same amount when we were looking at our Southern regions as well. So it seems to be that it was either maybe representative or you know it could be who chose to take a survey on blanketing.


Katy Starr (00:30:13):

Interesting. Yeah, very true. 


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You obviously asked the question like do you or do you not blanket your horse? What were some of the other main questions that you provided for the survey takers and what was the outcome of some of those?


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:31:10):

Yeah, so some of the questions that we were asking were about their management practices. So we first said, you know, did you or did you not blanket And that would kind of tailor some of the rest of the questions that would follow and then how do you manage your horse if based on that practice? And then we'd ask why you chose to make that decision. So for blanketing we said pick any of the reasons that apply of like, why do you blanket, and for not blanketing, we said what's the main reason you chose not to blanket your horses? And then from there we then asked on some opinions of like based on these like saying or not sayings but statements and opinions that we might see, like where do you fall? Do you agree with them, do you disagree with them? So some of the information that we found was that if people blanketed their horses they were more likely to not have access to shelter.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:31:57):

I'm assuming that would probably be related to horses who might just get turned out during the day that you know they're stabled at night, and they're turned out for portions of time. We also found that people who chose not to blanket their horses didn't blanket them because their horse had access to shelter so they could only pick one reason and that was the main reason my horse has shelter, they don't need a blanket. The next reason was because they thought it was unnatural. Which I think is an interesting concept and probably pretty complex and deep as to what that exactly means. Those who did choose to blanket did so because of wind and precipitation. So they made their, and that we saw a lot more than let's say like because their horse, they wanted to keep their horse clean or because they wanted their, the coat shorter.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:32:42):

So those didn't direct those decisions as much as the weather conditions did for most of our participants and respondents. And then I was interested because we asked a few opinions of like how does it impact social, or does blanketing impact their ability to go through social grooming? Does it impact their ability to thermoregulate? Like once I blanket them I need to blanket them for the rest of the season. And a lot of people they just didn't, they didn't know so it wasn't even an agree or disagree, it was kind of smack dab in the middle which kind of led us to believe, you know it's kind of like the position we're in is we just don't have the research, we can't really formulate that opinion. Something that was interesting though is you'd look at some of those opinions or statements and those who chose to blanket were more likely to not agree as much. Like they'd all kind of agree of like, oh blanketing maybe impacts social grooming or but maybe impacts my hair coat. But depending on if they blanketed or not, their opinion would be like either strong or like a little bit more mild. So they might, the majority might both agree but it would kind of be non-blanketing might agree strongly and those who blanketed would like agree somewhat. So the strength of how they felt about something was kind of aligned with the blanketing practice they chose


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:33:55):

Was the age of the horse one of the questions? Because I find with a lot of my clients, they may not have blanketed their horse its whole life but now he's getting older and they're a little bit more concerned just about a lot of things in his management. So they think oh well I'll start to blanket him now because he struggles a little bit in the wintertime to maintain body weight or to chew hay. So we've made the decision to blanket him now. Was that one of your questions?


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:34:21):

So we did ask people the reasons why they blanketed and elderly or thin was a reason, but only about 2% of our respondents did choose that. So out of all of them it wasn't like the primary reason but I'm sure that also has to deal with the horse demographic you have. Like if you don't have an elderly or thin horse, that wouldn't necessarily be why you would blanket them.


Katy Starr (00:34:41):

I'm wondering too, and this is just me thinking through some of these things as you're talking about your research, how the survey was put out by the University of Minnesota and they put out a lot of really great educational information and so the people that tend to follow them are very engaged with their horses and education and caring for their horses. So it makes me wonder how some of these results if they would change if they hadn't, if it had been somebody who maybe wasn't as familiar with the university because some of the results that you were talking about like the reasons why they blanket for it's very much some of those things that Dr. Cubitt that you talk about and that I know that University of Minnesota talks about is like the cold temperatures but then the wind and rain specifically versus like snow and things like that. So I just kind of wonder how that would, I mean this is more of a speculation, right? Just kind of like curiosity and wondering, but I just kind of wonder how that would be different.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:35:40):

