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Ep. 072: How Horses Stay Warm in the Winter & Proper Blanket Management for Health and Safety

On this part two episode, co-hosts Dr. Tania Cubitt and Katy Starr and guest Dr. Michelle DeBoer continue their discussion about how horses keep themselves warm and the hot topic of blanketing horses.

Episode Notes

This is our final episode for 2023! Our next episode will release Tuesday, January 16 2024. Enjoy the holiday season, catch up on some past episodes, and we’ll see you back here in the new year!

On this part two episode, co-hosts Dr. Tania Cubitt and Katy Starr and guest Dr. Michelle DeBoer continue their discussion about the hot topic of blanketing horses, including:

  • The different ways horses keep themselves warm, along with ways we can help them
  • The most important factors to consider when deciding if your horse needs a blanket or not
  • How often blankets should be removed to evaluate the horse for body condition, rain rot, rubbing, etc.

If you choose to blanket your horse, it’s a commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly! Be sure you’re ready with these blanket management tips to help you and your horse, not just survive, but thrive through the winter months.

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



Connect with Dr. Michelle DeBoer on:


Horse blanketing research – 

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

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

– 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)

– 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 (00:01):

Hi, I'm Katy.

Dr. Tania Cubitt (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 (00:15):

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.

Katy Starr (00:27):

If you missed our previous episode, episode 71, we chatted with Dr. Michelle DeBoer about her research and the results they found so far in involving horse blanketing. Be sure to download and listen to that one if you haven't had a chance to yet. We're so excited to share part two today of our interview with Dr. DeBoer on some practical tips for horse blanketing and proper management to keep our horses healthy and happy through the winter season. 

We've talked about a lot of the research you've done and now I would love for us to talk a little bit more about how horses keep themselves warm and if they end up needing to have a blanket, how do we use it, what should we choose? Just some very practical things like that that I think will help our listeners decide if it's the right decision for them and then how to do it properly. Speaking of, because you had just mentioned about some of the physiological processes that horses use to help keep themselves warm. What are some of those that we can talk about and better understand for our horses?

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (01:29):

Some physiological processes they have to stay warm. I guess one of the most obvious is going to be their hair coat. As you saw in like the previous study or heard in the previous study we talked about, their hair is going to get longer when it's winter, when the days get shorter, it's going to get colder and their hair coat will adapt in that way. I've mentioned the word a few times that the other way the hair coat can help is through piloerection. Ultimately, what happens is it's basically like horse goosebumps and so the horse hair is going to stand up on end and what it does is it traps air between those hair follicles that are standing up. And so in doing this, it acts almost like a wetsuit. I'm a scuba diver, so I love the analogy that you wear a wetsuit and it's not to keep you dry, it's because it traps that thin layer of air between your skin and the wetsuit, that insulation.

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (02:15):

And so now what happens is, instead of me swimming out in the ocean and losing my body heat to this cold ocean water, which even if it's warm, it's still colder than our body temperature, it's going to, that's going to make us cold really, really quickly. By wearing that wetsuit and trapping that thin layer of water between our skin and the wetsuit, now that's only forcing us to warm up that little bit of water surrounding us and it's going to help us maintain our temperature as well. We're not going to be losing as much heat because we're not in constant exposure to this cold water. Piloerection acts in a similar way by creating that insulated layer of air rather than the horse continuously releasing their body heat to the environment and the air surrounding them, they only have to warm up that thin layer surrounding them and it kind of creates this nice little bubble that they have.

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (03:00):

And that's where some of the debate has been on with our blanketing is that, oh, if I'm blanketing, I'm packing down that hair coat. Am I reducing that natural ability they have to stay warm. That's where the layer of insulation you have has to be proportionate to the, what you're losing from kind of laying that hair flat. The other thing that would impact piloerection would be if it rains, snow didn't impact it as much as when their hair gets wet and you see it slick down and packed down, they can't go through that piloerection and then they also have that wet water on them that's also going to be taking out their heat. That's why raining is one of the times when I choose to blanket because it just impacts that natural ability to stay warm. We also might see a horse shiver and so shivering is not something we want to be sustained for long periods of time.

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (03:48):

Normally if I see a horse shivering, especially if it's a shivering for more than a couple of minutes, that's when I'm going to figure out, okay, what am I going to do to help them? So whether it's bringing them into a barn or blanketing them, but shivering would be a physiological process to stay warm, but it takes so much energy to do it and it can just really impact their health. I mentioned again earlier, vasoconstriction when we're cold we're going to just minimize the blood flow that'll reach the surface of the skin because the blood, when it's reaching the surface, we'll see some heat dissipation in that process. So if I want to conserve that heat to my core, I'm going to have more of that blood flow in the core of my body and reduce it to any extremities or the surface. And so that's why, you know, like when we're outside and we're cold, our fingertips might be the first thing to get cold is because we're restricting that blood flow to those areas.

