Blanketing as training


There are lots of discussions about whether to blanket,and I am thrilled that people are really thinking about this issue because there is a lot of unnecessary blanketing going on! Horses are very hardy, and prefer cooler temps. Our position has been stated and re-stated, that if a horse is comfortable without, then great! Factors include age, health, herd relationship, available access to shelter, water and food, and of course, the weather. Here in the mountains, when it’s below 10 degrees, about half of our herd is in blankets and half are fine without. Many are fine without; BUT, if you need to blanket your horse, have you TRAINED your horse to accept a blanket?
For us, training when they are young to wear a blanket is a huge process, and an important one. Wearing a blanket means having an object in both eyes, having a ‘girth’, leg straps, and having people handle your whole body. When this training is done in steps, and is rewarded and is pleasant, the horse thinks nothing of it. I was reminded about this process when I recently was working with our newer youngsters, Puck and Riley. These two still require haltering first, and preferably a second person at the head, so the blanketer can work safely and the youngster is kept calm. It’s a process that requires time and patience. Puck still likes to nip and Riley can get spooked.

On that day, after blanketing those two, I went into the other field to blanket our ‘older’ young boys, Comet, Blitzen, Sawyer, and Hamlet. I took the coats and slung them over the fence. The boys crowded around jovially, checking out the blankets and me, socializing. I grabbed one blanket and tossed it over the nearest back, at liberty, while another colt nibbled my ear and a third played with the straps on the blanket going onto their friend. There was ZERO fear, complete relaxation and trust. No problem whatsoever. Even when they were being rowdy, trying to tempt me into play or goofing off, they felt safe and I felt safe, even though I was in a field, with no halters, in between four young geldings (who I think of as babies still, but are between 13-15 hh). We all trust each other. Now, when these boys are old enough to start under saddle (at 4yo at least here), there is just no issue with the equipment. The saddle just becomes another thing that our horses do with their humans. It’s fun, it’s painless and it’s not scary. This is called training by professionals, but here we consider it raising our family.

Please consider this element in your blanket discussion. It is AWFUL to have a sick horse and not be able to provide basic care because the horse is untrained. So many arrive here afraid, unable to be handled or cared for…we try and sometimes we get hurt, sometimes we cannot offer as much as we would like for the horse because of training limitations. I know that some keep their horses and feel they won’t ever need a blanket, but stuff happens!
You think it can’t happen to you?
I would have thought that too, but there have been days when the training in place has saved a life. The most dramatic incident happened years ago. We had a horse fall through the earth here on our farm, into a ‘swamp’ below, where there used to be a manure pit. We didn’t even know it was there, it looked like ‘ground’ when we walked over it, but when the weight of a pregnant percheron mare walked over it, the ground collapsed, revealing that it was a thin crust over a dangerous old swampy area, like a bog. Once fallen in, she could not escape, and it was night, and we didn’t even know she was in trouble. During night check she was missing, and it was my stubborn husband looking at 10pm for the mare that saved her life. The local fire department arrived and spent two hours helping to pull the mare out. She was shaking, her core temps were so low, we had to warm her up and fast. That night, she was under three blankets, and it saved her life. We were able to help her because we could blanket and handle her. That mare NEVER wears blankets when turned out now, even when it’s -25. Molly, our lead mare. Saved because she would wear a blanket.

Something to think about.