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Winter coats are a funny thing. Horse owners love them because they not only keep their four-legged family members warm when temperatures drop, but they also save probably hours of work over the course of a winter that otherwise would be spent putting on and removing various blankets to keep our charges warm. Yes, we love them. That is, until those coats don't grow in enough or, sometimes worse, grow in too much for the horse's workload or geographic location.
And yesterday, as I sent millions of dark brown hairs flying around the barn (and somehow into the depths of the layers I wore…) during Dorado's second body clip of the fall, I realized that most of the horses I've had winter coat wars with over the years have been either seniors or horses rapidly approaching their golden years.
Dorado is clipped each winter, so he stays bundled up in blankets until temperatures rise.
Photo: Erica Larson
Dorado, now 18, has always grown an incredibly think winter coat. It never looks like he's overly fuzzy, but his undercoat is so thick that it feels like a down comforter under there. And this would be such a fabulous thing … if he wasn't still in full work and a horse that starts sweating if you look at him funny. And, when temperatures drop and the sun is setting by the time I pull into the barn, cooling out a sweaty horse can be a recipe for disaster. For those reasons, Dorado is body clipped for the winter and I keep him warm with a combination of blankets throughout the deep freeze. And fortunately, this arrangement has worked very well for the past five years. Plus, he genuinely seems to like being all snug as a bug in a rug. What can I say … he's a Florida-bred who'd still like very much to be lounging in the Sunshine State
On the other hand, Taz—our Appaloosa gelding who lived to be 27—never grew much of a winter coat, and what he did grow was fairly wirey in texture rather than soft and downy. This would have been great if he was in constant work, but alas, it was less than helpful for trying to keep weight on a senior horse throughout the cold Michigan winters. So, like Dorado, Taz spent a lot of his winters with some type of blanket on to help conserve his calories. Still, when the days proved nice enough, he loved nothing more than to go roll in the snow sans blanket! We had to let the old man have a little fun!
Fuzzy Brandy was never cold a day in her life!
Photo: Erica Larson
Cushingoid Miniature Horse Brandy, meanwhile, grew enough winter coat (and summer coat, for that matter) for herself, Taz, Dorado, and the rest of our small herd … and maybe even that Belgian down the road. She was a hairy little thing! She really never needed a blanket, even in Michigan in January, even well into her 20s. I don't think that horse was cold a day in her life. But, she'd begrudgingly oblige when we asked her to put her little coat on when temperatures dipped below zero. And, like Taz, her first goal once we removed said blanket was to find the biggest snow drift she could and roll in it.
Comparing these three older horses always reminds me just how important it is to treat each horse—regardless of age—as an individual when it comes to blanketing—some need it, some might appreciate it even if its not a necessity, and other really don't need it. There's even some recent research indicating we can teach our horses to tell us whether they'd like their blanket on, off, or no change to their current state.
Does your senior horse grow a good winter coat? Or does he need some help in this department? Please share your experiences!
Erica Larson, News Editor, holds a degree in Journalism with an external specialty in Equine Science from Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddleseat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in three-day eventing with her OTTB, Dorado. Erica enjoys photography in her spare time.
This article appeared on TheHorse.com's website Oct 21 2014
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