Yeah and I really wish we had a little bit more reach. I'm like getting about 1500 people, that's pretty solid but at the same time…


Katy Starr (00:35:47):

That’s a good number. It really is. Yeah.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:35:49):

Yeah, that was kind of our goal is like we wanted to hit around that much but I wish we could get everyone right. That would be the goal is you'd really be representative. But yeah, I know up where I'm at, I know it's also like riding endurance, things like that. A lot of the horse owners I deal with up here are very educated and they, they're well informed and they're working very hard and I guess I don't know how that's like in other parts of the country, but I think we are very fortunate in the, in the people we have around here that they want to do what's best by their horse and they want to follow science and they're willing to find all those things. So I would be interested if we, we did gather more representative populations from other regions as well and kind of like what you were saying too is because the cold temperatures, it's, we have to be very well informed on blanketing because it's something that we've always at least thought about if we're we haven't done it. And so getting that from other regions as well that might not be as familiar with that would be, but I think just increase that knowledge that we have of what our horse owners are thinking and what they want to know more of.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:36:47):

I think your statement earlier about the, one of the reasons was natural, I wouldn't do it because it's unnatural. I get that a lot also with just making feeding recommendations. Some people want to be the most natural they possibly can and they want to feed like whole grains and papaya and I don't know, flaked coconut or something. And I'm like, well would your horse have climbed a tree and number one and would he have had you ride him and would he have been dewormed and vaccinated and all those things? So I do think it's a common thread but then when you kind of get people to circle back around, okay, how far am I willing to take the natural thread. For me, I really love it if you want to take the kind of natural feeding route of feeding a more forage-based diet. But yeah, I mean our senior horses or our horses in general are living till they're 25, 30, 35 and a horse in the wild living in its natural state lived till he what he was 12 and they certainly didn't have the body condition and the show condition of the horses that we have now.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:37:57):

So it's always a interesting.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:37:59):

Yeah and I think it's hard when you kind of like pigeonhole yourself in that category, right? Like I've seen so many different disciplines and I've been a part of many different facets of the equine industry and over the time I've kind of evolved where I, I guess I consider myself more of like a minimalist, like I try to, but I think when you pigeonhole yourself like I want to be natural, I want to do just these things, you kind of get stuck in that if you might not make the best decision for the horse.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:38:24):

I love that explanation of being a minimalist, I'm going to do the least amount of things but in order to keep my horse as healthy as possible. And I think that is a great approach. Like you don't have to be throwing the kitchen sink at your horse to keep him healthy and you can because you also who's got that much money and so everything to do with horses, it’s not like a puppy or a supplement's like oh $30 and that's going to last him all year. So yeah, I like that. I like that way of looking at it. I'm a minimalist versus pigeonholing yourself as to one way or another. That's a great way to look at it. 


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:39:00):

Yeah, I was just going to say it really helps kind of, I use that to make some of my decisions where I like, I like think of it that way of, okay where, which direction do I want to go or where do I fall in the spectrum? But yeah, it's better than being like, oh I'm natural or unnatural. You can kind of be like, oh I need to make the decision that my horse needs depending on what they have going on.


Katy Starr (00:39:18):

And aside from looking for a broader reach, are there any other things that you kind of wish you had either done different with the survey or if you have the opportunity to do another one in the future, are there any other additional questions that maybe you would like to make sure that you asked that you didn't ask or anything like that?


