Winter is closing in and many horse owners are starting to plan ahead: they are either dusting off last year’s blankets or buying new ones. However, not all horses need blankets during the winter. Yes, horses that are shown or body clipped, moved to a colder climate, or are outside somewhere without a decent shelter will most likely need them. Most other horses, however, do not.
Why do only some horses need blankets?
In winter, like many mammals, horses grow thick winter coats, especially ponies and miniature horses. Coupled with that new coat, horses are able to raise—or “fluff”—their winter coats, creating tiny air pockets that help insulate the horse against the cold. Adding blankets flattens this coat and can actually make the horse colder rather than warmer. For horses with especially thick coats, adding a blanket can cause the horse to sweat. The blanket then traps the heat and sweat against the horse and, depending on the day-to-day weather, can cause overheating or can put the horse at an increased risk of pneumonia or other problems.
How do I know if my horse needs a blanket?
Ask yourself these questions:
1. Does my horse live outside, especially at night?
2. Is my horse turned out in a pasture without proper shelter? (Read: at minimum, a shed or similar building to block the northern winds.)
3. Is my horse clipped or required to be show-ready?
4. Is my horse older/considered “geriatric”?
5. Does my horse have any illnesses or ailments that could affect his/her ability to combat the cold?
6. Is my horse a hard keeper?
7. Does my horse grow a thin winter coat?
8. Do I live somewhere where it regularly snows, rains, or has high winds during winter?
If you have said yes to 1-2, your horse may only need a lightweight blanket.
If you have said yes to 3-4, your horse may need a light to medium weight blanket.
If you have said yes to 5 or more, your horse may need a heavy weight blanket.
Though this is a good starting point, be sure to use caution when choosing blankets. If your horse goes from unblanketed to a heavy weight blanket, s/he could run the risk of overheating even in cold weather.
I know what weight blanket I need. What about all the other details?
There are a lot of factors that go into purchasing the right blanket for your horse. Let’s look into a few of those details.
This term describes the strength of the outer layer of the blanket. Usually, outer layers are made of polyester or nylon and the higher the denier, the sturdier the fabric. Denier is usually measured in hundreds, so a 600 denier blanket would be sturdier than a 200 denier blanket, but less sturdy than a 1200 denier blanket. If your horse has a reputation for destroying blankets, you would want to purchase a higher denier blanket. On the other hand, if your horse has had the same blanket for ten years and you are only wanting to get him/her a new one, you would be safe with a lower denier.
This word simply denotes a certain type of checked stitching that helps prevent small tears from becoming large tears.
This refers to a specific kind of nylon originally developed for flak jackets. These blankets are able to hold up to wear and tear well.
“Polyfill” or “Fiberfill”
Those describe the fluffy insulation used inside the blanket. They are measured in grams and the higher the number, the warmer the blanket. Lightweight blankets generally have around 100 grams of insulation, midweight ones are around 200 to 300, and heavy winter blankets have around 400 and up. There are some lightweight blankets that, like sheets, have no fill.
There are several types of liner. Cotton or poly/cotton liners help absorb moisture while nylon linings polish the horse’s coat. Mesh linings are good for managing air flow and moisture. Waterproof yet breathable blankets have special fabric with a “hydrophobic membrane” that helps repel water droplets while permitting water vapor to pass. That means rain and snow are repelled from outside and perspiration is allowed to evaporate from inside.
This is an extra panel sewn on at the shoulder that allows for extra room and ease of movement for the horse.
What size blanket does my horse need?
Blankets are measured in inches and generally range from 60” to 86”, though specialty sizes can be ordered from many manufacturers. Using a tape measure, place one end in the center of your horse’s chest and measure down the horse’s side, holding the measure level and terminating between the horse’s back legs over the tail. If your horse does not measure out on a commonly used number, round up. It is much better to have a slightly larger blanket than a slightly smaller blanket.
Each horse should have his/her own blanket. Sharing blankets can cause skin diseases to spread, even if none of the horses in your barn currently have one. Blankets should be washed using cold water and a disinfecting soap. Rinse well to prevent any soap residue from irritating the horse’s skin. Dry cleaning will not remove odors and runs the risk of dissolving the waterproofing or shrinking bindings.
Other unique blanket features include: stock horse cuts, made for Quarter horses and other stock type breeds with wide builds; belly bands, thick bands that cross under the horse’s belly and help keep the barrel warm; seamless backs, which helps eliminate leaking; and slip on blankets, ones where the chest is sewn shut rather than buckled and helps keep the horse’s chest warm—though these can present a problem for horses who are finicky about their heads.
For a demonstration on proper blanketing and unblanketing techniques, please refer to the attached video.