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (04:38):

And then I'd say one of the biggest things that you can do to help your horse stay warm in terms of tailoring to those physiological processes, is going to be increasing their hay intake. So that is going to be a huge thing you can do because hay is going to have a lot of fiber in it and that fiber is going to be fermented in the hindgut and then heat is going to be a byproduct of that fermentation process. So really their hindgut is basically acting like this really neat internal furnace that's going to work to keep them warm. So I know a lot of people, I used to do it when I first got my horse and I was 17 and I'd, it'd be a cold winter day and I'd bring her a brand mash and I get this nice warm brand mash because we again sometimes anthropomorphize and we are like, oh I want a soup, I want oatmeal, I want these warm things on this cold day. But that's not going to help your horse as much as it would to be giving them this hay and this fiber that is going to just internally heat them up. And so we can do, there's actually an equation you can do to determine how much more hay you need depending on how cold it is. But if your horse even just has free choice access to hay on those really cold days, assuming they're healthy enough to be able to handle free choice hay, that's one of the best ways you can help them stay warm.

Katy Starr (05:51):

Yes. Excellent. Yeah, thank you for going through all this. In your mind, just based off of the research that you've done so far and just kind of observations and things like that, generally what you see and, and again I know that you say every horse is different, right? We know this to be true, that we can't just set one thing to be the same for all horses because they all are all different. But what types of horses need to be blanketed and then what kind of factors influence that need for them?

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (06:22):

Yeah and I guess I'm going to kind of flip that question around quick and start with what kind of horses typically do not need to be blanketed? I would begin by saying that if a horse has access to shelter and they have access to adequate and typically a very constant forage source, a lot of horses are adapted and do just fine by using that hay by having access to shelter. And that a lot of times will help them stay warm. I've mentioned that's not always going to be the case, right? Using those individual characteristics, what's your horse's behavior? Are they shivering, are they losing weight consistently over the winter where they're obviously having a hard time maintaining those energy sources that they have. But the horses that I always kind of keep on the radar of like hey, that might be one I want a blanket is a lot of times body condition score is going to be my huge factor.

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (07:10):

If I have a horse that's really thin, which also we see a lot of times with like our geriatric, our older horses that also might have a harder time consuming forage that is going to act to heat that internal furnace. Those are going to be horses I'd typically blanket. So if I had a rescue like one horse I bought, you know, I got her and she was like a three and a half four going into winter and I was like, I want all her energy to be going to gaining weight or maintaining weight, I'm going to blanket her to help her not have to use that to maintain her body temperature. And I would say that's going to be, you know, one of the big ones is thinking of the horses who need those energy sources to help go to other things versus going to staying warm. Some older horses do just fine and some older horses, they really just need the extra help.

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (07:54):

It really, I’ll kind of evaluate them based on their body condition score, how they handle eating hay, those type of things will be involved. But I guess other than that it's horses who are clipped. If you body clip your horse and you take away that natural way for them to stay warm, those horses are going to need then the artificial blanket to stay warm since they don't have the hair coat, horses who might have relocated. So I mentioned my horse who came up from Texas and she's still struggled with growing her hair coat and I just monitor her every year and kind of see where she's at along with that. But some people say if a horse comes up before that autumnal equinox, that they'll be fine, that they'll be able to adapt. Anecdotally, I've seen varying results from that. So that's something I'd love to study as well is you know, if you're switching climates, how long does it take a horse to adapt to the changes?

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (08:44):

Those would be a few things I would ultimately consider. And then my big thing that I just think about is, I pay attention to the weather. And again, most horses will do just fine if they have adequate hay and they have access to a shelter. Our schoolies, our horses that we have here are never blanketed unless I'm doing research with them and they have shelter, they have unlimited hay, they have unlimited water and they all do just fine even when it's raining and windy and all of that. We monitor them though, I guess I shouldn't say all of them. We occasionally will have one or two that might start dropping weight and then we handle them accordingly, whether that's blanketing or giving them extra feed. But I personally will blanket at least one of my horses when it's windy, rainy, and a little bit chilly just to help them out.

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (09:26):

But then I pull the blankets when the weather gets better. So they might be blanketed for a day or two, they might be blanketed for a week or so, but you know your horse best and you know when they're, they're uncomfortable or what weather conditions they can handle and it's just, and then also what you can handle. I used to board my horse. I couldn't change blankets regularly because I couldn't drive 30 minutes to go see her two times a day and pull her blanket off at in the morning and put it back on at night. That's something else that needs to be considered is what are your capabilities as a horse owner to keep them comfortable in those blankets?

Katy Starr (09:56):

Right. Do foals ever need to be blanketed?

