Should I Blanket My Horse?

I have a 4-year-old Thoroughbred filly that I am preparing for winter. When is it appropriate to blanket her, and when would she be better off without a blanket?




There are many different types of blankets from which to choose.

To blanket or not to blanket is a good question. Blanketing a horse has both positive and negative considerations. One of the positive aspects to blanketing a horse is to keep a short-haired show coat, thus decreasing your body clipping time if you are showing your horse during the colder months. Blankets also are used in muddy and rainy weather to keep your outside horse clean and dry, ready for you to ride. For those horses living in extremely cold situations, a blanket can provide the added warmth needed--especially when protective shelter is not available in a turnout pasture or paddock. Additionally, when a horse is moved from a warm climate to a much cooler climate, a blanket can help the horse become acclimated to his or her new environment.

The down side of blanketing your horse is that it might get its legs caught in the blanket straps or its hair could be rubbed off if the blanket is not properly fitted. Those horses not living in extremely cold environments (below 20� F) will do well without a blanket, provided they are either stalled during the coldest temperatures or have access to a protective lean-to shelter or natural shield such as a solid row of pine trees.

There are many different blankets from which to choose. There are five basic types: cooler/anti-sweat, fly sheet, dress sheet, non-weatherproof blanket, and weatherproof blanket. A cooler/anti-sweat sheet is used to help cool a horse. It wicks away the moisture from the animal. These blankets fit loosely and are typically not used for turnout.

The fly sheet can be used for turnout only if stated by the manufacturer. Fly sheets are mesh blankets which allow the horse to keep cool in warm months but prevent the flies from biting the horse.

Dress sheets are exactly what they state--for dress or show. They can have the name of a circuit, a show, or an event in which the horse has won top honors. Some can be used as cooler sheets.

Non-weatherproof blankets are used to keep the dirt and dust off your horses and are not made to withstand rain or snow very well. They can be as light as a summer sheet or as heavy as a quilted sheet.

The weatherproof blankets are either waterproof or at least somewhat water repellent, thus not allowing much breathability. Keep in mind that nylon keeps a horse warmer than cotton.

To get a properly fitted blanket for your horse, the standard measurement is from the center of the chest at the point of the shoulder, around the shoulder, along the barrel following closely to the skin, which includes dipping into the flank region, and continuing on around the hip to the center of the tail. Some manufacturers stop before the tail, so check the measurement instructions before purchasing to ensure a proper fit.

The size of the blanket corresponds to the inches measured. For example, if your measurement comes out to 78 inches, then your horse wears a size 78. If you measure an odd number, move the size up to the next even number because blankets come in even sizes only.

The proper fit of a blanket allows four fingers at the chest and a few inches below the top of the tail. When fitting the leg straps, avoid making them too tight since the movement of the hind legs will pull the blanket backwards and rub the chest. Do not make the straps too loose because the horse might get its hind legs caught in them. It is recommended to intertwine the straps and snap them into their respective sides, or just criss-cross them. A safety feature for surcingles, to avoid their unbuckling, is to have a rubber stopper on them. Shoulder and wither lining is useful to decrease hair loss or hair breakage from the constant rubbing.

Properly cleaning blankets is recommended for longevity of the product, but remember that most are line dried, so either purchase a quick-drying blanket or have a back up. Blankets can take up to three days to dry in the colder months. For muddy turnout sheets or blankets, a quick hosing of the mud, then hanging it to dry is suggested. Waterproof blankets usually are waterproofed on the inside only, thus allowing the outside to be cleaned. When cleaning or rinsing your blanket, check all the fasteners and attachments to make sure they are secured tightly to the blanket. Be aware that shrinkage can occur after your blanket has been cleaned.

Unless you are showing your horse, blanketing your horse is a personal decision. The blanket will give your horse added warmth, but in return will decrease your horse's natural winter hair growth. Therefore, once you have started to blanket your horse for the winter, you must continue throughout the winter until the warmer winds of spring begin to blow.

About the Author

Erin Denney-Jones, DVM

Erin Denney-Jones, DVM, is an FEI veterinarian and owner of Florida Equine Veterinary Services in Clermont, Fla. Her interests and practice areas include chiropractic care, sport horse medicine, reproduction, general medicine and surgery, and preventive care including wellness programs, vaccinations, parasite control, and dentistry.

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