Does your horse need to be blanketed this winter? Some believe winter blankets aren’t necessary, saying it’s not natural. They insist that by blanketing the horse, you slow his natural hair growth and cause him to “depend” upon the blanket for warmth instead of his own natural coat. They have a point, but don’t take this as the last word.
It’s true that if you start blanketing your horse, you’ll likely need to continue blanketing throughout that season at least. But the extremists who insist you’re harming your horse or you’re foolish to blanket him, are all wet. No one can accurately state that no horse on earth ever needs to be blanketed.
Should You Blanket?
Certainly, the healthiest solution is to let your horse grow his long winter coat and provide him with adequate shelter from the wind and wet.
Feed your horse free-choice hay (which generates body heat), and carefully monitor his weight by touch or with a weight-measuring tape. (Winter coats can hide weight loss.)
If your horse is a mature adult, healthy, well-fed, and not exercised hard enough to sweat during the cold months, by all means spend your money on something other than a winter blanket.
However, if your horse is old or young, you may need to blanket him, as he may need added protection from wind, wet, and frigid temperatures. He simply might not be able to generate the body heat necessary to stay warm.
Any animal that’s ill or has a compromised immune system will need the added help from a winter blanket. If you’re not sure, your veterinarian can advise you.
Is He Cold?
You’ll note your horse is cold if he’s standing with his head down and his tail tucked tight against his body. Usually, he’ll put his tail toward the wind. Often the wet weather has matted down his coat, which decreases his natural protection.
It’s nearly impossible for a horse to stay warm in severe wind without shelter or a blanket. A horse in this type of weather is miserable and may be shivering.
You can opt to put your horse in a barn during the worst weather, but he’ll still need a stable blanket until he’s warm again.
A horse that’s shivering is too cold, and it’s cruel not to address the problem. Making a horse comfortable in occasional odd weather extremes is not going to cause him to stop growing a winter coat.
If you work your horse in winter, body clipping him will help his sweat dry quickly. If he’s clipped, he needs to be blanketed — period.
Note: Just as your horse shouldn’t get too cold, he also shouldn’t be allowed to overheat. You can easily over-blanket your horse, causing him to sweat and become chilled because he’s wet, as quickly as having no blanket at all.
Slip your hand under the blanket to monitor how warm it feels to you, and gauge if your horse seems comfortable or not. If he’s damp, he’s too hot.
What About Liners?
Fleece blanket liners, such as the Northernwind by Dover Saddlery, work well for layering multiple blankets as temperatures dip.
Frequently made of Lycra or fleece, lightweight liners protect the horse from rubs and keep your blanket cleaner longer.
You can wash the liner more frequently than the heavier blanket.
Darker colors tend to be better for these workhorses, and some liners are durable enough to double as stable blankets.
Some of the slicker liners are said to constantly “groom” the horse’s coat and keep it shiny. These liners are usually made of nylon and or a polyester-cotton blend. The original blanket liners were actually lightweight cotton stable sheets.
Match the liner style/size to your blanket. If you’d like a liner that doubles as a stable sheet, look for one with (removable) surcingles to keep it on when worn alone.
This winter blanket from Kelley Equestrian Products features waterproof, breathable material, a nylon lining, and Hug Closure.
Cotton, the most secure material, is breathable and easy to wash. Some cotton fabrics are a bit stiff. A polyester-cotton blend is a little softer than pure cotton.
Fleece is warm, lightweight, breathable, and easy to wash. Fleece tends to be soft and cuddly, but picks up a lot of debris.
Nylon or polyester materials are the warmest but also the heaviest. They’re the most difficult to wash and keep clean. Nylon is usually on the blanket’s underside, as it’s not durable enough to be an outer layer on its own. Nylon also isn’t breathable.
Textilene/PVC is a tough, mesh vinyl fabric that’s more resistant to tears and snags. It tends to be a bit stiff, but you can usually clean it with a water hose and brush.
Gore-Tex and Sympatex are waterproof, windproof, highly breathable and expensive.
Lycra is great for preventing rubs and keeping the coat slick. However, Lycra needs to stretch to work, so don’t go overboard on size.
Cordura is a tough, durable material that’s easy to clean and water-resistant.
Wool is found in coolers and exercise sheets, and occasionally in blanket linings. It’s expensive compared to more synthetic options.
Fit is Foremost
To measure your horse for a blanket, start from the center of his chest. Run the tape straight back to the center of his tail. This is his blanket size.
Note that the majority of sizes are listed in even numbers, so if your horse measures 71, first try a blanket size 70. Smaller sizes will likely have enough room for your horse, but are less likely to shift and twist. Rubs can occur from shifting side to side and front to back.
A contoured blanket is designed to fit the shape of the horse more closely, often with a dart in the hip area and a gusset or dart in the shoulder area, too.
A Euro cut means the blanket is more draping and boxy, with longer sides and usually no back seams.
A Quarter Horse cut is made to accommodate a horse with a more heavily muscled build.
Denier: A linear mass of fibers. The higher the number, the more fibers (or threads) per 9,000 meters. Therefore, the higher the denier, the more durable the fabric.
Waterproof: Stops moisture from penetrating through the cloth.
Water-resistant: Keeps moisture from penetrating through the cloth. A heavy downpour or a lot of snow may leak through a water-resistant blanket.
Breathable: Allows the horse’s perspiration to escape through the blanket, so he doesn’t get wet from sweat under the blanket.
Ripstop: A lightweight, tear-resistant nylon.
3M Insulate/Primaloft/Hollofill/Fiberfill: High-loft filler materials for added warmth and insulation.
Microfiber: Made of a fiber thinner than a one-denier. This material wicks moisture, resists debris better than fleece, and is thin and easy to wash.