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (10:00):

We have a breeding program here and we'll blanket our newborn foals and so when, ours will sometimes be born in February March and so when they're young and they're not, they don't live outside, we just turn them out for chunks of time and we give them their blankets some foals like now that they're weanlings, they all live outside all winter long and we don't blanket them at all and they do pretty good because they're adapted to the climates and the temperature. It's something I would monitor because our younger horses are going to have a very big surface area to like body volume or body mass ratio. Any of those horses who do have more surface area are just going to be more productive or more efficient at dissipating heat versus conserving heat. And so that's why horses like our draft horses who you know have this big volume and not as much surface area and comparison will conserve heat better than some of our other horses. I'd monitor them but as I mentioned our foals even are, they're six, seven months old right now and they live outside all winter with shelter, water, hay and they all do really well. I would say it's probably a horse-by-horse basis and what your management practices are at your barn.

Katy Starr (11:05):

Right. And based off of I guess research that has been done across this topic, do we know well enough if a horse is blanketed maybe one winter or maybe over a few winters and then like later maybe it's again because they're moving or anything like that, do we know if there will be any kind of impact on hair growth if they're blanketed before they have the opportunity to grow out their hair?

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (11:32):

No, there has not been research on that. Again added to the list of things I would love to do. I guess my professional thoughts on it based on other work that's been done is that with the photo period being that main driving force in terms of their hair coat, that when you saw from like my blanketing and hair coat length project was basically if they were blanketed or not blanketed by March they were at the exact same hair coat length and diameter, like they all returned to that baseline. My assumption would be that those horses, as long as they're kind of maintained the same throughout the summer and everything and you don't blanket them, like they'd probably be adjusting to that photo period and that cold exposure, and they'd probably go back to what they were doing. But that's all just speculation. 

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (12:19):

In terms of climate, that's one where I'd be very curious as to, which I guess could maybe relate to blankets, but I've seen quite a few horses that have come out of southern climates and they've really struggled to adapt a hair coach to our climates and our temperature changes. I think that would be very interesting to see. Do they just go back like or you know, even if you have a horse moving, like we have horses who are up here in the summer and they go down to Florida in the winter, you know, what changes do we see based on them being exposed to different temperatures at different times of the year.

Katy Starr (12:49):

Right. Do you think, and again this is probably a kind of a speculation type of answer for you I'm sure, but a horse that is clipped often, would that have any impact on hair growth?

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (13:01):

I've wondered that as well and yeah, again, I clipped my horse one winter I was told if I had to, if I wanted to show her she had to be clipped and so that was the one year I did it and I mean she bounced back fine but I'd be very curious at how that would impact their hair growth and hair changes when it does come back in.

Dr. Tania Cubitt (13:20):

I think anecdotally 100% if you clip your horses regularly it does change. It does alter their hair growth. I know even with my dog I've clipped, he's an Australian shepherd and I've clipped like they call it his pants like the backs feathers and it did not, it has not grown back the same way. But yeah friends that have horses that have been clipped their whole life and then they go into retirement and don't get clipped anymore, sometimes the hair will then just grow really long and weird. I think it does change the way the hair will grow.

Katy Starr (13:54):

If it's frequent. I imagine that it could if it was frequent like if it, if they were clipped often. But there again I think, you know, the cool thing about this episode is we're just going to have like so many studies popping up here. You'd be like all right students come on .

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (14:09):

I know, well I've thought about the clipping one a lot because I'm like, I bet I could just get people at a local barn or I could just be like, hey after you clip your horse can I just take samples of that horse and one of the other horses to have as a control? I'm like, it wouldn't take a lot of money. It would mostly just be taking time and people willing to participate but so many people in the area are so willing to help but I'm like, I've been very curious because I have heard it can impact how the hair comes back. Like the not only the consistency of it but like now you're kind of throwing off the hair growth in relation to the photo period. So how's the body adapting to that? So I think there are so many variables involved with that and it would be very interesting. And like those who only do like trace clips or they only, do you only clip part of the body? Like what are the differences we see there? I think there's a lot of potential with clipping horses that has not been evaluated yet.

Katy Starr (14:57):

Yes. For horse owners that are new to ownership or maybe even just new to blanketing in general, if they discover that their horse maybe needs to be blanketed. I know that you talked about this is going to be kind of a part of your new research that's upcoming, but do you have any kind of advice or tips for the time being for those people? What do they need to look for I guess for warmth versus lightweight versus heavyweight and how do we know if a blanket is too heavy for our horse and we need to either give them a lighter blanket or how frequently we need to be switching it out?

