Come spring, you can often (sadly) tell which horses wore blankets and which didn't. We don't mean noting horses that are shedding buckets of hair vs. those with relatively short coats. We mean the ones with chafed spots on their hips and shoulders. But rubs don't have to be a part of the blanketed horse's life. It all comes down to good horse management, proper fit and attention to detail.
Use only well-fitted blankets that are the correct size. Measure your horse from the end of his hindquarters around the side of his body to the center of his chest. This number, in inches, corresponds to a blanket size. Be sure you also consult the manufacturers to find out if their blankets run true to measurement or not. Some blankets require you to measure to the tail or add two inches to the measurement for the correct size, while others are true.
Choose a blanket that allows movement. You want gussets at the shoulders and hips to allow these muscled areas to work freely, without pressure from the blanket. Keep in mind that horses can get pretty active in the cold weather. They shouldn't feel too restricted for a good run and buck during playtime.
Look for blankets with smooth, comfortable, "shiny" inner linings that will slide easily over the horse when he moves. Avoid inner linings like canvas that may "grab" and "stick" over the horse's coat when he moves. You may also choose to use a Lycra blanket liner under your blanket, which helps reduce rubs. Be sure your blanket stays still when the horse moves about, without easily shifting to one side or the other. Surcingles and leg straps are big helps when it comes to holding a blanket in place.
Find the proper blanket size and fit for each individual horse.
Choose a blanket style that allows for adequate movement.
Check to see that your horse is clean and dry before blanketing him. Be sure to re-situate the blanket every day.
Thoroughly rinse a blanket after washing to get rid of all detergent.
Re-situate blankets every day. Take them off and place them back again, after you've done a quick body inspection for marks. A good way to make sure you do this is to have one blanket for when the horse is in the stable and another for him to wear on turnout. You'll have to change them.
All blankets should be breathable, whether for turnout or stabling. While there's no industry standard that guarantees a blanket is "breathable," we'd still look for the ones designated as such by the manufacturers. It means that sweat and body moisture won't become trapped between the blanket and the horse's body, where it can condense and actually make the horse wet under the blanket.
Turnout blankets must also be waterproof. Water resistant won't cut it if you're not home all day to bring the horse in when it starts to rain or snow hard. Wet coats lead to rubs.
Always be sure the horse is clean and dry before you blanket him. Use a curry and a hard brush, at least, to stimulate the skin and lift off any imbedded dirt or hair that might "help" the blanket cause rubs before you re-blanket him.
Blankets always must be clean inside and out. This means inspecting the inside of the blanket every day for matted hair and debris that could lead to scratchy spots and rubs. It's a good idea to brush out (with your dandy brush) the inside of your blanket every day before reapplying it.
When you wash your horse's blanket, be absolutely certain every ounce of detergent is rinsed out of the blanket. We recommend running it through two rinse cycles and using a horse-blanket detergent/soap, or at least one that states it easily rinses out. Detergent residue can become itchy, especially on a sensitive-skinned horse. In addition, you must have two blankets of each type you use, so you can use one while the other is being cleaned or repaired.
When the Rub Appears Anyway
Take action as soon as you note a "worn" area appearing on your horse's coat. Don't wait until you can actually see skin. If the coat is appearing shorter in a particular area or looks "rough," investigate to see if the blanket's binding somewhere, if you need to replace it with a different style or size, or if it's dirty.
Small rubs/hair roughening can sometimes be halted if you diligently apply an ointment or cream to the area. Use a soothing, lanolin-based product, such as Corona, although even petroleum jelly will help protect the area from rubs. Clear, pure aloe vera gel will also work wonderfully to protect the horse's coat and encourage hair regrowth. You can make the product less frustrating to deal with in colder climates by keeping it in your inner coat pocket while you do the chores. Your body heat will help liquefy the treatment, making it easier to apply. And when you do apply it, use disposable plastic gloves.
Even though you rub the ointment into the skin, it's inevitable that you're going to get the inside of the blanket dirty more quickly. Just be aware of this possibility, and inspect the blanket more closely every day to be sure it's still smooth and soft in that area and not hardening, getting overly dirty or becoming scratchy because of a buildup of ointment.
If you notice that the horse's skin is actually becoming painful to the touch, we strongly recommend you find another style blanket that fits differently - especially with wider gussets if it's rubbing in a moving area - to prevent further irritation. Rub marks can become ouchy areas, which can then develop into difficult-to-heal sores, especially in the winter, if not caught quickly. This is probably the most important element of Blanket-Rub 101 that we can share with you.
Finally, nothing helps a horse's outside coat as well as inside nutrition. Even something as simple as adding corn oil (2 to 3 oz. a night will do it) can help your horse's hair strengthen and shine. Flaxseed, biotin and supplements that include omega 3 fatty acids will go a long way to ensuring a healthy coat that will bounce back quickly in the spring. Best of all, they're not expensive to use, and these ingredients won't throw off any mineral or vitamin ratios or balances.