A Bug in a Rug

Blanketing tips to keep horse health a priority this winter.

From America's Horse

Although Mother Nature does a pretty good job of getting horses through the winter, sometimes she needs a helping hand - with show horses, for example, who need to keep their coats short and shiny or aging equines who need an extra bit of insulation.

There are a multitude of reasons why a horse might need to be blanketed - and there are just about as many blanketing options.

But the first thing to consider: a proper fit.

Becky Greco, a product development associate for WeatherBeeta blankets, says a horse should be measured from the center of his chest to the near side (not the middle) of his tail. A horse that measures 78 inches would wear a Size 78 blanket.

When the new blanket arrives, Becky recommends putting a thin sheet on your horse, then trying the new blanket on over that. If it doesn’t fit, you’ve got a clean blanket that will be easy to return.

Does winter weather have you wondering how you will ever get your horse out of his stall? Download AQHA's FREE Rainy Day Rewards report to learn some exercises you can practice in the barn aisle!

If the blanket has an open front (usually with two straps that buckle across the chest), the straps will ideally fasten on the middle hole. The seam attaching the tail flap to the blanket should hit right at the top of the horse’s tail. If the tail flap extends farther down the tail, Becky says the weight of the blanket will pull backward, and the blanket will likely rub the horse’s withers. This means the blanket is one size too big.

Some horses - such as those with high withers or an exceptionally broad chest - are a bit harder to fit.

Shoulder gussets can help accommodate the wide bulldog Quarter Horses. Becky points out that WeatherBeeta Freestyle blankets have a gusset at the front of the shoulder, so it opens as the horse’s leg moves forward.

On the Orican Freestyle blankets, Becky says, WeatherBeeta has added a wither release pad, which actually lifts the weight of the front of the blanket off the withers, preventing rubs.

Weight Lifting

So how heavy a blanket will your horse need?

Becky says there are a number of variables, including what your goals are for the horse. Do you want to keep a show coat? Then you’ll have to blanket earlier in the year and be much more diligent. Do you want to allow your horse to grow his full winter coat and then supplement him with a blanket when it’s extremely cold or when there is precipitation? You could probably get by with a lighter-weight blanket, but you’d need one made to ward off rain and snow.

The choices range from simple sheets made of cotton or nylon to light-, medium- and heavyweight blankets filled with varying amounts of fiberfill insulation.

The outer shell of the blanket is another choice you’ll have to make. “Denier” is the measuring stick for how tough the fabric is; the higher the number, the stronger the blanket, Becky says.

“If your horse is not very active, or if he’s turned out by himself, a 600 denier is going to be more than suitable,” she says. On the other hand, if your horse is rough on blankets or if he’s turned out with a high-energy group, you should look at a denier of 1200 or higher.”

And some fabrics are intrinsically stronger. WeatherBeeta Taka blankets feature a poly-nylon blend, which is stronger than just polyester, but not as heavy as straight nylon, Becky says.

Term Limits

Some terms commonly tossed around are waterproof, water-resistant and breathable. Becky explains why these are important:

Weatherproof blankets will keep horses dry even in a rain storm. All the seams on the blanket are taped, so water cannot soak through any stitching.

A water-resistant blanket, however, is probably made of waterproof material, but without taped seams. If it rains much, the horse will get wet under his blanket.

Breathable blankets allow some room for error. If a horse is wearing a blanket that becomes too heavy as the day warms up and he begins sweating, a breathable blanket will help pull that moisture away from him and allow him to dry.

But these features do require a bit more care. You can’t just pop one of these blankets in the washing machine.

In AQHA's FREE Rainy Day Rewards report, AQHA Professional Horseman Brent Graef explains some exercises you can work on in the barn aisle when the winter weather makes going outside difficult. Download your copy today!

Becky says the best option is to take the blankets to a blanket-cleaning service, which many tack stores offer for a reasonable fee. Or, if you have to wash the blankets yourself, it’s crucial that you use a front-loading washer (without an agitator) and use nondetergent soap like Woolite or Dreft. Detergents will damage the waterproofing, as will heat. The blankets should be air dried, not put in a clothes dryer.

Becky says that one WeatherBeeta feature that is rarely noticed is small slots along the bottom of the blanket liners that allow water to easily drain out as the blanket is stretched along a fence to dry.

And if you’re shopping for a blanket to provide precipitation protection, you also need to consider the neck style.

Standard necks are the most common style, and they follow the shoulder, from where it ties in to the neck, up to in front of the withers. Rain can go down the front of this blanket, Becky says, and the horse’s shoulders could get wet.

A high-neck blanket would offer more protection, and a combo neck, which comes all the way up to the horse’s poll, would be the highest level of protection, she says. Some combo neck pieces are removable, while others are attached.

Visit www.weatherbeeta.com to learn more.