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (15:32):

Yeah, my advice especially to new horse owners, because I wish I had this is when I was a new horse owner that was when I maybe overcompensated more where I didn't know. So I was like oh I need to put shipping boots on her all the time. I guess it goes back to that minimalist thought of less is more and a lot of horses do fine without blankets and so if your horse is in that category like don't stress out about it, don't go overboard. I always think it's good to have a blanket like just at least a medium weight blanket on hand in case your horse needs it so you're not scrambling when there's like an ice storm and your horse is shivering. But overall I'd say if you do decide to blanket and you know if your horse is a horse that warrants that, regularly checking your blanket…

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (16:11):

So medium weight versus heavy weight feeling underneath it, how warm is the horse underneath it? Again, if they're nice and toasty that's probably not what they want. So I would gravitate of like I don't want them cold under there right? But I want to make sure that they're also not hot to the point where they may begin sweating and then checking under it regularly. So you know again I used to board at barns and horses would have a blanket on in October and it would last through March and you don't know what's going on under there like rain rot, body condition score changes, weight loss, like what's happening and I think it's valuable to check under a blanket at least every couple of days. You know, you can maybe push it out to once a week but the more you check it the sooner you are going to be able to catch something that could negatively impact your horses' health.

Dr. Tania Cubitt (16:55):

Here's something else that's crazy that I see right when people start blanketing their horses again I get questions on, oh my horse is allergic, my horse is allergic to something they're eating. Oftentimes they see it right around the collar of where the blanket is pressing on them. Maybe it's poor fitting or everybody launders their blankets over in the spring and hangs them. It could be insects, it could be maybe there's a spider in there or something or sometimes they're allergic to the detergent that was used. So I think especially if you're new to that horse in the beginning, you should definitely be checking regularly like you say because you've got to be seeing is something happening under there that if you waited a week and then you took the blanket off and you could have weeping welts or sores from something, you know, I think you can tell if your horse is a bit irritated or itching but I do get a lot of questions in the beginning of the season that they think their horse is allergic and yeah oftentimes they're allergic to the detergent in the blanket and it's not something they've actually eaten.

Dr. Tania Cubitt (18:02):

So that's something else.

Katy Starr (18:04):

That's interesting. Yeah, definitely.

Dr. Tania Cubitt (18:07):

Weird but yes .

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (18:08):

Yeah I've also heard with like the waterproofing, if you don't use the right waterproofing that a lot of times you can decrease the breathability of the blanket and that it's more likely to trap moisture, it's more likely to cause rain rot. So yeah the products and so just being able to, if you are washing it, making sure you're washing it correctly and using the correct products with it and yeah then blanket fit, right? Is going to be huge.

Katy Starr (18:32):

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You talked about how often and that was one of my questions because I remember seeing a post in a Facebook group once where a gal was just kind of flabbergasted because she had had her horse's blanket on all winter and I don't think she'd ever taken it off because then when she took it off like had lost some body condition, which being blanketed I guess would, you wouldn't necessarily believe that to be true but like the horse did not look the way it did when the blanket was put on the horse and so that's kind of really scary if you think about how long something can be going on and then just causing discomfort and just unnecessary stress for the horse.

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (19:53):

Yeah and I think that's an issue is when you have a blanket on and you can't necessarily like it might look fine, right? You see their neck, you see their head, you see their legs, you're like okay everything's intact, we're all good. But a lot can go on under there and yeah, I'd say if you're, anytime you go out to see your horse you'd at least want to check under it. But frequently as you can check, like that's how like for me with my horses I body condition score every time I work with them just because I'm like I'd rather catch something now. I'd rather catch them gaining or losing weight like right away. And I think it's the same with blanketing of, the more you check them the more you're going to see it. And I think that's one thing that does need to be considered with blanketing is as I said, like I blanket some and I don't blanket some of my horses and I don't think there's a right or wrong but if you do choose to blanket your horse you need to be a responsible blanketer, like a responsible horse owner where you understand what it's going to do and you understand that you can commit to either checking them regularly or paying someone else to check them where they can make sure they're not sweaty, they can make sure it fits, they can change blanket weights as needed through the season.

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (20:54):

And so just being able to, if you make that decision, making sure you have the time to also commit to preserving the horse's health with that as well. It's just going to be more time intensive than if you chose not to blanket.

Katy Starr (21:07):

Right. Can you speak to a little bit about finding the proper sizing for proper fit on the horse? Because obviously you don't want one that's too big but you also don't want one that's too small, you know to create rub marks and things like that. So what are some tips for being able to figure out sizing for your horse?

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (21:23):

First just say you want to follow whatever manufacturer you're buying the blanket from. Typically to measure the horse for a blanket you're going to go from the middle of their chest, so you'll get like a cloth measuring tape, middle of the chest and then then you typically go all the way back to the tail. It depends like the middle of the tail is normally where you'll stretch it all the way back to. I've seen some people who you know they might prefer a shorter length or a longer length and you can adjust that accordingly to, you just want to make sure it kind of covers that whole length of your horse well, and then what you'd want to do is it's really tricky, it's kind of like, I don't know, finding a brand of jeans you like is you're going to find a blanket style that works for your horse.

