To keep your hor•e warm and •afe in win­ter, adopt the tried-and-true prac­tice• of a pro.

Practical Horseman - - The Ride of Your Life - By Les­lie Threlkeld

Emma Ford is a pro­fes­sional groom who has worked for many years for even­ter Phillip Dut­ton. She shared her ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence as co-au­thor of the book World-Class Groom­ing: The English Rider’s Com­plete Guide to Daily Care and Com­pe­ti­tion along with fel­low pro groom Cat Hill. Emma has seen every­thing that can go wrong in a barn, and when horse care and barn man­age­ment are con­cerned, she puts a strong em­pha­sis on safety for the horses and the peo­ple work­ing around them. When it comes to blan­ket­ing dur­ing the cold months, she is par­tic­u­lar about her rou­tine for how blan­kets are put on, taken off, main­tained and stored. Here are her top 10 tips.

1. Reat­tach Leg Straps

Emma’s num­ber-one blan­ket­ing pet peeve is when the leg straps are left dan­gling. Af­ter un­clip­ping a leg strap, she al­ways brings it to the out­side of the horse’s leg and clips it back on the same side. Then, when you go to put the blan­ket back on, the straps don’t swing dan­ger­ously.

“It’s a safety hazard to leave them loose and fly- ing around,” Emma says. “I’ve had the straps get caught in a ceil­ing fan spin­ning above. I’ve of­ten been caught in the face or the horse in the eye. It takes two sec­onds to undo it and do it back up again.”

When re­mov­ing a blan­ket, Emma al­ways un­does the leg straps first fol­lowed by the chest snaps or buck­les and leaves the belly surcin­gles for last.

“My feel­ing is if a horse gets spooked and the chest is un­done, the blan­ket can slide off over him back­wards and it’s sim­ple to get out of. If the surcin­gle is un­done and he gets spooked and the blan­ket shifts, it can end up around his neck and that’s more of a dan­ger.”

2. Cross the Leg Straps

Emma never likes to see a blan­ket with­out leg straps or a tail string to keep it in place.

“It’s purely a safety is­sue. All it takes is a roll or gust of wind for a blan­ket to shift over the neck, and the horse spooks.”

Leg straps should al­ways be crossed in the cen­ter to keep the blan­ket from shift­ing side­ways if a horse lies down.

“The idea is when the horse rolls, the straps will bal­ance the blan­ket,” Emma says.

“It is dan­ger­ous not to cross them be­cause if the blan­ket slips and the leg strap goes be­low the hock, a horse could start kick­ing out or get a leg through the strap.”

3. Make Sure the Blan­ket Fits

A blan­ket that is too large is at risk of slid­ing off to one side, mak­ing it less ef­fec­tive for warmth and pos­si­bly spook­ing the horse. A blan­ket that is too snug will rub un­com­fort­ably on the with­ers and shoul­ders. If it’s too short in length, the belly and hindquar­ters will be ex­posed to the cold. The best way to en­sure a blan­ket isn’t go­ing to slip or shift is to buy one that fits well.

“Bear in mind ev­ery brand can fit a horse dif­fer­ently,” Emma points out. Some brands of blan­kets are made for horses with big­ger or nar­rower shoul­ders or are shorter or longer in length. Re­search and, if pos­si­ble, try sev­eral brands to find the one that fits your horse best, pro­vid­ing him with op­ti­mal com­fort and warmth.

4. Al­ways Point Chest Snaps In­ward

Some blan­kets close at the chest us­ing snaps in­stead of buck­les. If your blan­ket has snaps, al­ways point the open­ing side in­ward to­ward the chest. Other­wise, the snap will be likely to get caught on some­thing.

“You have to have the snap side it­self clos­est to the horse so if he pushes against a wire fence or grill door there is no chance of him at­tach­ing him­self to a door or fence. I’ve seen it hap­pen!” Emma says.

Some blan­kets close at the chest with nei­ther a buckle nor a snap and re­quire you to put the blan­ket over the horse’s head. Some horses may not be com­fort­able with this or need a slow in­tro­duc­tion.

If you use over-the-head blan­kets, Emma urges putting them on in a stall and never when the horse is loose in the field. You don’t want the blan­ket to be hang­ing off his neck un­se­cured if he spooks and takes off run­ning in the pas­ture.

5. Avoid Static Elec­tric­ity

Static elec­tric­ity can oc­cur when re­mov­ing a blan­ket dur­ing dry win­ter weather, giv­ing your horse a bad shock and putting you at risk of be­ing trod on.

For es­pe­cially sen­si­tive horses Emma uses a prod­uct called No Shock Anti-Static Groom­ing Spray that can be sprayed on the horse to re­duce static. She will also re­move blan­kets a par­tic­u­lar way to avoid static.

“Fold the blan­ket into thirds and lit­er­ally lift it off the horse,” Emma says. “Take the back half and fold it for­ward, then fold the front half back­ward and lift the whole thing up over the spine. Don’t just drag it off.”

