Most healthy horses can survive winter with just their own fuzzy coat. However, when cold, windy, wet and extreme weather conditions come calling, the protection of a blanket gives a little extra help. If your horse is elderly, has a hard time keeping weight on, or doesn’t grow a thick coat, blanketing will help him weather winter in good condition.
Here are some tips for shopping the different blanket styles and fits.
1. Measuring for a Blanket
Blanket sizes typically correspond to the horse’s side measurement, in 2- or 3-inch increments. Blanket fit and cut vary by style and brand, but measuring your horse gives you a starting point for finding a blanket that fits.
To measure your horse for a blanket, run a soft, flexible measuring tape from the center of your horse’s chest to the edge or center of the tail, depending on where you want the blanket to end. (It’s easier if you get a friend to help you.) Some blanket manufacturers have specific measuring and sizing instructions for their products as well.
2. Fit Checkpoints
Length: The blanket should extend to the tail or slightly beyond and cover the sides of your horse’s haunches completely. It should hang evenly at the front and back. Make sure it covers the sides of your horse’s belly but doesn’t hang so low that it interferes with his leg movement.
Neck: Fasten the front of the blanket; it should comfortably cover your horse’s chest. If the blanket pulls tightly across the shoulders while your horse is walking, it’s too small. If it gapes around the shoulders, it’s too big. Check the fit while your horse’s head is down in a grazing position to make sure the blanket is not placing excessive pressure on the withers.
Straps: Adjust the straps to fit a hand’s width. If the straps are too loose, they won’t hold the blanket in place properly, and your horse risks getting a leg caught through a loosely dangling strap. Too tight and they’ll rub.
3. Key Terms for Blanket Shopping
The strength of a blanket’s outer shell is measured in deniers. These numbers refer to the thickness of the yarns used to make the fabric. In general, the higher the denier count, the more durable the blanket. The type of fabric also factors into the durability. Manufacturers incorporate various technologies to strengthen their blanket fabrics and keep small tears from becoming bigger, such as ripstop and ballistic nylon. Most sheets and blankets are breathable to allow body heat to escape so that the horse doesn’t become chilled and clammy underneath.
“Fill weight” refers to the amount of polyfill insulation inside the blanket, listed in grams. The higher the fill weight, the warmer the blanket. The three standard levels are:
- Lightweight—no fill (also may be referred to as a sheet), or approximately 100 grams
- Midweight—180 to 250 grams
- Heavyweight—300 grams plus.
4. What to Wear
If you live in a warm climate without much winter weather, a turnout sheet will protect your horse from wind and rain without causing him to overheat. A sheet is also useful in spring and fall for four-season climates. For regions of the country with mild winters, use a midweight blanket to add warmth when temperatures dip below 45 degrees. In northern regions with severely cold winters, a heavyweight blanket is required for clipped horses and may be appreciated by horses that are sensitive to the cold.
Blanket systems that layer together offer versatility to dress your horse appropriately for changing weather conditions. These typically include an outer waterproof layer and liners in various fill weights to attach underneath. A fleece sheet can be layered under any blanket for additional warmth during a cold snap and also serves double-duty as a cooler to wick moisture from the coat and keep a sweaty or wet horse from becoming chilled.
If you are unsure which blanket to use, err on the side of underblanketing rather than overblanketing. Horses cope with the cold much better than humans do. Not only will your horse be uncomfortable in a blanket that is too heavy, but he may also become chilled if he gets sweaty and damp underneath the blanket. Selecting the right blanket can be a challenge in areas where the temperature changes dramatically throughout the day. This may require blanketing and unblanketing, or switching between lighter and heavier blankets.
Most blankets can be cleaned simply by hosing them off and scrubbing with a brush. If a blanket is especially dirty or smelly, you can also use mild detergent or a specialty blanket wash. Fill a bucket with suds, then scrub and rinse thoroughly. Hang the blanket over a fence and allow it to air dry.
Avoid harsh detergents and very hot water, as these can damage a blanket’s waterproofing. Never put a blanket in the dryer either.
With the right blankets, your horse will be ready for winter. It’s a good feeling to tuck him into his stall with his blanket and a pile of hay on a winter’s night. And out in the field, you’ll know he’s covered whatever the weather.
This article originally appeared in the 2013 issue of Your New Horse.