All our Frequently Asked Questions about Blankets and Sheets in one handy post!
The simple answer is that horses need blankets when they are cold or wet and are not able to generate enough body heat to stay comfortable on their own. A young healthy horse with a good diet and plenty of time outside in the fresh air, in different sorts of weather and getting plenty of exercise, will grow his own blanket. His hair coat is well designed to keep him warm and dry. He has two types of hair, a soft undercoat to trap body heat and longer outer hairs which are designed to shed water. If he can keep out of the wind and rain your horse shouldn’t need a blanket. However, if he’s wet, or thin, ill, or in a windy, rainy area without protection he may well need one.
Horses who are blanketed during the summer or fall to keep them clean, to reduce sweating, shorten cooling out time or hasten drying after bathing or exercise, or for other reasons, often have decreased hair growth and need to be blanketed thru the year. Clipped horses generally need blankets or sheets year round especially at night depending on their environment, their feed, and their activity level even in warmer climates.
Horses which are shown extensively spend a good deal of time clipped and dressed in sweats, neck wraps, hoods and sheets or blankets. Often in a show barn at night you’ll find horses with more than one layer if the temperature is cooler than normal. Once the show season is over it may take a little time for the hair coat to re-grow and the horse’s internal temperature regulation systems to function independently again. The important thing is to pay attention to your horse and see if he is comfortable.
Horses which have been recently relocated may need to be blanketed for their first winter if their new home climate is significantly different than their former one. For example, a horse from a southern climate may be very chilly in the north until his body learns how much hair to grow. A horse in a dry climate who moves to a damper climate may be cold as well until s/her becomes acclimated.
No. It is important to take the blanket off frequently to check for spots where it may be rubbing and might cause sores or other problems, such as flaky skin or rashes, and to brush the horse to stimulate circulation and remove dirt and dead skin. It is also a good idea to leave the blanket off when possible to allow the horse’s skin to breathe. Take if off during the day whenever possible to take advantage of the fresh air.
Remember that horses are meant to live outside. They are designed to function well in colder weather if they are healthy and well fed. You can tell if he’s chilled if he is shivering. He may have “goose bumps” with his hair standing on end or stand stiffly with his tail clamped against his body. He may feel cold to you when you feel his face, ears, or in his “armpit”. He may just look unhappy and be standing with his tail tucked tightly against his body.
Look to see if he’s sweating. If he’s blanketed look first under the blanket then along the neck and behind the ears. As the temperature rises to the mid 50s during the day horses in turnout rugs are likely to sweat which then turns clammy and cool under their blankets unless they are breathable. On days of significant temperature changes it is always better to have less clothing. Horses can raise their temperature by moving around, standing in a sheltered spot, but if they are blanketed their only option for cooling is to sweat.
Absolutely. Your feeding program is crucial to your horse’s health and the ability of his body to regulate itself. As the weather becomes colder your horse needs more calories to generate body heat. More calories required more hay! Make sure your horse is getting enough grazing in addition to their morning and evening feeding. There are also a number of other options to consider for increasing calories within the guidelines for good equine nutrition. Talk with your vet about adding Beet pulp or corn oil to the diet if you are in a cold area or if your horse seems to need more calories to keep warm.
The most important measurement to take into account is the length of the blanket required. This is measured as the distance from the center of the chest to center of the tail. Some brands have different measuring instructions based on their design differences, so be sure to ask before buying a blanket. It is also important to consider the build of your horse. A horse with a very big or stocky build will more than likely require a blanket larger than his length would indicate. Similarly, a finely built horse may require a size smaller. A turnout blanket will be shaped differently than a stable blanket and will fit differently. Be sure to consider the overall shape of the horse in choosing apparel! Most blankets are sized in two-inch or three-inch increments. Blanket depth can also be a real issue for many horse owners. For example a 48” blanket could be needed for a mini horse, a mini donkey or a Shetland. The difference in depth for those three animals could be as much as 8-12 inches. One 48” is not the same as another.
There are several places that you should check to be sure that your blanket fits your horse well. The withers – Be sure that the blanket fits well up the neck and beyond the withers – to ensure that excessive pressure is not put either on the point of shoulder or directly on or behind the wither. A well-fitting blanket should lay 2-4 inches in front of the withers. Different equine builds fit well with different styles and brands of blankets. Once you’ve put the blanket on the horse notice the way it lies on the horse’s neck as s/he moves.
The shoulders – Be sure the outside edge of the blanket is well in front of the shoulder to allow for free movement. Proper fit at the neck and shoulder are both essential. With a well fitting blanket, the top strap of the front fastening should be about in line with the point of shoulder. If this strap lies much above the point of shoulder, your horse’s freedom to graze will be restricted. If the strap lies much below the point of shoulder, undue pressure will be put on his shoulders, which may cause rubbing. Check the overlap in the front to be sure that the two sides will remain in place as the horse grazes, walks, rolls, sleeps. If the overlap is insufficient the blanket will shift forward or back and/or bunch up causing rubbing. Be sure to look carefully at the front closure system. There are a wide variety of options on blankets of different brands. Think about your horse’s shape as you evaluate the best closure for your purchase.