6. Keep Blan­kets Off The Ground

Bunch­ing up a blan­ket and throw­ing it on the ground or over a rail­ing doesn’t look nice and it can also cre­ate a hazard for your horse who could trip or get tan­gled in a loose strap. Al­ways fold blan­kets neatly and hang them up out of the way.

There are two meth­ods to fold­ing a blan­ket, as ex­plained in World-Class Groom­ing. One is for a lightweight cooler or sheet, ex­plained in the pho­tos and cap­tions be­low. The other is for heavy or puffy cool­ers and blan­kets, ex­plained in the pho­tos and cap­tions on page 63.

7. Re­blan­ket Each Day

Some­times the weather is too bad to ride or life and work get in the way of sad­dle time, but you still shouldn’t leave your horse wear­ing a sheet or blan­ket for mul­ti­ple days in a row.

“It’s just like wear­ing clothes—they shift. You want to take blan­kets off ev­ery day to check for any is­sues go­ing on un­der­neath the blan­ket [like a rub or in­jury],” Emma says. “If you leave it on too long it’s go­ing to cre­ate a pres­sure point. So it’s nice for the horse if you can re­blan­ket ev­ery day and put it back in the cor­rect po­si­tion.”

8. Keep Blan­kets Clean

A clean blan­ket is a warm, long-last­ing blan­ket. Just as you don’t want to wear dirty clothes, your horse doesn’t want to wear a dirty blan­ket. Stable blan­kets are eas­ily washed in a wash­ing ma­chine, but a wa­ter­proof turnout blan­ket can be trick­ier to main­tain be­cause the more of­ten it is washed, the less wa­ter­proof it will be.

If your horse has lain down in urine or ma­nure or rolled in dirt and mud, Emma sug­gests hang­ing up his blan­ket and spot wash­ing it with a bucket of plain warm wa­ter and a sponge. If it smells bad, a vine­gar-and-wa­ter mix will help get rid of foul odors.

If wa­ter is seep­ing through a turnout and your horse is be­com­ing damp un­der­neath, there are prod­ucts avail­able for re­wa­ter­proof­ing. Al­ter­na­tively, it may be time to buy a new turnout blan­ket.

9. Be Mind­ful of Blan­ket In­su­la­tion

Horses are nat­u­rally able to keep them­selves warm even in very cold tem­per­a­tures, but you should put wa­ter­proof clothes on un­clipped horses if it is cold and rain­ing. Once they get

wet and the hair is against their skin, they may get chilled be­cause their long coat hair can­not stand up and pro­vide good in­su­la­tion.

How­ever, if the weather is ex­treme enough that you feel the need to blan­ket an un­clipped horse, Emma prefers to see him wear­ing more than just a lightweight sheet.

“If you just add a sheet, you’re not re­ally adding an in­su­la­tor, and they are prob­a­bly colder that way,” she says. “A plain sheet at that stage will just flat­ten the hair, so in­stead you should prob­a­bly put on a medium that has an in­su­la­tion layer.”

Clipped horses al­most al­ways have heav­ier blan­kets dur­ing the colder months, and Emma never likes to see clipped hors- es wear­ing only a sheet, even on warmer win­ter days.

10. Don’t Over­think It

One of the most mind- bog­gling de­ci­sions for horse own­ers is of­ten which blan­ket they should put on their horse de­pend­ing upon the weather. Tem­per­a­ture, hu­mid­ity, pre­cip­i­ta­tion and ac­cess to shel­ter all come into play and, of course, we want our horses to be com­fort­able.

Some­times there are ma­jor tem­per­a­ture swings through­out the day or night and you may not be able to switch out blan­kets ac­cord­ingly. You don’t want your horse to be too cold but you def­i­nitely don’t want to overblan­ket and find him sweat­ing. What should you do?

“I tend to look at the weather and see what it’s do­ing for most of the night. The low may be 30 [de­grees] but it’s only go­ing to be 30 at five o’clock in the morn­ing,” Emma says. “I see what it’s do­ing be­tween 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. and blan­ket ac­cord­ing to what that tem­per­a­ture is. They might only be slightly warm at night or a lit­tle cold for an hour or two be­fore you get there in the morn­ing. Peo­ple def­i­nitely over­think it.”

In­ter­ested in learn­ing more about blan­ket­ing as well as other horse- man­age­ment and groom­ing tips? You can pur­chase Emma’s book World- Class Groom­ing for Horses at www.EquineNet­workS­tore. com. Use the code PRAC15 to re­ceive 15 per­cent off your or­der.

Con­sider your horse’s well-be­ing when you blan­ket to keep him happy and safe dur­ing cold

DON’T clip the snaps fac­ing out­ward. They could catch on a fence or the grill of a stall door, pos­ing a safety hazard.

DO fas­ten a blan­ket’s chest snaps with the clips fac­ing in­ward to­ward the horse.

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