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Science Behind Blanketing, Clipping Horse Hair CoatsBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · May 9, 2017

Many owners also spend endless hours clipping, cleaning, and blanketing their horses during cold seasons. The question is, why do they clip and blanket?

A recent survey in Scandinavia* reported that almost 100% of horse owners blanket their Warmblood-type horses in the winter and approximately 35% clip their hair coats. Science shows that recovery time after exercise actually increases with blankets but that clipped horses are better able to lose heat, which expedites recovery following exercise. However, when asked whether they believed those known facts about clipping and blanketing, approximately 50% of the survey respondents did not.

According to the researchers, these results demonstrate that many owners are clipping and blanketing without understanding the benefits and potential detriments of these traditional practices, which ultimately could be harmful to their horses.

The integumentary system, or skin, is the largest of all the body systems. Key functions of the skin and its associated structures such as sweat glands and hair include physical protection against ultraviolet light and insects, fighting infection, and perhaps most importantly, thermoregulation (regulating body temperature). Sweat evaporates and heat dissipates from the skin, and the hair coat varies immensely depending on the ambient temperature. Further, the direction that individual hairs project and the proximity of those hairs to the skin can be controlled to either conserve heat or promote heat loss.

Horses without clipping and blanketing can live comfortably in a wide range of temperatures (−40 to 40°C), prompting equine advocates to question whether or not clipping and blanketing truly benefit horses or serve simply as an aesthetic detriment.

“More research is encouraged, specifically looking at the effect of blankets on sweaty horses being turned out after intense physical exercise and the effect of blankets on social interactions such as mutual grooming. Future efforts should be tailored to disseminate knowledge more efficiently, which can ultimately stimulate thoughtful decision-making by horse owners concerning the use of blankets and clipping the horse’s coat,” concluded the researchers.

Regardless of whether you clip, blanket, or do nothing, be sure to maximize the health of the vital integumentary system.

“Studies suggest that diets containing fats such as the full-fat soy included in Bio•Bloom PS improve coat quality,” shared Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., an equine nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research (KER). (Australian horse owners should look for Bio-Bloom.) She added, “Supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids like EO•3 are also popular choices for bolstering the skin and coat.”

High-fat standbys such as stabilized rice bran and vegetable oil add sheen to the coat and also valuable calories to the diet, making them ideal supplements for horses that require more energy and  top-notch presentation.

*Hartmann E, Bøe KE, Jørgensen GH, et al. 2017. Management of horses with focus on blanketing and clipping practices reported by members of the Swedish and Norwegian equestrian community. Journal of Animal Science. 95(3):1104-1117.