When to blanket in the trailer

Consider several factors when deciding whether your horse needs a blanket during transport.
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Question: I have a 23-year-old Quarter Horse, Dillon, who routinely wears blankets in cold weather. Every four weeks, I trailer him down to Rood and Riddle in Lexington, Kentucky, for his routine farrier work. I “horsepool” with another owner in her bumper pull, which is not as well insulated as my gooseneck trailer. (I’d prefer to use my trailer, but her horse won’t load in it.)

Should I blanket Dillon in the trailer when the temperatures are going to be at or below freezing? I have a range of options---including a “cooler” for after workouts as well as three blankets intended for 40-degree weather, 30-degree weather and 20-degree weather. Your advice would be greatly appreciated.

Answer: Your question is not easy to answer from a distance, and you might need to find your own solution with a little trial and error. But here are some factors to consider:

  • How cold is it outside? Obviously the colder the weather, the more blanket might be needed.
  • How much wind will enter the trailer? A horse in an open stock trailer will need more protection than one in a closed trailed. Keep in mind, though, that even in cold weather, you’ll want to keep some vents open for fresh air. I used to do that even when shipping to Canada in the winter.
  • How much coat does your horse have? A clipped or short, slick coat will require more insulation than a wooly one.
  • How nervous is your horse about traveling? One factor many people forget is that standing up in a moving trailer is hard work. Any anxiety in the trailer also increases the amount of body heat a horse will generate and decreases the need for a blanket. The second horse will add even more heat inside the trailer.

The bottom line principle is: Less is more! You will want to give your horse significantly less insulation than he would need to stand quietly outside in the same temperature. When considering that blankets can become dangerous if they rip or shift, my preference is to leave most horses naked, unless they really tend to shiver. If your horse comes off the trailer sweating under his blanket, it was too much. I might also suggest bringing the cooler along in case you need it while waiting for your turn with the farrier.

Dillon is lucky to have someone who takes him to one of the top podiatry centers in the world and who worries over his comfort! I think when you trust your instincts, and then continually reevaluate your choices, you will find success in all you do together.

Melinda Freckleton, DVM
Haymarket Veterinary Service
Gainesville, Virginia

This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #458, November 2015.