Blanket Use for Geriatric Horses in Winter

Veterinarians can offer science-based guidance for horse owners regarding blanketing older horses during cold weather.

Another noteworthy finding of the study was that blanketing older horses decreased heart rate variability, thereby increased vitality of geriatric horses. iStock

Cold temperatures offer a unique challenge to geriatric horses that often suffer from musculoskeletal issues. Blankets help increase body temperature, which is key for both general and musculoskeletal comfort. A study considered changes in behavior and physiology when using blankets in winter climates [Janczarek, I.; Wiśniewska, M.; Wnuk-Pawlak, E.; Wilk, I. Effects of horse blankets on the physiological and motion parameters of geriatric horses. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 2020; doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2020.03.008].

Step length at walk and trot improved with blankets due to warming of the muscles and subsequent muscle relaxation. The authors commented, “It is recommended that thick blankets should be used at all times for geriatric horses prone to hypothermia and horses with painful muscles in the hind legs and the shoulder as the most common cause of reducing the length of the trotting step.”

The weight of blanket is significant because heavier blankets provide more insulation and can lead to overheating when climate conditions warm during the day. Even after 60 minutes of blanket removal, a horse’s surface body temperature is higher than that of a horse not wearing a blanket at all.

Another noteworthy finding of the study was that blanketing older horses also decreased heart rate variability, thereby increased vitality of geriatric horses.

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