Teaching a horse to wear a blanket?
This year I am buying a winter blanket or two for my 4yr mare Belle. In the year I have owned her, I have never put a blanket on her. This winter I would like her to wear a blanket to help keep her warm and dry and also be ok with a fleece cooler. What can I do to get her used to wearing a blanket?
I am dead set against blanketing a horse unless you will be riding every day and have had to partially clip her. A horse has the ability to raise and lower and even turn it's hair to pick up a slight breeze in hot weather. In cold weather it will fluff it's coat to trap the warm air escaping it's body. And the horse is very good at this. In summer the coat is flattened close to it's body to allow the breezes to pass across to cool him. Blanketing can cause a horse to dehydrate because what you think is protecting the horse from the cold is actually causing it to overheat, especially when the sun shines. Once the bugs are done the horse will prefer to remain outside and as long as it has a barn wall to bum up against, that is it's preference. Horses are born with fur coats. Why would you want to put another coat on to of that? Just because you feel chilly don't assume the horse does.
What breed is she? how's he winter coat? some breeds don't need blankets unless the weathers really awful. Some breeds couldn't survive the winter without a blanket. I really don't blanket my mare unless it's under 10 degrees F and going to stay that cold for a long time. But our TBs need blankets if it's under 30 degrees. My mare sweats up a storm if she's got a blanket on when it's over 20 degrees F. Watch her and feel under her blanket if she's warm or even sweaty she doesn't need it.
But assuming your horse actually needs one I'd start with the smallest and least noisy one possible, your fleece cooler would be ideal. I'd fold up as small as I could get it in a way you can easily unfold it on her back. I'd go into her stall with her halter and lead on, let her smell the folded up blanket and rub it on her body. When she is calm unfold it once and repeat. When it's mostly unfolded lay it over her back and slowly unfold it, rewarding her for standing calmly and easing back if she gets too nervous. Work on it until it's laying all across her. then fold it back up and take it off. Practice a few times unfolding it on her then practice with it less and less folded to begin with, until you can swing it on not folded first at all.
Then repeat this process with some of the louder blankets (the nylon type ones if you plan on using them). This will take time but my wild mare grew to love her blankey very fast! They like to feel all snuggled up.
To get her used to a blanket, I'd start with the fleece cooler. Desensitize her to it one step at a time. Once she'll take the cooler without issue, introduce the blanket and repeat the process. If you get a blanket with a closed front (no buckles or anything), slowly work on putting it over her head after she's comfortable with it being on and around her. Blankets make a significantly different sound than coolers and can startle a horse with all the rustling.
Well, my horses are blanketed on nights under 40, and they come running in for blanket time- they love it. They never go more than 45 degrees the next am before I take them off. We show all winter, and my mare grows massive hair- then sweats like a pig at her jumper shows.
I put a fleece on the mare to teach her, and stood aloof and watched. Never flinched. Now she wears a cooler fleece blanket whatever...doesn't phase her. Gelding was born asleep I think...so nothing phases him.
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I think saddlebag+PunksTank+SEAmom pretty much covered it.
However, I wanted to add my own opinion cuz...I have one. :lol:
1) I think it's important for all young horses to be familiar with blanketing so kudos for getting your girl used to it.
Personally I'm not a huge fan of blanketing young horses due to the reasons Saddlebag explained. However there are a myriad of reasons why a horse might need to suddenly+unexpectedly be blanketed - illness, etc, and I wouldn't want to have to go through blanket training right then, in the heat of the moment!
2) I think it bears pointing out that while many horses are equipped to deal with the cold, some horses just cannot handle it.
My 27 year old girl, though she grows a winter coat envied by wolves/woolly mammoths, just cannot deal with any sort of chill. In her case, getting a chill can cause anything from weight loss - even with plenty of hay, to an ERU episode and costing her more of her already waning vision.
Physically she appears to be able to handle the cold - based on her coat, but in real life, being cold can have catastrophic results for her.
I certainly would not blanket a horse that could handle it but it's unreasonable to paint every horse owner who blankets with the same "that's bad for the horse" brush.
Anyway, I know, OP, that that does not particularly bear on your circumstance but it bears on the topic, I suppose.
Another idea for desensitizing your girl, OP, is to start with a fly sheet. Since it's still warm out, she might have a better reaction to something that doesn't add heat.... :)
I don't blanket unless it's absolutely frigid and miserable. It was a fairly mild winter last year so I got by without blanketing. But like many have mentioned, it's not a bad thing to have my horse used to. Last year when I rode, I was careful to not work my mare up into too much of a sweat, but I feel like this year would be a good idea to get her ok with a fleece cooler so she can dry off and stay a little warmer.
Belle does do really well with desensitizing exercises, so I will start out with the cooler since its not as noisy or heavy as a turnout blanket.
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