Question: I just purchased an underweight Thoroughbred. The veterinarian says her teeth and parasite load are OK and has outlined a feeding program for her. I have also treated her for lice. However, with the cold weather coming soon, I’d like to blanket her to help her gain weight. What I’d like to know is how to prevent a blanket from rubbing on a horse with a protruding spine, hips and high withers. They all stick out quite a bit and I don’t want to make her situation worse with a blanket that rubs and causes sores.
Answer: Thank you for giving an underweight horse a second chance! It sounds like your new girl is lucky to have you, and you have started her on the right path with a veterinary exam and treatment for lice.
I would first suggest making sure your horse will really need a blanket. Here at Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society, I always have at least one horse in rehabilitation from neglect, but I blanket only the extreme cases. However, I’m fortunate to live in Texas where our winters are mild, with the lows rarely sinking into even the 20s. I make sure the unblanketed horses are either in stalls or have windbreaks in the pasture because our wind can be fierce, and I make sure they have ice-free water and plenty of hay to eat.
I would, however, blanket an extremely emaciated horse in the wintertime. That would be one whose body0 condition score is in the range of 1.0 to 2.0—meaning that his spine, ribs, hips and shoulders protrude significantly. Horses in the 1.0 range have very little, if any, fat to protect them from the cold. I would also blanket a somewhat thin horse if the temperatures drop to the lower 20s or teens or if he is older or ill.
I, fortunately, haven’t had an issue with blankets rubbing on my rescue horses. I think this is because I take a few precautions:
• Make sure the blanket fits well. Unfortunately, this means you may need to buy another blanket once your mare reaches a healthier weight, but blankets that are too tight or too loose are more likely to cause rubs.
• Clean your horse before you blanket. Mud and dirt caught between your horse’s skin and the blanket can cause irritation.
• Check under the blanket frequently. Remove the blanket daily, if possible, to check for signs of trouble, and adjust the fit as needed.
• Blanket only when it is really needed. If the temperature rises out of the 30s, take the blanket off.
If, despite these precautions, you do notice an irritation starting to form, a blanket liner may help. They’re softer than blankets and may be easier on sensitive skin. Some blanket liners are snuggly fitted so they don’t move much but allow the blanket to glide over the horse’s body.
Good luck with your new horse!
Jennifer Williams, PhD Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society,Waco, Texas
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #449, February 2015.