How to Select the Correct Stable Blanket for your Horse
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Does A Horse Need Stable Blankets?
Blankets are a great way to keep horses warm and comfortable during cold, chilly weather, especially during winter months. Not all horses need blankets. Horses grow a thicker, longer, more insulating winter coat to protect themselves from the elements. This hair growth is triggered by daylight hours, not temperature. It’s most common to see horses blanketed if they are going to horse shows over the winter, or if they are in heavy training. It takes much longer to properly cool down a sweaty horse after a workout with a thick winter coat.
When to offer a Stable Blanket to your Horse
Reasons to Blanket your Horse:
- You’re going to a horse show and want to keep them clean
- You have a show horse, will be showing over the winter months, and don’t want your horse to look like a wooly mammoth
- You live in a cold climate and work your horse strenuously over the winter (sweaty horses with a thick winter haircoat take FOREVER to cool down safely)
- Your horse is under lights and/or body clipped during the winter months
- Your horse is very young, very old, or sick
It’s important to blanket for the actual weather conditions—not how you feel. There are even apps out there to help you make the right decision on what blanket is appropriate given your horse and the local conditions.
Types of Stable Blankets
Blankets come in many different sizes and purposes. Here are some basics:
Think of it as coats for people; some are designed as a “light spring jacket,” others have different layers and are made for extended periods in very cold temps. In general, they can be divided into 3 categories:
Light-weight blankets, also called stable sheets, will be made of 1 layer, generally cotton or nylon. They are designed for cool temperatures, or to wick moisture away from a sweaty or wet horse in order to facilitate the cool-down process. I use a light nylon sheet when trailering a horse in cooler temps, or while trying to keep a horse clean at a show.
Mid-Weight blankets are designed for chilly-er temperatures where you want an extra layer on the horse for warmth. They generally have some insulation and are designed for temps anywhere from 20 degrees to 50 degrees.
Heavy-weight blankets are made for cold, winter months. These should generally only be used in below-freezing temperatures. They will have more insulation to help keep the horse warm. You may pair these with a sleazy, or a hood, to keep the neck area warm as well.
Just like with people’s clothes, each brand will have its own sizing. Generally, blankets are sized by measuring from the center of the horses’ chest to the center of the tail. Most blankets are sized in even numbers. An average Quarter Horse will wear an 80” blanket. The next biggest size would be an 82”, or a size down would be a 78”. However, some brands may offer a 79” or an 81.” Always refer to the manufacturer’s size guide and measure your horse before ordering to give yourself the best chance at the proper fit.
Most blankets will have adjustable fastenings at the girth area and around the legs. The front closure (at the chest) may or may not be adjustable. I prefer an adjustable chest closure, as it is easier to put the blanket on the horse. If the chest area is fixed, you must pull the blanket over the horse’s head to put it on, which can spook some horses.
The girth closure may be made of nylon straps or a thicker “belly band” (a version of a girth). While belly bands can be warmer, the side with the extra hardware can weight the blanket unevenly, causing it to slide to one side.
SmartPak’s light-weight, nylon stable sheet with a closed front. $70
The SmartPak Ultimate Trifecta Turnout blanket. $350. This model offers an adjustable front and two criss-crossing nylon straps to secure the blanket under the horse. Not pictured: Leg straps are almost always included on blankets to secure the back part of the blanket over the horse’s hindquarters.
Another thing to consider is where you buy your blanket. Some merchants offer more generous return policies, or warranties.
How Well Does the Blanket Fit?
A well-fitting blanket is crucial for the blanket to be effective, safe, and comfortable.
Safety hazard! Your horse may get caught up in it and tear or destroy the blanket, or injure themselves.
Comfort hazard! You may notice hair loss leading to open sores.
Some blankets seem to fit at first, but later you notice they are rubbing in places. If it is a spot in front of the withers, you may be able to salvage the blanket by adding a sleazy. A sleazy is a lycra, stretchy hood that fits underneath the blanket and provides a barrier to keep the blanket from rubbing. It also adds a layer for your horse. These are common to see on show horses after they have their manes banded or braided; the sleazy keeps the mane clean and neat before show time.
Beware—adding a sleazy to prevent hair rubbing from a blanket over the withers may backfire. Sleazys can sometimes rub as well, especially over the face. Proper fit is essential!
If you notice hair loss behind the withers, it’s time to look for a new blanket with a different fit.
If you want your blanket to last and be safe, you need to take a few precautions:
- Examine the blanket daily for rips or damage
- Immediately remove the blanket if it is damaged; it’s not worth the risk of injuring your horse
- Clean the blanket at a minimum once a year. This really depends on your horse, and your barn’s cleaning schedule. If you have a neat, tidy horse in a stall that is cleaned daily, you may be able to get away with only washing your blanket annually (I suggest in the spring, before you put it away for the year). If your horse is messy and the blanket becomes visibly dirty, it’s time to wash it. It’s a good idea to have a “backup blanket” so you can rotate them out for cleaning.
When cleaning your blanket, beware! Horse blankets are bulky, tend to smell like urine, and are difficult to clean in a regular washing machine. If you wash them at home, plan a “flush” cycle after.
A local laundromat may be an option, but some strongly discourage horse blanket washing and will post signs saying so. I suggest looking up a local person for “blanket maintenance.” Generally, you can find someone in your community that will gladly wash and mend your blanket for you, for a very reasonable cost ($20-$40).
Horses are very capable of growing a winter coat to properly protect themselves from the elements. If you choose to blanket your horse, be prepared to make arrangements to change the blanket out daily depending on the weather conditions. It might be 20 degrees and snowing one day, then 50 and sunny the next—these conditions require two very different blanket options. Pick a style that works for you and your horse, and measure to ensure a perfect fit. Wash and repair your blanket as needed.