Jørgensen, G. H. M., Mejdell, C. M., Bøe, K. E. 2019. The effect of blankets on horse behaviour and preference for shelter in Nordic winter conditions. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 218, 104822.
Horses use human-made shelters actively during inclement weather, but the costs of building shelters may be high and owners use blankets or rugs on horses instead. The aim of the study was to investigate how wearing a blanket might affect the shelter seeking behaviour of horses under coastal arctic winter conditions. Could blankets make shelters redundant? During different winter weather conditions, seventeen horses had a full-neck blanket of their size put on and were released in a test paddock. There, horses were given free choice between staying outdoors, going into a heated shelter compartment or into a non-heated shelter compartment. An observer scored horse’s location and behaviour using instantaneous sampling every minute for 1 h. Each horse was tested 2–12 days but only once per day. Detailed weather data (precipitation, wind and temperature) were continuously recorded by a weather station at the site. In general, horses with blankets still used the shelter and were observed inside in (mean per horse) 20.6% of total observations. Horses spent more time inside shelters on days with rain and wind (39.7% of tot obs) compared to on days with wind only (11.8% of tot obs, P = 0.05). Small coldblood horses were more active, spending more time in movement than large coldblood and large warmblood horses (P = 0.01). In conclusion, wearing blankets reduced the impact of inclement weather, but did not make the shelter redundant for horses, under Nordic winter conditions.