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (22:02):

I know I've tried blankets that are more designed for stock horses and they just drown my horses and I'm like okay we’ve got to go back to the drawing board. Certain blanketing companies will have recommendations of like oh if you have a thinner horse or a horse with a high neck carriage or things like that, those can be good guidelines to finding a blanket that works for you but it's not necessarily as easy as one size fits all. Like a 72 inch for one blanket brand is going to fit differently than a 72 inch for another. And so I think that's something that's good to be aware of because I used to be like oh 72 inches it works and now I'm like I am a little more specific of like hey I want this brand, I want this style because I know it doesn't rub my horse.

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (22:41):

It fits them really well. They have some ways to adjust them. When you do try it on, I'd say some things you want to pay attention to are you want to make sure that it's not too like not only the length of like chest to tail but also how far it drops down in that term of length is you're going to want it to fall below the barrel but you want it to also be above the knee and so you don't want one that it looks like an oversized dress on your pony. When you end up putting that blanket on, you're going to want to, so you'll either have surcingles like two straps or a belly band. So you want to again do them according to what the manufacturer say says, typically the straps you'll cross over to opposite sides and then you want it so hands width is going to be your main measurement you're going to use.

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (23:23):

So for the belly bands you want that hands width between the bands and the horse's belly. When you're doing leg straps you want a hands width between the leg strap and the hind leg of the horse typically also between that and the withers as well. And then a flat hand should be able to slide around that shoulder area of the horse. And so those are some things you can check. The reason that's important is because if it's too long, like you might say oh it's okay even though it's long the horse like you know especially when they're laying down, if they're getting up they might get their foot caught in that band and that could cause that entanglement. Same with those leg straps. But then if they're too tight, imagine like even when we're like sitting down and getting up how your body shape kind of changes. If you tighten that surcingle band all the way, it's going to be a little bit difficult for your horse to move. It might lead them to either breaking the blanket or impacting how they're, how much they're laying down or things like that. You want enough movement that the horse is free to move, there's no chafing, there's no discomfort but you don't want too much where it can lead to things like entanglement or problems.

Katy Starr (24:25):

Yeah that makes a lot of sense. And for a horse that has never really worn a blanket, I'm sure you probably wouldn't want to wait until it was to the point where oh it's really cold, the weather out there is just horrendous, like we need to get put this blanket on the horse, but they've never worn one before. Probably not the best, most ideal situation but what are your ideas for best acclimating a horse to getting used to wearing one if they haven't worn one before?

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (24:51):

So I guess it goes in terms of like are you thinking of how the horse might react to a blanket, like them being scared of one or physiologically how their body would respond to one?

Katy Starr (25:01):

Well I guess it could be either way to be honest.

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (25:04):

I mean most horses I've been around, they seem to tolerate blankets very well and I'd say like training wise of getting them used to it is you know making sure you have someone to hold them and being able to like bring that blanket up and not just like throwing it up and over them right away like a big scary tarp getting on them but finding ways to make sure they see it, make sure they're comfortable with it, reading their body language and adjusting appropriately. But just making it a really positive experience as you place it on and work with it. Making sure you have a handler that can handle the horse if they do get scared and want to move or run away like that could just make it even more of a negative situation. It also, depending on the horse, it probably wouldn't hurt to like lunge them in or get them used because you might like put it on, you're like oh they're great and you turn them out and then they're like, what's on me? It's eating me!

Katy Starr (25:48):

Something's touching me. .

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (25:50):

Exactly. It's like my put hoof boots on my horse and she's like, what's happening? Like what's going on? I'd say adjusting them just where they felt comfortable with it. I would say that like I blanket my horses only when the weather gets bad. I mentioned like one she gets blanketed a little more than the other one who's normally naked most of the time unless it's like really raining or really windy. But really I think acclimation wise, as long as like I typically am not going to put them from naked to a big thick heavyweight blanket but I'll kind of wait before, oh the weather's going to get bad, it's going to rain. I don't wait till after it's started raining and my horse is soaking wet and then I let it go on then. And then again this is not scientific, this is my personal preference but normally what I'll do is I'll put that blanket on them for those conditions and then I wait for a day when it's warmer. So just warmer than what it's been typically like above zero and a day that's nice and sunny and not really windy and that's when I pull the blanket off and let them acclimate back to not having one on in a way that's hopefully not as stressful on their body as being like, hey it stopped raining but it's still minus 20. Like good luck .

Katy Starr (26:54):

Right. If a horse ends up getting wet, like let's say it's raining a lot and they end up getting wet and you need to take off their horse blanket and probably put a new one on, is it best to let them fully dry like get them in a barn or shelter or something like that if you have that option before you put on another blanket?

