Can cover a blanket

Cover, cover, cover - the veterinarian explains the correct setting in the spring transition

Every spring the same question arises in all horse lovers' stables: cover, cover or leave, thick blanket, thin blanket or just something against rain? In order to find a sensible solution, every horse owner should consider the natural thermoregulation of the horse and also take into account the posture of his four-legged friend.

Like other mammals, horses have to keep their internal body temperature constant in order to maintain organ functions and metabolic processes without any problems. This so-called core temperature does not leave much room for maneuver, so that the thermoregulation has to function reliably. Adult horses have a body temperature of around 38 ° Celsius. Your comfort temperature for the environment, on the other hand, is between + 20 ° to - 10 °. When the days get warmer and the temperature drops again at night, a natural heat mechanism of the horse intervenes to keep the core temperature at the same level. The four most important components of this thermoregulation are the horse's skin, blood vessels, fur and sweat glands.

Natural temperature regulators

An important part of thermoregulation is the horse's skin, which serves as an insulating layer and also gives off heat to the outside. The fur also has an insulating effect, whereby its warming function naturally depends on the length of the hair, the degree of moisture and any soiling or adhesion. Twice a year there is a change of coat, which is triggered by the so-called photoperiodism. Sensors in the horse's skin react to the different lengths of daylight. The outside temperature also has an influence, so that thicker and longer hair grows in colder climates. The horse can strengthen its "cuddly fur" through the classic goose bumps reaction. The fur stands up when the four-legged friend freezes and thereby strengthens the insulating layer.

To protect against moisture and other influences, the horse's hair is covered with a greasy layer, which makes it water-repellent and the moisture flows off the outer hair layer. The thicker the hair, the less chance water has of getting to the skin. Regular brushing or shearing of the hair removes the protective layer of sebum so that the water-repellent effect is lost. After the skin and coat, the blood vessels help regulate the temperature in the horse's body. They can either widen or narrow through their own muscles in the vessel wall. If certain areas should no longer be completely supplied with heat in favor of the internal body temperature, the vessels can therefore react to this. With a vasoconstriction, less heat reaches the body surface and the skin, which saves heat. If the horse gets too warm, on the other hand, the vessels open and more heat is transported to the skin and released to the outside.

The final component of equine thermoregulation are the sweat glands, which help cool the body. They produce sweat, which evaporates on the horse's skin and thus provides cooling. The sweat secretion stops immediately when the target value for the core temperature is reached. Then the horse has to dry quickly, otherwise there is a risk of hypothermia. In addition to these four mechanisms of thermoregulation, the horse can also warm or cool itself through its behavior. On windy, rainy days, for example, horses like to stand together in the herd and turn their tails into the wind and keep their heads down. In this way, they protect the neck, head, ears and eyes, lower abdomen and genitals from water and wind. The tails protect the back of the body - the shorter hairs on the tail fan out and shield the wind and snow.

A question of attitude

If the horse owner is only faced with the question of whether he should cover his horse or even shear it, the keeping and the described thermoregulation must be observed. Horses that spend day and night outdoors should never be sheared. In order to intervene as little as possible in the natural mechanism, such robustly kept animals should not be covered. On the one hand, they would probably find it more annoying and, on the other hand, the natural thick fur is the best protection they can have. In addition, even special rain blankets rarely withstand hours of rain shower completely, so that at the end of the day the animals stand in the paddock with a wet blanket and freezing. The situation is completely different with horses that are trained hard every day, run a lot under the saddle or are presented at tournaments.

When moving with (still) long fur, the four-legged friends quickly begin to sweat and the fur becomes wet. Since this moisture comes from “inside”, it takes a very long time until the fur is really dry again. If the sweaty horse is standing in the stable without moving, the drying process will take even longer. The longer it takes for the animal to dry, the higher the risk of colds, infections and even colic, because the metabolism and the required core body temperature are negatively influenced by the sweaty coat. Horses that are ridden and moved regularly should therefore be covered consistently when the temperatures are still cool, in order to prevent long fur from being pushed on. If the hair continues to sprout happily, these horses may have to be sheared again at the beginning of spring.

Choosing the right blanket depends on your hairstyle and stable climate. Depending on the average temperature in the stable and the time the horse spends under the rider or outdoors in the fresh air, the right equipment must be available for each temperature zone.

The right choice of ceiling

The selection and the market for horse rugs is huge - from cheap to expensive, thin to thick, rain-repellent and firm to the bite - it is easy to lose track here. That is why you have to think twice before you go shopping: What must my horse blanket really be able to do? Regardless of the model, the blanket must be clean, belong only to one horse and, above all, fit perfectly. Badly fitting blankets lead to pressure points and chafing, which are extremely uncomfortable for the horse. A sweat rug should be in the closet of every horse keeper, even if the horse is not covered. The thin and breathable blanket provides thermal protection when the horse has sweated and is slowly drying.

Horses that are dry and exposed to a cold wind at the same time begin to tremble - a clear signal that they have become too cold! The sweat rug helps to prevent this. It wicks moisture to the outside while it stays warm inside. Covering with a stable blanket over the sweat rugs is mandatory for certain horses in cool temperatures. This includes sick or emaciated animals, races from warm countries and all shorn four-legged friends. The thinnest blanket model, light and very practical, is the so-called "transitional blanket" which is often used in spring when there is no longer any frost.

If you have the opportunity, cover your horse with the thin transitional blanket during the day in spring and use a warm under-blanket as an add-on at night. Such an adjustment is very pleasant for the horse, because if it keeps its blanket on during the day in the sun at double-digit temperatures, it can start to sweat profusely. Overheating and colic can be the worst consequences.

The horse owner must therefore plan to free his horse from the blanket during the day and cover it up again in the evening, depending on the climate, which can mean an enormous effort in changeable weather. Transitional blankets, which can also be used outside in the paddock and can withstand rain, are particularly practical. More expensive models also advertise that they are suitable for large temperature fluctuations and that they can warm or cool as required. This is particularly useful for all horse owners who cannot make it to the stable twice a day.

Regardless of the thickness of the blanket and the blanket model, a waterproof (for paddock horses), tear-resistant outer coating and a good fit should be ensured. Blankets that have an antibacterial or water-conducting lining to keep the horse dry and protect against eczema are particularly high-quality. Depending on the model, the blanket can be completed with neck parts, belly and tail flaps, so that the horse is really covered from front to back. Very advisable and practical are thin chest protectors that can be fitted under the blanket like 'undershirts' to protect the skin and fur on the edge of the blanket from friction and abrasions.

Careful management

It is important to know that the artificial covering disables the horse's natural heat regulation. The horse's thermoregulation also tries to keep the uncovered parts of the body warm. However, partial warming is not possible, so that either the whole body or nothing at all can be brought up to temperature. This can cause the horse to overheat and sweat under the blanket. Blankets should therefore always be checked regularly so that no horse is wet and sweated in its box. Infections, muscle tension and other complications can be the result of such an involuntary sweating cure. The question of covering is therefore not an easy one-to-one decision, but must always be decided individually for the horse and stable. Depending on the posture, training program and personal time, the horse owner must then determine how best to deal with his four-legged friend.