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First, are they really necessary?
That depends on a horse's living situation. Nature tends to supply animals with the basic protections they need to withstand the elements and normal living conditions in the wild. The problem is when we domesticate an animal we remove their natural defenses and instincts, thereby rendering them somewhat helpless against their non-domesticated peers. For example, A cat that has always lived in the wilds has honed hunting skills, mistrust of potential predators, etc. and can thus survive on its own, whereas a domesticated cat that is suddenly thrown into the wilds would likely perish quickly due to not recognizing potential dangers, possessing an inability to hunt for food, etc.
Domestication is a wonderful thing – a properly cared for horse will usually have a far happier life than its wild peer. But it is important to recognize that each day you care for your horse you reduce his ability to withstand the natural elements to some degree.
How is that?
All horses that live in regions of the world where the climate changes drastically from summer to winter will develop a winter coat, but the more you shield your horse from such elements the more you weaken its defenses against them. Horses in the wild don't have the luxury of stalls, whereas domesticated horses do (many are even blessed enough to live in insulated barns). These stalls shield the horse from harsh winds and colder temperatures, but this also can inhibit a horse's natural winter coat development thereby making a horse blanket necessary to compensate when the horse is left in the paddock or fields.
Another way domestication breaks down a horse's natural ability to withstand harsh elements is grooming. Each time we brush or vacuum a horse we remove dirt, dead hair and natural oils from their coat, and although this certainly improves their hygiene and visual appeal it also removes another barrier against the cold and winds… one that wild horses rely on. This can make horse blankets very necessary when domesticated horses are exposed to the elements.
Some horse owners go a step further and actually clip the unsightly winter coat (i.e., show horses). In such cases it is absolutely vital that horse blankets be incorporated into your horse care program, both outside and inside the stall. Whereas a horse with a heavy winter coat may not require a horse blanket when inside a stall, one that has had its defenses clipped away entirely surely will unless the stable happens to be heated.
Are horse blankets necessary only in the winter?
A well-insulated winter horse blanket is probably not a necessity beyond the late-fall to early-spring months, but there are other types of blankets and horse sheets that can prove helpful during the other months of the year. They are broken down as follows:
As we covered a bit earlier, if a horse is a show horse or one that is regularly groomed and clipped keep in mind that each time you brush or vacuum a horse you are stripping away their natural defenses against the elements (dirt, natural oils and dead hair). This can present just as much of a problem during the summer months as it can during the winter months since horses are quite capable of developing sunburn too!
A quality summer horse blanket provides your horse UVA protection, can keep your horse cooler by deflecting the suns rays and finally prevent your horse's coat of hair from becoming faded, bleached or discolored. While this is not an absolute necessity for all horses, those with lighter coats of hair and/or more sensitive skin can benefit immensely from them.
Many quality horse blankets are also waterproof and can keep your horse relatively warm and dry during the rain. Some even state the ability to draw sweat from the horse and transfer the moisture away from their coat.
Anti-sweat sheets can be important horse accessories if you regularly work your horses under the hot summer sun… or even if they are pastured in hot and humid weather! These sheets are generally created in part or in whole from very breathable cotton mesh that aids in cooling down your horse, improving air circulation and evaporating moisture.
If you live in a real buggy region a light mesh fly sheet can provide protection against the nasty little biters while also keeping your horse cool.
But that's not all!
Those who own show horses, or even those who own personal horses that they hope will remain completely unmarred, will often elect to blanket their horse anytime it is in a paddock or field. It's amazing just how easily a horse can scrape itself, whether through an error or bickering with a peer in the pasture. A horse blanket can take the brunt of such mishaps, leaving your horse's coat completely unmarred.