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:39:35):

Yeah, I'd kind of throw in even more questions. One thing that we did is we asked, I believe it was our blanketing respondents we're like, hey, pick all of these that apply. And then for non-blanketing we're like, you just, you can only pick one, like the most important one. And I wish I asked that for both groups. So I wish I gave both of them like pick any of these that are relevant but also pick which one's the most important or even letting them rank it. But that would've, that would've been pretty messy to analyze. But I think being able to decipher that of not only like what thing stands out to you but also like was anything you would consider. I think that's one of the big things. And one was giving, probably giving some more options that kind of came up where we got the results back and we're like, oh we didn't even think of that. Like we wish we had included that as an option because we gave a write in, but if you didn't think of it to write it in then you might have missed out on that. So I think that could have made it a little bit more solid, but we really liked the results that we got from it. And if I don't annoy too many horse owners with throwing out surveys all the time, maybe we'll maybe we'll throw out a modified one in a few years and see how things change.


Katy Starr (00:40:38):

Yeah, yeah, that'd be interesting. Another bit of research that you shared with me that I thought was really interesting and it kind of goes back to our little chat about horses kind of being able to be a little bit self-aware and self-regulate. But can you tell us a little bit about that research from Norway where horses chose whether or not they wanted to wear blankets?


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:41:02):

Yeah, I love this study, I think it's super neat and I was actually talking to my friend about it of like, oh, I want to talk about like when horses choose to wear blankets and they're like, you can't talk about that, that's not science. Like we don't know, like have you asked them? I'm like actually, like we have, and that's the cool thing about it is we make all these hypotheticals and we make all these things of like, this is when a horse should wear a blanket. These are the temperatures but you really don't know unless you see what the horse is comfortable at and what they would choose. And so this study went and they taught the horses to select whether they wanted no change or putting a blanket on or off depending on what they were wearing at the time. And so they turn these horses, so the horses were stabled at night, this was over in Norway and then they turn them out during the day.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:41:46):

And so before they ran this study they would train these horses with clicker training and so they'd have like a, just a blank board. And that meant that the horse wanted to stay exactly as they were. And then they had a board that had a line on it and depending on if the line was horizontal or if it was up and down, that would signify for one it was the horse wanted the blanket removed if they were wearing one and if it was the other way, it was if the horse wasn't wearing a blanket and they wanted a blanket put on them. And so they learned to point at which sign they wanted, if they wanted to just stay as they were. So if they were wearing a blanket, that sign would mean that the blanket would stay on. If they weren't wearing one, it would mean a blanket would be put on.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:42:25):

And then the sign with the dash on it would basically be, you'd change that management practice by either removing the blanket or placing it depending on what they were currently at. And so these horses were trained to identify and they, out of their 23 horses, they started the study with, all of them were capable of being trained and were able to tell this to researchers. So they'd stick them outside and I, if I remember it correctly, I believe they stayed outside for about an hour before they'd ask them. And that would allow them to kind of identify like how they were feeling, how things were going. Then they'd ask them and then the horse could tell them if they wanted the blanket, if they wanted a blanket on or off. I believe half of them would start with a blanket on and half without a blanket.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:43:03):

So you had that that balance of it wasn't them having to ask one way or the other or that comfort or discomfort. And so they found that the majority of horses did not want blankets when it was above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. So anything above 50, they didn't want to wear a blanket, they tended to like to wear a blanket if it was below 14 degrees Fahrenheit. And then the other factor was if it was above 14 degrees but below 50 and it was windy or rainy, they also wanted to wear a blanket. So kind of below 50 degrees and cold, cold and rainy and windy. That was also kind of the time they chose a blanket. The interesting part about that is snow, it wasn't like really decisive one way or the other. So rain, most of them wanted blankets, but when it snowed, I think it was maybe about 50/50 or, but there wasn't like a solid response either way with the thought being that snow kind of sits on top of the hair coat, it acts as this insulator versus rain is going to pack down that hair coat and get them wet and take some of that heat away from them.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:44:05):

So I've honestly used that study to make a lot of my decisions is I think every horse is different. They used a lot of cold bloods and warm bloods versus, you know, I have like Arabian that are handle cold maybe a little bit differently, but wind and rain are really the times I choose to blanket my own horses and then I kind of play it by ear when it's just a change in temperature. Like if it's a nice sunny day but it's cold, I'll kind of just evaluate how my horses are doing.


