The practice of horse blanketing continues to be weighed for its pros and cons, but recent research done by Michelle DeBoer, Ph.D. is shedding more light on the topic.
In her study, DeBoer and her team of researchers took 16 horses similar in age, breed, and body weight and separated them into two equal groups. Half of the horses were blanketed, while the other half were not.
DeBoer arranged the study so that the living conditions for both sets of horses were identical. Each set of horses was housed in an outdoor paddock and given the same variety of grass-legume hay. There was no limit put on the amount of food they were given, giving them the opportunity to consume as much as they required.
At the conclusion of the study, DeBoer and her team found that there was a difference in the amount of hay that each group ate. Although each group had equal access to the same kind of feed, the difference was undeniable. The unblanketed horses consumed 2.51% of their overall body weight. However, the blanketed horses seemed to consume less, consuming around 2.31% of their body weight.
Although there was a discrepancy in the amount of feed consumed, researchers found that it did not make much of a difference to the horse’s overall body weight or body condition. Both groups remained similar in body weight and condition even though the unblanketed group ate nearly two additional pounds of hay, per day.
So what exactly does this all mean?
DeBoer believes the blanketed horses voluntarily reduced their food intake. However, she warns against using this method as a way to get by feeding the horses less over an extended period of time. Altering or withholding the proper amount of feed could result in GI disruption and even cause ulcers.
As the study shows, reduced feedings are not an adequate way to encourage weight loss in horses. While the blanket might reduce the amount of feed the horse wants, it also provides body warmth. This will cause the horse to expend less energy keeping himself warm. Exerting less energy means possible weight gain for the horse.
So what are the benefits of blanketing horses?
Horse blankets can be used for a short period if there is a food/hay shortage and food supplies are limited. They can also add to the comfort of the horse during the cold months. While the blanket can help in shortage situations, it should not be used as a long-term money-saving strategy. The costs of care associated with horse blankets will not result in any major savings in the long run.
Horse blankets should always be used with care and checked regularly to make sure they are the proper size, weight, and fit. The horse should be checked daily to make sure he isn’t overheating or experience any dampness or rubbing from the blanket.
DeBoer recommends checking on and evaluating horses daily is key. So if you choose to use horse blankets, make sure you are prepared to invest the time they require for proper use.