Blan­ket­ing 101: What You Need to Know

Take the guess­work out of blan­ket­ing your horse by fol­low­ing th­ese sim­ple guide­lines from ex­pe­ri­enced groom Max Cor­co­ran.

Practical Horseman - - Contents - By Les­lie Threlkeld

In the early au­tumn, when tem­per­a­tures be­gin to dip at night and we start drag­ging our own win­ter clothes out of stor­age, horse own­ers ev­ery­where be­gin an ob­ses­sive daily de­bate: Does my horse need a blan­ket to­day? There are many blan­ket­ing op­tions avail­able, and nu­mer­ous fac­tors play into this de­ci­sion, so you can eas­ily drive your­self crazy try­ing to de­cide when to blan­ket and which blan­ket to use. To help pre­serve ev­ery­one’s san­ity, we asked pro­fes­sional groom and sta­ble man­ager Max Cor­co­ran, who spent 11 years with Olympic even­ters Karen and David O’Con­nor, to share her blan­ket­ing sys­tem. Her trick is to fol­low a few sim­ple rules, set flex­i­ble guide­lines and try not to over­think it.

Un­clipped Vs. Clipped

Your horse’s blan­ket­ing needs de­pend on whether or not he’s been body-clipped. Here’s what Max rec­om­mends for the dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions:

Un­clipped: Horses who are healthy, in good weight and have not been clipped at all dur­ing the fall or win­ter do not need to be blan­keted. That’s be­cause they have built-in in­su­la­tion. Their hair nat­u­rally puffs up when it’s cold, trap­ping in body heat. “That rule goes out the win­dow if it’s wet,” Max says. A lit­tle rain or snow is no big deal, but when pre­cip­i­ta­tion sat­u­rates the coat, the hair can’t fluff up to keep the horse warm. Your un­clipped horse will also strug­gle to stay warm if his coat is very dirty or mud­caked, so groom him reg­u­larly.

Trace-clipped: A trace clip re­moves the hair from the chest, belly and lower parts of the neck and flank. This type of clip keeps a horse from sweat­ing too much when rid­den but leaves some of his win­ter coat to pro­vide warmth when he’s not ex­er­cis­ing. “For ev­ery layer you’ve taken off your horse by clip­ping, you need to put back on him by blan­ket­ing,” Max says. “I think it’s a mis­con­cep­tion that a trace­clipped horse has plenty of hair. The neck, belly and shoul­ders are still ma­jor mus­cle groups that hold heat. If that’s where you clip, they have noth­ing pro­tect­ing them.” She gives a horse with a trace clip one less layer than a horse with a full body clip.

Full-clipped: A full clip re­moves all the hair off a horse’s body, with the op­tion of leav­ing the legs un­clipped. This method elim­i­nates any warmth and pro­tec­tion the coat could pro­vide. A sheet, at min­i­mum, is nec­es­sary when the tem­per­a­ture dips be­low 55 de­grees Fahren­heit.

Sheet/Blan­ket Types

A blan­ket col­lec­tion can eas­ily be­come large and com­pli­cated. Max tries to keep things sim­ple with three pieces of horse cloth­ing: a turnout sheet, a medium sta­ble blan­ket and a heavy turnout blan­ket. You might also like to have a medium turnout blan­ket, but in a pinch, a medium sta­ble blan­ket with a turnout sheet on top works the same so long as the sta­ble blan­ket has two belly straps to keep it se­cure. For horses who are tough to fit and have blan­kets that tend to shift, leg straps are help­ful but not al­ways re­quired. Note that turnout sheets and blan­kets may be used in­doors or out­side, but sta­ble sheets and blan­kets are not wa­ter­proof so should be used only in­doors un­less topped with a wa­ter­proof layer.

The term “fill” de­ter­mines how warm a blan­ket is and is mea­sured in grams (g). The greater the amount of fill, the more in­su­la­tion a blan­ket pro­vides.