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (27:14):

Yes it is. So I would definitely like that's going to be your ideal scenario is letting your horse fully dry before you put another blanket on. However, I would say lately, like before it used to be like never blanket a wet horse and I would say I've seen more reputable sources being like you blanket a wet horse and you feel them later and the blanket's going to wick that moisture away, the horse is going to end up being dry. Like yes like a lot of that moisture will end up evaporating. Do you have a higher risk of rain rot probably, right? Because now you have some of that blanket or moisture in that blanket and I've had it before where I've had no other choice but to throw that on a wet horse and a lot of times, I'll take the blanket off and later it becomes a little crunchy because the water that sits in the lining will freeze.

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (27:57):

So it wouldn't be something I'd do as like a long-term solution. But like you said, if I came out and I found my horse was wet and or maybe the rain sheet they got wet underneath it and I was swapping things out, I would rather probably if it was like a really bad situation or where it was really cold or it really warranted a blanket, I'd put a blanket on them if they were wet if I did not have time to dry them. But I just monitor them very closely and then my goal would be to ideally switch that blanket out in a relatively short amount of time where I could then let that blanket dry before I used it again. So I guess my answer would be ideally keep them dry, you're going to have a lot less problems but don't avoid blanketing a horse because you don't have time to dry them if you think it'll benefit them. And I think it was University of Kentucky is the one where I was reading where they're like that's okay, put it on a wet horse if you need to. But there's just be aware of paying attention after and making sure you're not getting rain rot or anything.

Katy Starr (28:50):

Right, right. It's almost like looking at like what, what's kind of like the greatest risk like in this scenario? Like what's the better of the situations or what's worse of the situations that you would like to have for your horse?

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (29:02):


Katy Starr (29:03):

And then if a horse has rain rot but they normally wear a blanket, is that a situation where they really should have that blanket removed and how would you I guess go about that?

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (29:14):

Yeah, so I guess I'll start with the disclaimer that I've been very fortunate where I don't have to deal with, I've never had to deal with rain rot on any of my horses. And so I guess my first recommendation would be talking to your vet and making sure you're following the practices that your vet would recommend for that specific case. because I know rain rot can be on this huge spectrum of how severe it is for the horse. I think some considerations you'd need to make is, especially with that rain rot, if it's impacted your horse's hair coat, they might need to be blanketed from losing some of that hair and having some of those bare spots, by general assumption with that is you could blanket but you'd want to make sure it's definitely a dry blanket, you won't want any moisture associated with that blanket.

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (29:55):

Making sure that you check that blanket regularly and you're probably going to need to take it off as much as you possibly can to allow for some of that circulation to allow for some of that healing because the rain rot, it's going to thrive in those like damp and warm areas and so you don't want to create this environment where it's thriving. So you'd want to make sure you talk with your vet, get on a good treatment plan if that treatment plan allows blanketing and there's no other option. because you know if you had access to like a heated barn and your horse was fine in a stall, maybe that would be an alternative that you could do in those scenarios. But just making sure the horse is completely dry before placing it, making sure that there aren't any wet or damp blankets. But I guess the biggest recommendation would be if you could prevent it by monitoring those things ahead of time, that would be ideal. And then otherwise your vet could help you create that treatment plan and determine you know, how necessary that blanketing would be for that specific horse.

Katy Starr (30:48):

Right. Prevention is always the best option in everything really. , you kind of mentioned this a little bit about how one of your horses, you know, is a little bit used to a different type of climate and everything and determines kind of a little bit how, how you blanket. But what if a horse owner does end up moving across the country to a completely different area and I guess maybe it would be probably towards that like colder time of year. What are some ideas for transitioning the horse to just kind of get them used to that a little bit better than kind of a more of a shock to them?

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (31:22):

Yeah, I think it goes back to making sure we're maximizing hay, right? We're giving them a lot of that natural way to be increasing that heat production is one thing I'd be monitoring. And again, it's going to be dependent, like my metabolic horse, I'm not necessarily going to be like giving them a ton of high calorie forage, I'd have to adjust that accordingly. But for those horses who can handle it, forage is going to be kind of the first thing I'm going to do, making sure they have a shelter. But if those horses are moving, especially like in the fall or after, so you're going to need to help them in some way, shape or form. So blanketing is probably going to be something that's necessary for at least that season until they really have that time to adapt to the climate. But as we talked about earlier, you'll, it'll probably be, you know, a horse-by-horse basis and how they're handling that adaptation period of are they growing the hair coat accordingly or are they struggling a bit and maybe they're still growing that warm climate coat that you need to continue to assist them with for years to come.

Katy Starr (32:21):

Right, right. Excellent. Okay, we're kind of getting to the end here and one of the things that we kind of talk about basically is like blanketing is not something that you can really put it on and forget it type of situation. Can you, you know, as we're starting to kind of close out this episode, why is that such an important thing to consider?

