Horse blankets can make a fun fashion statement, especially if your horse looks cute in plaid or has a color-coordinated wardrobe. However, a blanket’s main purpose is to keep a horse warm and dry. Always remember that blanketing needs to be appropriate for your horse’s health, living situation and the weather conditions.
Another thing to remember is that many horses do just fine without being blanketed! If they are healthy, have access to shelter from wind, rain and snow, and grow a nice fluffy winter coat, they can manage quite well.
Blankets are necessary for horses that have been body clipped. Senior horses, thin horses and those with health problems may also benefit from being blanketed in winter weather conditions. Some horses just don’t grow a thick coat and could use the extra warmth. If you ride frequently throughout the winter, blanketing your horse can keep him clean and cut down on grooming time.
If you blanket, you must be committed to daily care to make sure he is safe and comfortable. Here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind.
DO make sure your horse’s blanket fits properly.
Getting the correct size blanket and checking the fit is very important. A poorly fitting blanket can cause rubs and sores if it’s too tight. Horses can also get tangled up in a blanket that is too big or straps that dangle too long and loose.
To find your horse’s blanket size, measure the side of his body from the center of his chest to his tail. (It’s helpful to have a friend to lend a hand with this!) The number of inches is your horse’s blanket size.
The blanket should sit a few inches in front of the withers, and not directly on top of them. It should be long enough to cover the entire body, including the belly and rump, without pulling, gaping or too much overhang. The front of the blanket should close easily to cover the chest and lie smoothly along the neck.
Follow the “one-hand” rule to fit and adjust the blanket. You should be able to fit one hand between your horse’s body and the blanket, including straps.
DON’T forget to check under the blanket.
Don’t wait until spring to remove your horse’s blanket. Remove the blanket daily to groom your horse and check his body condition. Is he getting too thin or too fat underneath? Leaving a blanket on for days can lead to skin problems, rubs or sores.
As you re-blanket your horse, you can put the blanket back in the proper position and make sure it is still fitting the horse well. Snug up any loose straps and look for blanket rubs or other signs of poor fit.
DO choose the right style of blanket.
Turnout blankets are made to hold up to the great outdoors. They are waterproof and breathable. Special high-tech fabrics wick moisture away from the horse so he doesn’t get sweaty in cool or cold weather. Turnout blankets tend to be more generously cut in the shoulder area so the horse can run and play out in the pasture.
Stable sheets and blankets are made to be worn inside a barn or indoor environment to keep your horse warm and clean. They are not waterproof or made to be worn outside in a field. Wearing a wet blanket will make a horse even colder than going without!
Horse blankets are insulated with polyfill for warmth, similar to a puffer jacket or sleeping bag. The more “fill,” the warmer the blanket. A sheet is a blanket without any insulation, similar to a windbreaker or rain coat. A medium-weight blanket might have around 200 grams of fill, and a heavyweight will be 300 or more.
Most horses have a wardrobe of blankets suitable for the different weather conditions where they live. This might include a sheet and a medium-weight blanket. For colder climates or fully body-clipped horses that go outside, add in heavyweight blankets, neck covers and hoods.
DON’T use blankets that are inappropriate for the weather.
Keep a constant eye on the weather forecast, especially if your climate tends to swing from frigid nights to warm days. In addition to the temperature, rain and wind can make it harder for horses to stay warm.
Lighter-weight blankets are useful in spring and fall. During the winter months, you may need to switch to a heavier blanket during especially cold spells.
When in doubt, less is more—it’s better to err on the side of your horse being a bit cool than overblanketing. If he gets sweaty in his blanket, he can become very chilled in a hurry when temperatures drop again.
DO be safe when blanketing your horse.
Halter your horse in the barn or field so that you have control when blanketing. Fasten the straps from front to back: chest straps, belly surcingles, and then leg straps or tail cord. When removing the blanket, reverse the order. This helps keep the blanket safely in place if your horse spooks and jolts forward—better to have the blanket around his neck than just a tangle of straps around his hind legs.
Looping the leg straps through each other helps keep the blanket more secure. Be sure all straps are adjusted snugly enough that your horse can’t catch a hoof through them.
DON’T leave your blankets in a dirty pile on the ground.
Take good care of your horse’s blankets so that they last for many seasons. Throughout winter, use a stiff brush to knock off mud and a damp cloth to clean the underside. At the end of the season, you can use blanket wash per directions to launder them or send them out to a service that specializes in repairing and cleaning horse blankets.
Fold them neatly and hang them up when not in use, and store them during the summer in a bag or bin where they won’t gather dust or be damaged by rodents. You will be grateful in the fall that they are clean and ready to go when you need them, and not in a dirty smelly heap at the back of the tack room!
With these blanketing tips in mind, your horse can stay safe and warm this winter.