Katy Starr (00:44:32):

That's very interesting. Yeah, horses, they can be smart sometimes .


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:44:38):



Katy Starr (00:44:38):

Sometimes not so smart. I mean they make poor choices all the time, but , that's super interesting. Can you talk a little bit about some of your mini experiments that you've done kind of in between and around your regular research? Obviously though it's not peer reviewed like some of the other ones and published like some of the other ones that you've been talking about today. But what kind of led you to do some of these little mini experiments that you had an interest in?


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:45:07):

So I guess I have to credit all the blogs again. They just get to me and I'll just see things posted and everyone's sharing it on Facebook of like, don't blanket your horse. They get really cold when you blanket them because you impact their ability to go through piloerection. I'm like, I put my hand under their blanket and they're pretty toasty under there. I don't think this is right. So that honestly started it as I was so sick and tired of just seeing things circulate and I'm like, I don't think that's true, but I can't, like I don't have the science to prove it wrong, so let's see what we can do. So I saw that going around and it gets pretty cold here and so I waited for a day, I think it was 20 below, like it was maybe got even colder at night, but it was cold and windy and so I had blankets left over from the last study and I convinced one of my students, they're so tolerant, they just, I asked them to do things and they're like, okay, Dr. DeBoer, we suppose…


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:45:56):

But I convinced one of them and we went out, we found two horses that were very similar. So they were two palamino geldings about the same age and we threw a blanket, we took their temperatures and then we threw a blanket on one of them and we just had a medium weight blanket. It wasn't anything fancy, it was one of those like $70 cheap blankets and threw them on them, turned them both out at night. And then what I wanted to do is I wanted to get them when it was really cold because I'm like, okay, if this is, if we're going to see something, it's going to be when it's pretty cold. So we left it on all night and we pulled them up at like six or seven in the morning and we, we brought them in and we got, we pulled the blanket and we did thermography pictures and before that we took the rectal temperatures as well.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:46:38):

And so what we saw was that the horse with the blanket had a higher surface temperature than our horse without a blanket. The other thing that was interesting was it from the thermography pictures, the circulation also appeared to be better. So that was something where, you know, if a horse is cold, one thing they can do is go through vasoconstriction, so they're going to reduce the blood flow to the surface to try to reduce that heat that they're going to lose. And so by having better circulation, it would suggest that that horse was able to maintain their body temperature better. They weren't having to go through vasoconstriction as much. So it was really neat and so I just kind of was like, hey, we have this cool picture, we did this little mini project and it was just kind of by way of, I kept seeing things that I didn't think was true and I just wanted to investigate it further. Then obviously everyone's like, well you, we did see it on the other horse as well. So then we had to do a crossover and we switched it and we saw the same thing. But something interesting people pointed out is one of the horses had front shoes and his feet with front shoes were much colder than his other limbs, regardless of whether he was blanketed or not. So we're like, huh, maybe we need to look into that more. So


Katy Starr (00:47:43):

Interesting. You know, it's always kind of cool when you start out doing some sort of little research or project and something else just pops up that you weren't ever expecting, but it was just makes you more curious and then it gives you other opportunities to kind of dive a little deeper.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:48:01):

Yeah, and that's kind of been the fun thing with creating that Facebook page and posting some of those projects. Especially, I don't really shy away from the controversial subjects, so I get some very opinionated comments. And at first I thought that would bother me, but I'm like, honestly, it's been so worth it. Because so many people have great ideas or even people who might not agree with it, they have these great questions and it gets me thinking and it kind of inspires me to do something else. So it's really been fun to get the perspective of other people who might not be either as well versed in research, or even people who are, but maybe in a different field and they're like, hey, what if you do this? What if we try this? And it's kind of like a group effort I guess. So it's, it's been fun to expand in that way.


