That's the question at this time of year!
And it's a loaded topic for sure. I'm going to start this blog with my disclaimer because I expect to get some messages about this one!
The thoughts and ideas shared on this blog are mine and mine only. It is opinion-based and these opinions do not reflect the ideas, ideologies, or points of view of any organization I link to here. I will add that my advice should not be perceived as professional advice when it comes to horse training or feeding or hoof trimming. I share what is working (and what is not working) for my horses in my situation here in Montana. Where you are things may be different.
Phew! We got that out of the way and now I'll go on to share my thoughts and yes, my opinions.
Very often people care for horses as though they were human. They lock them up in safe stalls at night and cover them layer after layer of fluffy blankets. They wrap them head to toe in fabrics meant to wick away water and to keep them warm. But does your horse actually need all that? Here is where the differences lay. There are those that feel their horses do need all this and will get sick without them. There are others that believe horses are fine out in the weather if provided with enough forage/hay. There are those in the middle who blanket as needed.
What do I do?
My ponies are out in the weather. I rarely, rarely blanket. They haven't had shelter very often through out our winters as my shelters were used to store hay. This year they do have a little shed and they stand in it and behind it and beside it. They look for wind breaks more than they look for roofs. They do not get blanketed even if we go below zero and have wind.
My ponies grow long thick hair coats - natures "blanket" if you will. These hair coats were designed to fluff up and hold the warmth close to the skin while allowing the moisture to cling to the ends of the hair.
Something very interesting happens when they get a layer of snow on their backs. The snow itself acts as insulation. When my ponies have this I never remove it until after the storm has passed. The snow helps the hair trap the warmth against the skin and the ponies are quite happy!
When DO I blanket?
I will blanket my ponies if I have to haul them in the winter. Especially if we haul to an indoor arena where they work and get sweaty and then I have to haul them home. I don't want them to get a chill from riding in a breezy horse trailer. I will often double blanket at this time using a polar fleece cooler against the pony, to help dry the hair and then put the water proof (and wind proof) blanket on top. If it's cold and dark when I get home then they will keep the blanket on all night until it slightly warms up the next day because their hair will be flattened by the blanket and I don't want them to get chilled.
If I work a pony here at home and they get sweaty I do NOT blanket (unless the wind is howling and it's snowing or raining) but allow them to roll in the snow and dry on their own. Doing it this way let's their hair get all fluffy, once they are dry, and they will have their natural insulation again.
If it's rainy and windy and COLD then I will often put a water proof blanket on until it stops raining. Remember I am in Montana so we don't get rain for days and days on end. So this means they may wear a blanket over night but rarely longer than that.
If I had a horse that could not or did not grow an adequate winter coat, an old horse, or a very skinny horse, I would blanket but I would also want an indoor option for them.
Where we live some of our neighbors blanket their horses and I see them shivering and shivering on our cold winter days, hunched against the cold. While the unblanketed horses across the road are happy and warm in their fluffy winter coats. I don't believe a man made blanket can keep a horse as warm as the one nature grows for them.
There are a few good articles out there about blanketing horses. Below are a few that I found helpful: