Coming off the coldest week in memory this past end of January/beginning of February, blankets for livestock were seen regularly on animals kept outside – and even on some kept inside. It was so cold that Rosie, my Angora goat, was shivering – despite a good coat of her curly mohair!
Many horse owners blanketed their horses during the intense cold. Unfortunately, the old blanket I had for my elderly (now deceased) Tennessee Walking horse mare wasn’t a good ‘fit’ for either of our Morgans, but we made other accommodations – such as tacking plastic up in some of the stall windows to prevent wind gusts from entering directly on the horses, bedding down their stalls with extra shavings, giving plenty of hay and making sure the bucket warmers were filled with fresh non-frozen water. Horses stay warm in winter by digesting roughage – in most cases, hay. It’s the process of digestion that happens on the inside of the horse that keeps them warm. And to facilitate that digestion, horses must consume an adequate amount of fresh, non-frozen water – 10 to 20 gallons, depending on activity, per adult horse per day.
I waited till the sun was up in the mornings and shining in the paddock before turning them out so that they could enjoy the wonderfully warm strong rays of sunshine; and left the front door of the barn wide open to let some of that sunshine enter for a few hours, but brought them inside once the sun went down and the winds picked back up.
Fortunately, each of our horses is in pretty good shape and they have thick, furry winter coats, able to withstand the cold. Horse’s coats, if they are dry and clean, can fluff up and create a layer of air to keep them warm, with the longer ‘guard hairs’ creating an extra layer that can withstand light rain or snow, as long as they’re not exposed to wind or heavy downpours.
However, if your horse is not in good condition, or has a health problem, is thin or aged and not eating well, you’ll want to consider blanketing her in inclement weather. It’s not only during the winter that blankets are used for horses – as some horses that are shown all year round are body clipped and need the protection of a blanket. Here’s a look at some of the types of blankets that are available and how to choose which might be best for your horse.
Stable Blankets and Turnout Blankets have a ‘fill’ or insulating material such as cotton, polyester or wool, to provide warmth. Stable blankets are worn inside and are not waterproof. Turnout blankets are waterproof and are worn outside.
Stable Sheets (worn inside) and Turnout Sheets (worn outside) are not filled, and are not meant to provide warmth. You can also layer the blankets, providing they fit properly, for extra warmth in wet weather.
There are also Fly Sheets and Scrims (woven gauze-type fabric) for warmer weather that will keep flies and mosquitoes at bay. Show Covers will cover your horse’s neck as well as her body and Show Sheets often have matching Tail Bags to keep tails clean and protected. There are also Jogging Sheets with a cut-back design to provide freedom of movement while pulling a cart, some with additional thermal lining for cooler weather.
Remember that a horse that is turned out in a properly-fitting clean blanket will be comfortable, warm, and protected from the elements. In addition, you will benefit as your horse will stay clean and dry, and will be ready for you to ride – even if he is turned outside. However, if you do turn your horse out in a blanket, you’ll have to monitor it regularly, checking to see that it doesn’t absorb water and get soaked – which will cause your horse to become chilled and will defeat the purpose of blanketing to begin with! And you’ll have to consider buying two blankets if your horse rolls in the mud – to have a spare for her to wear while washing the other and making sure it’s thoroughly dry before using it again. You’ll also need to examine the blanket at least once a day and remove any hay, dirt, chaff, burrs or anything else that could irritate your horse. Be diligent about removing the blanket when the sun is out and temperatures warm, and remember to groom your horse each day – don’t throw a blanket on for days at a time without checking on both horse and blanket.
If you’re considering purchasing a blanket for your horse, you’ll need to know a little terminology. A basic blanket or sheet (think of blankets as providing warmth and sheets providing cover – like your bed linens) will cover the horse from the withers to the tail. These can be coupled with hoods and neck pieces that attach to the blanket or sheet to provide even more body coverage – either for warmth in inclement weather, for cleanliness in the case of a show cover, or for additional protection from flies and mosquitoes.
• Front Closures help to keep the blanket in place. There are buckle-front closures, with nylon straps and metal buckles that enable you to make several adjustments; as well as quick-clip or snap closures that can be opened and closed with one hand.
• Shoulder Gussets are like “darts” in clothing – they provide a little extra area that gives more freedom of movement.
• Surcingles cross under the belly, and sheets or blankets can come with one, two or three surcingles to help keep the blanket securely in place.
• Some blankets or sheets will have Leg Straps made of nylon or elastic to help keep the blanket from shifting and to provide even more security.
• And lastly, a Tail Flap should reach the middle to the end of the tailbone, and provides good protection from wind and rain.
Not sure how heavy or which type of blanket to purchase? Some temperature guidelines:
• Heavy Turnouts: for coldest temperatures – 10 degrees to below zero. These blankets are 300 to 400 grams of fill or more. Some feature 8 oz. of Lycra and polar fleece.
• Medium Turnouts: For temperatures of 20–30 degrees Fahrenheit for unclipped horses, and from 30–40 degrees F for clipped horses. These provide waterproof protection as well as an added layer of warmth. Good for spring and fall temperatures, when it starts to feel cold.
• Light Turnouts: Light protection, rather than warmth, for unclipped horses turned out in temperatures of 30–40 degrees F, and for clipped horses in temperatures 40–50 degrees. As these blankets have no fill, the provide protection only in mildly cold weather.
And lastly, how to get the perfect fit for your horse:
• Starting with the withers – You should be able to slide one hand between the blanket and your horse’s withers; the blanket should not be pulled tight. If your horse has high withers, look for high neck or “Wug-style” blankets that tend to put less pressure on this area and are good for horses with high withers or those prone to wither rubs. For stock horses, look for blankets designed to fit stock horses, that have a cut back wither, a broader fit through the chest, shoulders and hindquarters, and a shorter drop.
• Shoulders – The blanket’s neckline should lie smoothly above the horse’s shoulder without pulling; the top of the front closure should line up with the point of the shoulder. For full-bodied horses, prone to shoulder and hip rubs, look for V-Front blankets, which are cut a little higher over the shoulder and neck, and come together lower on the chest. This eliminates some of the traditional pressure points.
• Length – a blanket should cover the barrel of your horse completely, ending just below his elbow and stifle. It should not be too short nor too long.
For horses that are hard on blankets, look for a blanket that comes with a higher denier (the fiber thickness of individual threads or filaments used in the creation of textiles and fabrics) and a guarantee.