Most of us, if we aren’t lucky enough to have a southern barn to retreat to in winter, must blanket our horses during the winter months. I know I have at least three different weight blankets for my horse, Lou that Nancy gratefully puts on him when the weather is not cooperative. Blanketing isn’t all that complicated but there are some things to consider.
What’s the deal with blanket weights and what’s the difference between a sheet and a blanket?
Sheets are just that, they don’t provide any insulation. There are sheets for the rain, for protecting against flies, for shows, for drying your horse off, or for being in the stable. They are one layer or maybe two but they don’t have insulation. Lightweight blankets, on the other hand, have up to 100 grams of fill. Mid-weight blankets sport 180-200 grams of fill and heavy-weight blankets are 300 grams and up.
Ok, so now I know the difference in blanket weights but what do I put on my horse?
Just like people, horses are all different. Does your horse run warm or stands in the stall shivering? Do you clip your horse? Does your horse have a thick coat or a thin coat? Is your horse an easy keeper? Does your horse live outside or in a barn? Did your horse just move from one place to your barn and the weather was different? All of these factors make a difference in what you should put on your horse in addition to the weather for the day. If you have to err, it’s better to err on the lighter side; horses that are over-blanketed can start sweating and overheat then get chilled from the perspiration cooling. Dover Saddlery has a great blanket wizard to help you out in determining what you should use.
What about size? There are so many!
Well, of course! Just like there are people who need different size clothes, horses need different sized blankets. A good fitting blanket is critical if for no other reason than your horses’ safety. If the blanket is too big, they can get caught in the straps and potentially break a leg. If the blanket is too small, they will be uncomfortable and may suffer from blanket sores. Make sure you measure your horse from the center of the chest, over the shoulder to the back of the tail with a soft tape measure. This should be the correct size for your horse.
How is it supposed to fit?
Put the blanket on your horse and make sure the fabric on the chest portion overlaps with the buckles set in the middle position. The back of the blanket for the tail seam should reach to the correct point on the back of your horse. Make sure you have a hands-width of room under the blanket at the withers and shoulder and around the entire neck. If the opening is too small, the blanket will rub and if too big, your horse may catch himself in the blanket. Now adjust the belly and tail straps with the same idea, you don’t want them too loose or the can catch a hoof in the straps.
I just got a blanket and now my horse ripped it up! What gives?
Just like blanket weights, blankets come in different deniers or thicknesses. If you turned your horse out in a sheet designed to be for stable use only, then that might be the cause of the problem. Make sure you use the appropriate type of blanket or sheet based on how your horse is stabled. You wouldn’t expect a cashmere sweater to be worn as an outdoor raincoat. Likewise, your soft stable sheet isn’t appropriate as a turnout sheet for your horse particularly if the weather turns while your horse is outside. The higher the denier, the thicker the outer layer is and typically the more durable the blanket is as well. A note to the savvy buyer; if you can wait to purchase a new blanket at the end of the season you can often get some incredible deals on last year’s blankets. We personally use a very heavy denier for Lou as he likes to play rough with his stablemates. Consider that as well. If you have a horse that is very active, you might want to use a heavier denier as well. If your horse is older and is out with quiet companions, you might be able to use a lighter denier and that is usually less costly.
For more on blanketing, check out Dover’s Blanketing 101 article.