If you know me, you know that I have a blanket obsession. It’s border line hoarder-ish. I will admit to my problem. You can only imagine my excitement, when the word got out that it might rain and we were going to get a frost. As soon as Mike’s boots hit the doorway, we were off to the barn with a sheet for the Willy monster in tow.
I typically like to blanket around the time of the first frost, but it all depends on weather and fuzziness level. Horses don’t grow a coat when the weather gets colder, they grow a coat based on the lighting. Their brain sends out a signal that signals the coat to grow when the days begin to get shorter. When the days get longer, the thick winter hair sheds out to make way for the shorter summer coat.
When you hear that horses are ‘under the lights’ it means that the owner or trainer is attempting to keep a coat short. I was first introduced to this when I worked in a Quarter Horse show barn. Horses were kept under bright lights 20 hours out of the day, and it usually worked. As with everything in nature, you have exceptions.
Anyways, back to my obsession.
Like I was saying, I like to blanket around the first frost and will start with just a basic, waterproof sheet at night. If the weather is going to be wet then I’ll blanket around 40 degrees.
Horses are designed to live out in the weather, and over blanketing can cause problems too. Their winter hair wicks away moisture from the skin, which is why sometimes you see horses after a snowstorm covered in unmelted snow. They really are that insulated. Overblanketing can cause them to sweat under the blanket and that will chill them, since sweat starts at the skin. If your horse is sweating under their blanket, my advice is to take the blanket off, throw a cooler up until temp is regulated and re-blanket with a lighter layer. Clipped horses should be blanketed up, furry horses blanketed down (if at all).
When the weather is consistently under 30 degrees during the day and night, I break out the heavy weight. I’ll layer the water proof sheet (or sometimes a fleece) underneath if it’s supposed to be a really chilly night or a windy day.
Our horses come inside at night when it starts to get chilly, but until then I prefer that Willow lives outside 24/7.
The most important thing about a blanket is finding one that has the right fit. Put it on and adjust it properly, then watch how your horse moves in it. The most common problem is shoulder/wither rubs which can be easily sorted out by loosening the chest buckles or adding a sleezy underneath. I also like the little fleecey wither protection. Make sure that your belly bands are crossed underneath and not hanging to loosely (I like them just barely touching the horse’s belly) and your leg straps are crossed in the back. This prevents them from getting a foot caught (although in my experience the blanket usually rips/tears before a lot of harm can be done, but better safe than sorry!).
Babies are the hardest, because they tend to grow so unevenly and it’s not like they have fitting rooms at the tack store. I like to stay away from cut-away necks and buy the blanket in the next size up (measure from the middle of the chest to the longest point of the haunch), so you aren’t replacing them right away (unless, of course, they tear them off each others bodies.). I also shy away from velcro chest pieces, as they tend to lose stickyness after a while.
Finally, always be careful the first time you huck that blanket up and over (I’m so short, and Willow is so tall that it’s quite the process). Do it slowly. I usually do up chest straps, belly straps, then leg straps but I don’t think that there is a fool proof way of making sure all hell doesn’t break loose if darling horse throws a fit while you’re doing up straps. Adjust one strap at a time (unless you have a fatty like Willow… neither of her belly straps were long enough) and don’t ever hang out underneath them to adjust a strap that already done up.
Also, make sure your layers color co-ordinate. Obviously.