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (32:42):

I guess the biggest thing for making sure it's not just like a put it on and forget it is, monitoring your horse's health underneath. So we mentioned that we're going to see all those, we can see changes that happen that we cannot observe because of the blankets hiding it. So I'd say that's going to be a huge one. And I'd also say like there are physiological changes that we do see that happens from blanketing and we just need to be aware of them and make sure we are managing our horses accordingly to like what we're seeing and making sure we're not just throwing a blanket on and our horses allowed to overheat underneath it or putting a blanket on and not checking that fit regularly to make sure that everything's appropriate and the horse is not going to hurt themselves. Whenever we add something that, I don't want to use the term natural, I know that that causes a lot of drama, but to an extent, you know, it's this artificial management addition that we are doing that some horses definitely do need, other horses do not. But when we are adding something like that, it's our responsibility as a horse owner to make sure we are doing that well while we're keeping the horse's welfare in mind and we're making sure that they're healthy and content in in having that on if we're not posing any inconveniences or difficulties for them in doing that.

Katy Starr (33:50):

Excellent. And are there any other takeaways overall from the conversation that we've had today that you would like to leave our listeners with when it comes to whether or not they should or shouldn't blanket their horse or how they do it or anything like that?

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (34:04):

Yeah, so I guess my huge takeaway with blanketing is, blanketing is not wrong, not blanketing is not wrong. Like there's really no right or wrong. That's a general statement and I just hate seeing that on the internet of like stop blanketing your horse or like, oh you don't love your horse, you don't blanket them. Like it doesn't go either way. And we're doing more research where hopefully we'll have better answers and we'll have more clear recommendations for everyone as they do move forward of whether or not they blanket or not. And I guess it's a lot of horses do great without a blanket and a lot of them can handle it if they're given forage and shelter and that's what a lot of them just need. But if you do choose to blanket, again, it's not wrong as long as you manage your horse properly.

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (34:48):

I guess that would be my big takeaway of you need to make the decision that's best for you and your horse, but make sure that you're just checking in regularly. And also like I really hope that people aren't so set in their ways that they're not willing to switch to the other one. Like I said, one of my horses hates blankets and she occasionally will blanket if it's rainy, but otherwise she's naked and the other one loves it. And so I'm willing to be on both sides of that debate because it really doesn't matter about me, it matters about what's going to keep my horses healthy and happy.

Katy Starr (35:19):

Excellent. Dr. Cubitt, do you have any other thoughts or anything that you'd like to add after today's conversation?

Dr. Tania Cubitt (35:25):

No, I think that Dr. DeBoer really covered everything that I've kind of anecdotally seen as well as, you know, I'm just very grateful as somebody who deals with horse owners on a daily basis that you are doing this research. I think it's really great and keep up the great work.

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (35:44):

Thank you so much. I really love it and I hope I can keep doing it to at least some capacity and get more answers for everyone.

Katy Starr (35:51):

Yes and thank you so much Dr. DeBoer for joining us today. I know our listeners are really going to enjoy these episodes that we have coming their way on horse blanketing and all the research that you've done and all of that. And so we really appreciate having you on and your time that you've spent with us.

Dr. Michelle DeBoer (36:07):

Perfect. Well thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed talking about this.

Katy Starr (36:12):

Dr. Cubitt, we have another listener who wrote in for our q and a segment that I want to ask you. So Karen would like to know, she said January 2nd, taking two weeks to go to Arizona, warmer area from Hayes, Kansas, bringing brome bales along but might have to buy some there. We do feed the Standlee Timothy Alfalfa pellets, also bringing horse blankets along just in case, but do not use them in Kansas. Horses do fine. Horse will get all paperwork completed in by the vet in December. How many miles she has a couple questions, how many miles if safe to drive per day and we stop often to check horses, trailer, et cetera. Anything else I need to know because of going from cold to warm?

Dr. Tania Cubitt (36:58):

Mm mm, and I think that we were discussing a little earlier, I think the first question that isn't really answered in the question but I would pose would be how often do you trailer your horse? Is this horse fit healthy, used to exercise, and used to trailering because I think one thing that we don't think about when we put a horse on a trailer is putting a horse on a trailer is exercise. It is very difficult for them to stand and they have to constantly shift their weight to balance in the trailer and if they're not used to that, it's going to take a lot more energy for them to do that. And if they are more accustomed to it, they're kind of used to it and they use, they know the ropes and they know it's not going to take as much energy. And also if they're conditioned and fit, then they will handle it a little better.