Katy Starr (00:48:39):

That's really cool. Well, and constructive feedback is so much better than just blatantly just throwing things out because you want to be a jerk, right? Why not be constructive about this and just, yeah. Look at it as kind of like a team project.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:48:55):

Yeah. And it's such a good learning thing for everyone, right? Because I'm like, there's sometimes someone will point something out like, I didn't even think of that. That's a great idea. Like I guess we should try that. We should look at it this way. So yeah, that was just a small study with two horses. I'd love to do it on a larger scale, but we need to, we need to figure out making sure we can. I really want like a nice shed out in the pasture where you could bring them into a place where the thermography pictures are really easy to take and very consistent.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:49:20):

It's really great to see someone, I'm sure these studies aren't costing you a fortune, but it's really practical and the general horse owner feels, especially with your group, that they're part of it that I mentioned this and now she's looking at it and that all of my peers are going to hate me for saying this, but the USDA and all of the big funding groups that support large scale livestock and equine research, putting a blanket on a horse is not something they're ever going to fund, right? They're going to fund something that is potentially going to be translated into human health or you know, livestock production or something. And those things don't always translate very well into just general horse owner concerns. So we go to our big equine science meeting every other year, or the animal science meeting. And while the research is cool, as somebody who talks to horse owners on a daily basis, sometimes there is a divide between what they really need and what's actually being done.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:50:26):

And I understand exactly why the divide is there. It's because researchers need to get funding for the big scale research and to kind of, that's part of the academic career is getting this funding. And oftentimes those groups that are giving you money, they have an expectation on the type of research that they want you to do. And that's where the breakdown some somewhere is. So I really, I think it's really cool that you're doing this. Somebody else did a similar thing with the microbiome. Okay. Can't get funding from the big sources. So I mean a crowd fund, because it's such a, a hot topic in the equine industry. So it's not really a question, it's just a statement on, I think it's really cool what you're doing, that you're really connecting to the people that actually need this information. And not being afraid to shy away from the basic research that has never been done.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:51:23):

Thank you. Yeah, I've honestly, that's my favorite part of it is I think maybe, again, having done my graduate degree under Krishona and her just very strong extension presence, it's just been such a passion of mine, of like finding topics that are relative and like even just little projects that I'm like, oh, as an owner, I just want to know those. And they're very practical and they're very applied. And I did some of my grad school in skeletal muscle and cell culture and it was very in the lab and hard.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:51:52):

Specific and yeah,


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:51:54):

But go to a 4-H meeting and try and explain that to the kids. And they're just like, what is she talking about this, this doesn't affect my pony. Well, I'm sure that you could relate it to their pony, but putting a blanket on or Krishona’s work in hay storage, like those things affect me on a daily basis and they can affect the quality of life that I have with my horse, am I storing my hay wrong and it's all being wasted. And so I have to sell my horse now because I've got no money or my old geriatric horse, I didn't even think about putting a blanket on him. But look, I've watched this Facebook group, it's also about, and I will stop after this because this gets me on my soapbox of it is so hard. Everybody says, go find the research, whether it's politics or whatever.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:52:40):

It's like, well go read the research. General horse owners can't, they don't have access to the journal articles, right? Most academics when you leave, like if you leave academics, you don't have the university access to all of those journal publications. So how are they supposed to do the research? And so you then having a group where it's good dialogue and you're putting the facts out there about the basic research you've done in a manner that they can understand it and they can actually access it. That's also very, very practical and very useful. So anyway, there's my soapbox about research. Research is great, but it's not always accessible.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:53:24):

Yeah, I completely agree with that. And I think that's, I'd never even thought of it that way, but I think that's such a, such a great way to kind of come at it. And that's, I kind of feel that as horse owners, it's when you don't do the research, you're at the mercy of what other people find interesting. So it's kind of fun to not necessarily an advocate, but be that bridge where it's like, okay, like what are we going to do next? But yeah, I just need more time and money, right? Doesn't everyone


Katy Starr (00:53:52):

Always more time, more money. Yep. Yep. More horses.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:53:57):

There's never enough horses.


