Study: Blanketing And Equine Body Temperature

Though most horses can adapt to cold environments, many owners prefer to blanket their horses for additional protection from the elements. While there are a plethora of blanket styles, weights and varieties available, there are no standardized recommendations for blanket use.

North Dakota State University’s Drs. Carolyn Hammer and Mattia Gunkelman used four stock-type horses in a study to examine the changes in surface temperature of blanketed horses during cold weather. Each horse was fitted with three different blankets: a light blanket with no fill; a medium-weight blanket with 200 grams of fill; and a heavyweight blanket with 400 grams of fill. “Fill” is fiberfill and is what makes the blanket warm. A non-blanketed horse served as the control.

Thermographic images were taken of the backs of each horse before blanketing and again when the horses were exposed to the outside cold weather. The horses were outside with unlimited access to grass hay and water for one hour in temperatures that were -9 degrees F with a windchill of -26 degrees F. After one hour, the horses were brought indoors and the lumbar images immediately recorded. The interior temperature was 59 degrees F.

Though the temperatures were indicative of a typical winter in the upper Midwest, the cold temperatures used in the study were below the thermoneutral limit, which is the temperature at which a body can maintain its temperature without increasing heat production.

The researchers saw that horses outside for one hour had lumbar temperatures measuring 72 degrees F for horses without a blanket; 80 degrees F for horses wearing a lightweight blanket; 86 degrees F for horses wearing a mediumweight blanket; and 89 degrees F for horses wearing heavyweight blankets.

Horses wearing blankets has less or no decrease in temperature when exposed to cold temperatures compared with horses that wore no blanket, but the scientists call for additional testing over longer periods of time.

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Read the abstract here.

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