His Blanket, Your Life

These buy-right strategies will help keep your horse’s blanketing routine low-maintenance and worry-free.
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Horse blankets—some of us use them, some of us don’t. Those who do eventually find this to be true: There’s no such thing as one blanket that will meet the needs of any horse, nor one for all reasons and seasons. This helps explain that pile of dusty, stinky horse garments lurking in so many blanket users’ tack rooms! It’s all too easy to make a purchase that doesn’t quite work out the way you hoped it would.

Credit: Photo by Alana Harrison Want to keep your blanketing routine from interfering with the rest of your life? We’ll help you reduce the hassles.

Credit: Photo by Alana Harrison Want to keep your blanketing routine from interfering with the rest of your life? We’ll help you reduce the hassles.

Part of keeping valuable blankets from ending up in this pile is to identify a blanketing strategy that works best for your horse and your life. That’s where we come in.

We’ll help you troubleshoot six common situations, in ways designed to help you buy the right blanket(s) the first time. The correct blanket, built with features that help, not hinder, will demand far less attention from you than one purchased strictly on a guess or as a make-do bargain. And, by spending more time on your horse than that pile, your next new blanket will have its best chance of doing what it’s supposed to do.

1. AWAY ALL DAY
Situation
: You have a life that keeps you away from your horse for most of the day—which means you don’t have the luxury of being able to swap out his blanket when weather and temperature shift dramatically. Whether you’re boarding, working all day, going to school, or just away on vacation, you want a blanket that won’t leave your horse shivering, sweating, or rain-soaked until the next time you see him.

What you need: A waterproof turnout blanket or sheet with breathable fibers. A breathable, waterproof garment allows the smaller water molecules of perspiration to escape, but won’t permit larger molecules of rainwater through the blanket to the skin. The fabric also acts as an air dam, warding off cool drafts.

Bonus tip: There are good reasons to layer on multiple blankets, but always keep in mind that the more layers used, the more you’ll interfere with each layer’s individual breathability. If you think there’s a chance for a short-lived warm spell while you’re away, your horse will be most comfortable in one blanket layer that offers the highest level of breathability.

What you don’t need: Blankets that aren’t designed to breathe, such as those constructed with fleece, or that have heavy waterproofing treatments. While these offer effective protection from some elements, they’re also fickle about weather changes. A non-breathable blanket that seemed cozy against a morning chill or drizzle can make your horse miserable by evening if the day heats up while you’re gone.

2. WEIGHTY QUESTIONS
Situation:
You’ve moved to a different climate, or intend to travel to one with your horse. You want him to be comfortable in the new locale, but how do you know what blanket weight will be best—light, medium, or heavy?

What you need: Surprise: The guide you’ve been looking for is in your own closet. Choose the blanket equivalent of what you’d buy or bring along for yourself.

A lightweight blanket is the versatile equivalent of a lightweight jacket; it will give basic protection from wind and light precipitation, and can be used for layering. A medium-weight blanket is like that everyday go-to jacket that’s a wardrobe staple for those who live in northern areas. A heavyweight blanket is closest to a parka—best worn only when it’s downright cold.

Bonus tip: If your horse is thin-coated or body-clipped, upping his blanket weight to medium or heavy may be necessary. He has limited natural protection against drafts, raw wind, humidity, and precipitation, and therefore needs this boost.

What you don’t need: Too much blanket weight for the climate your horse is most likely to encounter. Depending on specifics, you may be better off buying two light-to-medium-weight blankets you can layer, than a single heavyweight blanket that would likely leave your horse too hot much of the time, and without any blanket when you have to remove that one.

3. EQUINE ESCAPE ARTIST
Situation:
You have the Houdini of horses. And if he can’t amazingly wriggle out of everything on his own, he’s got a helpful stablemate to do the task.

What you need: Features that keep a blanket in place. Start by looking for closed-front blankets. These have no front straps or buckles for a horse to bite or use as rub points. (Be sure to measure carefully for the correct size, because a closed-front blanket can’t be adjusted in front for sizing.)

Other anti-Houdini features to look for: replaceable elastic hind-leg straps that cross between the legs and can be tightened securely without rubbing; two belly straps that cross in the center to provide additional security in case one becomes unbuckled; a cotton or mesh lining that will grip your horse’s coat (a smooth-nylon lining is more likely to slip and slide).

Bonus tip: If you find your miracle-lipped wonder can unfasten tongue-and-buckle fasteners, look for blankets that feature rubber T-locks. Or, buy a package for under $2. These little marvels slide easily onto the T-post of the tongue, tightening its position when fastened. In a pinch, four or five rubber bands from your mane-banding kit can serve the same duty, but will have to be replaced much more frequently.