Katy Starr (00:54:00):

With some of the research that you have done so far on blanketing and thermoregulation in horses, all of that we've discussed so far. Are you currently in a new study or do you have something on the docket that you guys are kind of looking at, like what are your next steps that you are interested in pursuing?


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:54:19):

So I'm really excited about the next one. I think we're just going to just again do, because no one wants to fund blanketing research. We're doing just a small scale project with about six horses over the winter. And so we just set up our weather station out in, at the site we're using just a few weeks ago. We had to get it installed before the ground froze. And we are blanketing horses with different blanket weights, so non-insulated sheet, medium weight heavyweight. But we're going to put a temperature and humidity sensor underneath them and we're just going to basically just start to compile data of what are the temperatures under their blankets based on different weather conditions. So when it's windy, rainy, we have solar radiation that we're measuring all those factors. And so you see all those blanketing charts of like, when does this temperature put this blanket on your horse…


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:55:07):

And all of that. And again, there's no research behind it. And so my goal would be to ultimately just compile all this data, like, okay, what are the temperatures, with the big one I'd say, sheets are very controversial. I mentioned piloerection before. So the ability of the horse to basically go have goosebumps and trap the heat around them is their natural way to stay warm. And the thought is putting a blanket on them will impact their ability to go through that piloerection. And so our work with medium white blankets showed that, hey, even in pretty cold temperatures, it was enough to keep these horses warm. And so what about our sheets? Because one of those mini projects, we did see that the horse was pretty chilly and granted it was like zero degrees outside. I don't know who would put a sheet on their horse at zero degrees, but finding that threshold, like where's the line of, okay, I need to add more insulation when weather conditions look like this, and I need to add more insulation now when they go down to this level.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:56:01):

So you could start to get at least a ballpark for what those thresholds might be for how much insulation you need in those blankets. And then ideally, ultimately being able to ask those horses, okay, well when do you no longer want to wear it? Or you could say, hey, when the temperature is this under a blanket, like we should take them off. And ultimately, we could make more informed decisions with, the trickiest part being every horse is different, right? So you'd be having to make a decision off of, but again, if you get a diverse population or if you can look at different populations, maybe you can at least get a ballpark or just come up with some equation depending on their breed and hair code or body condition score. They might fall into this category.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:56:40):

And I think, like you said earlier, people are either going to blanket or they're not going to blanket like most people are one or the other very, there are well less people that answered the survey, at least in between. But I think that there actually are a lot of people that are in between that. I don't usually blanket my horse. He's not, I don't clip him. I'm not riding a lot in the wintertime, but then it gets really cold and windy and wet. And I think well, should I, so it would be interesting to add to that when it's kind of novel blanketing, right? My horses, he never wears a blanket, but what's the point when I should put it on and is there a point that I should put it on? And you'd probably have to break it into kind of older horses are really the ones that I'm thinking of.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:57:25):

And is there a body condition coupled with the other guidelines of rain or whatever? But what would happen to a horse that never wears a blanket? And then I threw a blanket on it. What happens? Is it bad or is it good? Because I think a horse that always wears a blanket, he gets used to it. His hair coat gets used to it. As you've seen mostly those horses, we’re blanketing them as people. Because horses, horses, even if they want it on don't put it on themselves. So most of the decision comes from the owner. I'm cold, hence I put the blanket on the horse. So anyway, that would be very interesting. If you just have horses where it's novel, what is it doing to this horse that's never worn a blanket, not adjusted to it, not accustomed to it. Like we do that with, okay, what if you were ad-lib, feeding them hay, all of a sudden they guts the hay and then they slowly get used to it. So it just interesting.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:58:18):

Yeah. And that's for this study, we're specifically waiting until after the winter solstice to blanket, or at least around there where we're like, okay, they would've grown their maximum hair coat by now. Like it's not going to impact those changes. So if that were to happen, like can we create these ranges so we're not also, yeah, causing that interference of like, well how much was their hair coat impacted? Or how much did these things change? So hopefully it'll give us, my goal is to eventually kind of tighten or get rid of that divide between horses and owners of like, okay, like you said, horses are at the mercy of what their owner feels like they need to wear. So can we at least make a more educated decision of like, hey, it feels nice and toasty warm under there, but the horse doesn't like that, they're too hot. And so being able to kind of figure out that line of like, when are they happy?


