There's no escaping the fact that money is tight for most of us. Winter has its own set of financial demands on the average budget. Then, there are the price increases in hay, grain, vet care, farrier visits--all things arguably more important to general equine welfare than keeping them in clothing.
But don't get in a rush to nix quality blankets and other horsewear from your budget--especially if you show, fit or sell horses; live in a harsh climate; or care for a geriatric or special-needs equine. Blankets provide warmth, protection from the elements, armor from a mouthy barnmate, and polish to a fantastic show coat. A basic blanket can protect an ill horse from drafts, or keep mud from bringing your pre-ride routine to a crawl.
The decision to buy a blanket is relatively easy, but shopping for and selecting the best blanket for your horse's needs can be a different story. At risk is your budget, as buying the wrong blanket can be an expensive mistake. Not only do retailers offer a potentially overwhelming number of choices, the horsewear trade employs words that, unless decoded, may make your head spin.
Our blanket-buyer's guide will help you sort things out.
As you read in-store product literature or catalog copy, you'll encounter terms for various blanket features. Some features may be just right for your particular horse, while others may not. Here's what some of these common terms mean:
European cut. Suits slim, long-bodied horses, such as modern hunters. Smaller neck openings and straight in profile from withers to tail than standard cut. Measured in 3-inch increments. (See "Fitting a Horse Blanket.")
Standard cut. Designed for wider, stock-type body profiles. Often shaped for curvy, muscular shoulders and hips. Measured in 2-inch increments.
Closed front. Continuous fabric across the horse's chest, with no adjustable closures. Less to wear, tear, or break, but you sacrifice the greatest point of adjustability.
Open front. Chest-front section opens and closes via buckles or snaps. Snaps are more convenient than buckles, and both accommodate growing horses. Tip: Open-front blankets with a single closure are for supervised wear only, such as when you're walking a horse to cool him out. If a horse rips out the single closure system while turned out or left in a stall, there's nothing else to hold the blanket in place.
Shoulder darts. Sewn-in construction that affords shoulder movement and eases shoulder rubs. Tip: Rubs will only be eliminated if the dart is above the point of shoulder.
Drop. Standard blankets drop a couple inches below the belly. Extra-long drops add inches of coverage, which may be desirable if you want more coverage of the forearms and lower hindquarters.
Shaped withers. Construction style, either cut-back or with added fabric shaping, meant to provide pressure relief over the top of prominent withers.
Back seam. Results when a blanket is seamed down the middle of the back. Tip: Avoid this if you're buying a turnout blanket that will be worn outdoors. Taped seams help prevent leaks, but if a blanket is punctured by a thread stitch, there's a greater potential for leakage, particularly as the blanket ages.
Belly band. Under-belly closure system that uses a wide band of fabric. Belly-band styles are popular in cold climates. The added fabric serves as a blanket-weight booster. By trapping heat lost through the belly, a blanket's performance will increase significantly. Caveat: If your horse tends to rip blankets with his teeth, he may be able to make short work of reaching back and tearing a belly-band closure apart.
Tail cover. Fabric that covers the top several inches of the horse's tail. When turned out, horses will instinctively turn their tails to a strong wind or driving rain. A tail cover prevents drafts from making their way under the blanket as winds blow the fabric.
Attached neck cover. Sewn-in extra fabric that covers the neck. Eliminates the need for a separate neck cover, while also preventing any gap between the garments. Caveat: Hoisting a blanket with a neck cover over your horse requires some muscle on your part--it's like slipcovering a sofa (one that's much higher than furniture, and could try to move as well). Useful for limited seasons. When it's too hot for a neck cover, the entire blanket will end up in storage.