What you don’t need: A blanket that’s a size or more too large, chosen for a still-growing horse. When a blanket doesn’t fit a Houdini-type to start with, he’s all too likely to slip out of it and ruin it before he ever gets a chance to grow into it.


4. BLANKET-RUB DAMAGE

Situation:
You’d blanket your horse more often, but you’ve had unfortunate experiences with rubbed-hair areas. When a poorly fitted blanket rubs a horse’s hair shafts, it can take an entire shedding cycle for the hair to grow back. If the blanket’s rubbing has damaged the hair bed, the hair may grow back discolored, leaving a white spot on the withers, point of shoulder, or point of hip.

What you need: A blanket style matched to your horse’s body type. Two types of blanket cuts are available on today’s market. These are the generously cut European style, and the cut-back and shaped American style.

European-style blankets are better for long-bodied, narrow horses, as their neck openings are much smaller than those of American-cut blankets. If a European style is used on a big-shouldered or wide-bodied horse, it can pull against the horse’s shoulders and severely rub the withers. For this horse’s body type, an American-style blanket, with its wider neck opening and cut-back withers fit, is a better choice. (Which is which? Your first clue is the measurement increments. European-style blankets come in 3-inch increments; American styles are sold in 2-inch increments.)

Bonus tip: Look for rub-easing features when shopping. Necklines with hook-and- loop adjustability (e.g., Velcro® or other derivatives) let you tailor the fit. Shoulder darts, common on turnout blankets, should be positioned above your horse’s point of shoulder. Otherwise, the extra stitching can cause harsh pulls, leading to rub marks. Cut-back withers stylescan provide rub relief in that area.

Also, carefully assess the blanket’s lining. Smooth nylon is desirable, because it quickly becomes coated with your horse’s natural oils, allowing it to glide over pressure points.

What you don’t need: A too-snug blanket with a cotton or mesh lining. This type will all but guarantee rubbed-off hair at pressure points.

5. OUTDOOR OLDSTER
Situation: You have a senior-citizen horse who lives outside year-round. Despite regular dental care and good feed, he’s having trouble maintaining his weight during the winter.

What you need: A blanket that serves as a comfortable second skin, freeing your senior’s metabolism to keep his body going without struggling to keep it warm. Look for a breathable, waterproof blanket with an extra-long drape (the measure of a blanket from the back to the lowest hem). A blanket with a wide bellyband is ideal. Both of these extra-fabric features help retain a horse’s body heat, and therefore maintain his weight.
Bonus tip: Because blankets with these two features are often much heavier than similar models due to the extra construction materials, it’s important to pay close attention to the fit. Make sure the blanket doesn’t pull or rub because of its extra weight.

Bonus tip: Because blankets with these two features are often much heavier than similar models due to the extra construction materials, it’s important to pay close attention to the fit. Make sure the blanket doesn’t pull or rub because of its extra weight.

What you don’t need: A blanket that doesn’t breathe or repel water. If your older horse gets drenched in sweat or soaked from rain, he’ll be worse off with the blanket than without it, because body-heat loss accelerates when a horse is wet.

6. REPAIR/CLEANING SHOCK FACTOR
Situation:
Repair bills: $20. Cleaning: $10. Shipping to a distant blanket cleaner: $20. Gas and time to drop off and pick up blankets locally: $15. Wait, none of this is priceless, and worse, it’s ongoing!

What you need: Strategies for minimizing repair and cleaning costs. First, look for new blanket models that unzip in strategic locations, breaking down a larger blanket into two or three pieces that can easily be laundered separately. Alternatively, consider a lightweight, sacrificial layer to go over your primary blanket. A tough-as-nails turnout sheet may cost the same as your nicer blankets, but it can better endure mud, abuse, urine, and weather punishment, and will fit in any washing machine. A heavy-mesh fly sheet can serve as an off-season turnout sheet, too.

Bonus tip: To lengthen time between repairs, do minor fixes at home. Create a blanket-maintenance kit with waterproof adhesive tape, liquid-stitch glue (available at craft stores), spare elastic leg straps, iron-on strips of hook-and-loop tape, a braiding needle, and wax-braiding thread. These materials cost less than $15 total, and can help you tack a blanket back together quickly.

What you don’t need: A cheaply made or hard-to-clean blanket that will cost more to maintain than you’d have spent making a wiser purchase.