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:59:06):

And that's going to be really interesting with hair color as well. I have black Angus cows and black cows hate the heat. They love it when it's cold. Like right now it's chilly outside, but the sun's out and they're all laying, they all look like they're dead out there because they're just laying out, soaking up the sun. But I guess, I guarantee if I had a white or a red cow out there, they may not be loving. They like the different weather. So I think hair color on the horse is very interesting as well. 


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (00:59:36):

Yeah. I also feel like body condition score is going to be a huge, one of the horses who are a little heftier, they might just have that extra added insulation and they don't feel the need. And honestly, some of them probably wouldn't benefit from a blanket, right? Because if it's conserving energy and I want them to lose weight, like the blanket's kind of counteracting that. 


Dr. Tania Cubitt (00:59:54):

That is one of the things I tell people. I say, look, if you're not going to exercise your horse and you can't like restrict their diet anymore, use the weather to your advantage. Do not put a blanket on your fat pony. Oh, but he looks like he's unhappy. Yeah. Well when his feet fall off, he'll be really unhappy.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (01:00:12):

Yeah, I think that's, yeah, a huge thing that, yeah, I've one horse, she's a little on the heftier side and my other one's kind of lean and then she that the lean one came from Texas, so she's a freeze baby to begin with. That one normally gets blanketed. And the other one, she's just content. You put a blanket on her as soon as you take it off, she's rolling in the snow. She's like, how dare you do that. So I'm like, okay, you lost privileges. You can just be a…


Dr. Tania Cubitt (01:00:36):

Here's a whole other study for you. This is going to correlate, make the correlation and causation, I guess, of the person putting the blanket on. You need to also ask, what is the weight of the jacket? Like literally ask them, what jacket do you have on when you have made this decision to put X blanket on your horse? Did you put a lightweight blanket on because you've just got like a little L.L. bean sweatshirt on? Or are you wearing a puffer jacket and you, so you then put a giant jacket on your horse. I guarantee it's all related to how the person feels. 


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (01:01:11):



Katy Starr (01:01:11):

It’s like going to the grocery store when you're hungry.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (01:01:14):

Oh, don't do it, Katy. Don't do it.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (01:01:16):

Yeah, I love that little like meme where it's this horse in five blankets and he's like, what's going on with you? And he is like, my owner's cold.


Dr. Tania Cubitt (01:01:24):

Exactly. That is it.


Dr. Michelle DeBoer (01:01:26):

Yeah, I used to, I used to work at a barn and they said, if you are cold, your horse is cold, you have to blanket them. And I was like, oh no. But we did anyway. Yeah, little freeze babies .


Katy Starr (01:01:38):

That's so funny. 


We'll include links to connect with Dr. DeBoer in our show notes. Feel free to email or follow her on our Facebook page, equine PhD, where she pursues research from questions posed by everyday horse owners. 


If you thought this was interesting, stay tuned for part two of the great horse blanket debate of our interview with Dr. Michelle DeBoer releasing Tuesday, December 5th. In this next episode, episode 72, Dr. DeBoer gives us her expert tips on how to choose the right type of blanket for our horses, how often blankets should be removed to evaluate horses for body condition and health. Along with all the different ways horses are built to stay warm during the winter and ways we can support them. You won't want to miss this next episode. 


Thanks for listening to the Beyond the Barn podcast by Standlee Forage. We'd love for you to share our podcast with your favorite people and subscribe on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite listening platform. Until next time, keep your cinch tight and don't forget to turn off the water.


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