The rump – 3 to 5 darts (depending on the type of the blanket) should be in place around the rear of the blanket to facilitate a snug fit over the rump. The end of the blanket, where the tail flap is attached, should finish just as the tail starts. Be sure that the fillet string is attached and fitted under the horse’s tail on all Turnout blankets. This is designed to ensure that the back of the blanket is not blown forward in severe wind. A strong gust of wind could put the back end of your horse’s blanket up around his back and neck causing irritation or distress. Should the fillet string break, be sure to replace it as soon as possible. Some have questioned the need for the filet string. However, if you’ve had a horse blanket go sideways in a storm and frighten your horse you’ll agree that it’s important to keep the filet string in place!
The belly – the blanket should be cut deep enough so that the belly is not visible under the blanket! Blankets come in a wide variety of styles but it is important in all cases for the blanket to be deep enough to curve under the belly to provide protection from wind and wet. Be sure to measure your horse from the center of the spine around the side and down as far as your blanket needs to cover. When shopping for a blanket be sure to measure the blankets you are considering to be sure they are close to the measurement you need.
Type: Select your blanket style based on the housing/stabling conditions for your horse. Is s/he primarily inside during colder, wetter weather? Does s/he have a shelter with free access? Is s/he protected from rain? There are two general types of blankets.
A stable blanket is generally thick and very warm, designed for maximum comfort and warmth rather than maneuverability. They are most often used when the horse is stabled inside. They are generally not water repellant or waterproof.
Turnout rugs and blankets are built to be a little more durable than stable blankets, and are meant to stay in place during outdoor activity. Turnout rugs are generally tougher and more water repellant or waterproof than stable rugs. In many climates it is important to search for a turn-out blanket that is fully waterproof and breathable.
Liners are also an option with several blanket manufacturers. You may want to consider a waterproof turnout sheet with a quilted or polar fleece liner as an option for very inclement weather.
Weight: Weight refers to the insulating quality of the blanket, not its’ actual weight. The insulating materials in the blanket provide a range of protection. The blanket weight you should use on your horse will depend on your climate, the length of your horse’s hair coat, your horse’s metabolism, activity level, type and amount of feed, and the barn temperature and draftiness.
Shape: Quarter horse style blankets are cut to fit closely. They tend to be shaped to curve under the belly and stay tucked up out of the way of the legs. European style blankets tend to be cut longer, extending well below the belly on the side.
Neck: There are several styles of neck cut. Standard necks are cut for horses with narrower chests. Contour style necks are designed for horses with broader chests and higher withers. Cut back necks are cut to fit horses with large chests and heavy shoulders – i.e. Draft Horses.
Closures: Open front blankets are closed with adjustable straps and provide adjustability and variable fit at the neck. Closed front blankets are joined in the front and do not offer adjustability. They work well if the neck fits properly on the horse without adjustment.
Straps: Some blankets offer crossed -surcingles which provide a simple, effective non-slip design. The cross surcingles should be fitted so that they hang comfortably under the horse’s belly. If they are fitted too tight, undue strain will be put on the blanket. If fitted too loose, the ability of the blanket to remain secure may be compromised. Advocates claim these blankets eliminate the need for leg straps and the risks associated with them.
Other blankets maintain the stability of the blanket on the horse by means of leg straps which hold the blanket in place on the rear of the horse, prevent it from shifting while the horse is lying down, etc. It is important to fit the leg straps with care so that they stay close to the horse’s belly and do not allow a foot to get caught up in the strap.
Stable Blankets: When machine washing blankets, follow the care instructions that came with the blanket or are attached to the blanket. Most stable blankets can be machine washed on warm wash and cold rinse cycle if you have a large front load washing machine. Some Laundromats allows horse blankets to be washed or provide a laundering service. Most stable blankets should not be dry cleaned Mild soap should be used and multiple rinses to ensure that there is no residue left after rinsing. When possible wash twice, rinse twice. When the wash cycle is complete, you can fluff the blanket in a dryer on LOW for about 5 minutes. Then hang the blankets on a blanket rack in a warm (50-60F) area. If you hang them right side out for a few hours and then turn them inside out, they should be ready to use in a day.
Turn Out Blankets: Your turnout blanket will last longer and be more comfortable for your horse if it is cleaned and maintained properly. One thorough annual cleaning after the winter season may be sufficient, before the blanket is put away for the summer. However in really wet or muddy areas you may need to launder the turnout blankets more frequently to prevent skin problems.
Wash with mild detergent and cool water. High temperatures and harsh detergents will compromise the waterproofing of your turnout blanket. It is therefore vital that the following guidelines are strictly followed. Many blankets are now made with fibers coated with Teflon. These are extremely waterproof, but cannot be put in the dryer AT ALL! Be sure to read the label on your blankets. Before laundering, remove excess dirt from the outside with a stiff brush or hose the blanket down. After washing, be sure the blanket is rinsed thoroughly, drip dry — do not tumble dry.