Dr. Tania Cubitt (37:48):

So I'm going to make the assumption because she's taking her horse with her on a trip that he's probably used to trailering. So let's make the assumption he's used to trailering and he's fit that she rides him frequently, then it's less about the miles. Hopefully you don't speed. I'm sure you don't speed. It's more about the amount of time and so you can Google, of course everybody can Google and you can find anything, you can say, some people will say get your horse stop every eight hours. The general consensus is that really more like every three to four hours you should check your horse. One I thought was really interesting and was just a good guide is every time you have to stop for gas. And I know my husband and I and our two kids take our camper and go across country and we seem to have to fill up every couple of hours.

Dr. Tania Cubitt (38:40):

So just checking your horse. Then there's different opinions as to feeding hay in the trailer or not. Again, it's what your horse is used to and the length of time that your horse, you know, this is a pretty long trip so I would imagine having some hay in your trailer would be a good idea unless they have respiratory concerns, offering them water at every stop, even if they don't drink it. I would always offer water. Getting your horse ready for the trip. They also say this is quite interesting in the research that the first hour that the horse is on the trailer is the most stressful. And so if you use any kind of ulcer, supplement or medication like Gastrogard or Ulcergard that you could give that prior to your horse getting on the trailer, that's not going to last eight, 12 hours but it's certainly going to last, going to help them in those first few hours that they're on the trailer.

Dr. Tania Cubitt (39:33):

So if you've got a horse that stresses a little bit on the trailer and takes a little bit for them to settle that you might want to do something like that or even give them a meal of alfalfa prior to getting on the trailer because that alfalfa we know is high in calcium, it's going to buffer that stomach acid, it's going to form a mat and help them there. So I think the big take home is being on a trailer is physically demanding. If your horse is used to it, then you can go a little further distance. If your horse isn't used to it then you should break it up a lot more and let them have rest periods. If it's safe getting them off the trailer and letting them really relax and move around that is good. But obviously safety first and if you're at a truck stop and it's very busy and there's nowhere for you to safely get them off, then keep them on the trailer and at least stop and offer them water. But there would be a couple of kind of generic tips for traveling and like everything, each horse is case by case, but just remember that it is very physically demanding. I can't emphasize that enough. 

Katy Starr (40:41):

Right. Are there any thoughts on going from cold to warm? I imagine that that transition's probably a little bit easier than warm to cold?

Dr. Tania Cubitt (40:50):

Well you could think of it either way, going from warm to cold, then once you get there you have to be, you know, putting blankets on and things like that. But if your horse is not used to, if they're used to cold and you put them on a trailer and you take them to a warm climate, be careful that they're not overheating also on the trailer. Be careful that you leave and you've probably got your trailer all closed up and you're not as concerned about airflow, keeping them cooler, that once you get there or once the temperature as you're getting closer and closer is starting to rise, that you're accounting for that in the trailer and you don't have it all closed up. You know that's a giant animal that is putting off a lot of heat. So maybe you had a sheet on them or you were keeping them warm when you left, you left early in the morning, it was super chilly. You have a sheet on them in the trailer halfway through, really evaluate. You need to be able to take that off, maybe open some windows, cool it down in there.

Katy Starr (41:48):

When I go into a more climate then maybe even two, just being more hyper aware of water intake.

Dr. Tania Cubitt (41:54):

Exactly hydration, getting them really hydrated before you get on the trailer as well. So how you can do that is you can add a little bit of salt to the diet the day before. Little bit more tablespoon of salt onto the feed, making sure they've got plenty of hay because hay will act like a water reservoir so that when they're in the trailer they'll be able to draw on those water stores as well. Maybe doing a wet beet pulp mash or just wetting the feed that you feed them, any way to kind of hyperhydrate them would be a good thing. The other thing is once you get there, and this is more for like going to shows, I guess not really pertaining to her situation because it sounds like she's more going to relocate and she's going to be there a while. But let's say you were traveling, you're going from a cold climate, you're going to Texas or Oklahoma or something and you're going to show, however long it takes you to get there. Say it's a 12 hour trip, at least allow 12 hours for them to fully recover. Like getting off the trailer and then trying to expect them to perform is very challenging. The longer they're on that trailer, remember it's exercise, they've worked really hard doing things that they're not usually accustomed to. So make sure you give them plenty of time to adjust.

Katy Starr (43:06):

And as always, whenever we're doing these episodes or talking about these little questions that kind of come in from listeners, just remember that everybody's situation is different and even in this particular situation, if there are any follow-up questions, we don't always necessarily have all the answers to them. So just take that with a grain of salt. Hopefully you still found this information to be beneficial, but to also don't take it fully to heart knowing that it could be different from your situation. But you can always reach out to us too if you would like to have some of your specific questions answered and we would be happy to have our PHN team help you out with that. So Dr. Cubitt, thank you for being on with us. 

Dr. Tania Cubitt (43:48):

Thank you, Katy.

Katy Starr (43:49):

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. 

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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