Turnout sheet/light turnout blan­ket—a wa­ter­proof sheet that pro­tects a horse from wind and rain but pro­vides only min­i­mal warmth. Fill: None–100g

Medium sta­ble blan­ket—a non­wa­ter­proof blan­ket de­signed for in­door use; will not pro­tect a horse from rain but pro­vides some warmth. Fill: 200g–280g Medium turnout—a wa­ter­proof blan­ket that pro­vides some warmth and pro­tects a horse from wind and rain. Fill: 200g–280g

Heavy turnout—a wa­ter­proof blan­ket that pro­vides heavy warmth and pro­tects a horse from wind/rain. Fill: 300g–400g

Weather Con­di­tions and Environment

When cal­cu­lat­ing how the weather fac­tors into your blan­ket­ing choices, also con­sider your horse’s ba­sic liv­ing ar­range­ments. Wind, for ex­am­ple, is not a con­cern for sta­bled horses. Some barn doors can even close up snugly, al­low­ing the an­i­mals’ body heat to keep the barn toasty. To de­ter­mine the tem­per­a­ture dif­fer­ence, place one ther­mome­ter in­side the barn and one out­side. Check them late at night or early in the morn­ing. Then you’ll know how much warmer your sta­bled horse is in­side the barn and be able to ad­just his sheet/blan­ket lay­ers ac­cord­ing to that tem­per­a­ture.

When your horse is in a pas­ture, does he have ac­cess to a shel­ter to get out of the wind, rain and snow? Here’s how var­i­ous con­di­tions can af­fect his com­fort:

Wind makes weather con­di­tions colder. If your horse has no shel­ter in his field, con­sider the wind-chill fac­tor and blan­ket ac­cord­ing to the “feels like” tem­per­a­ture.

Rain: Body-clipped horses turned out in tem­per­a­tures be­low 60 de­grees should wear at least a turnout sheet or light turnout blan­ket. If it’s go­ing to be be­low 55 de­grees, rain­ing for most of the night and the horses are out­side with­out ac­cess to shel­ter, Max usu­ally puts a turnout sheet or light blan­ket on the un­clipped horses, too. Keep in mind, damp­ness may make it feel colder and fac­tor into the “feels like” tem­per­a­ture.

Ice/freez­ing rain: If there is go­ing to be freez­ing rain or sleet, con­sider keep­ing your horse in­side. Be­sides be­ing very cold, this type of weather makes it chal­leng­ing for horses to keep warm be­cause it can flat­ten or soak their coats. If he must be turned out, con­sider the “feels like” tem­per­a­ture and make sure he has some sort of pro­tec­tion, whether it’s a shed, grove of trees or a blan­ket.

Too Hot or Too Cold?

“Just be­cause you’re cold does not mean your horse is cold,” Max says. Fair enough, but how can you tell if your horse is cold? If he is shiv­er­ing, he’s chilled and try­ing to warm him­self. A shiv­er­ing horse also burns more calories so is at risk of weight loss. An­other way to tell if your horse is cold is to feel his nose and ears with your bare hand. If they are cold to the touch, the rest of him prob­a­bly is, too.

While we hate the idea of our horses be­ing cold, it’s dan­ger­ous to overblan­ket. If your horse be­gins to sweat un­der his blan­ket, he can over­heat or, if wet hair traps the mois­ture against his body for too long, he could get chilled. Thank­fully, it’s easy to tell if a horse is too hot un­der his blan­ket. Just place your bare hand on his shoul­der in­side the blan­ket. If he is sweat­ing, he’s too hot. Re­move his blan­ket or give him one with a lighter weight—but only af­ter he’s had time to dry com­pletely.

What if it’s cold in the morn­ing and warm in the af­ter­noon, and no one will be there to change or re­move your horse’s blan­ket? It’s bet­ter for him to be a lit­tle cold for a short while than to be too hot for any amount of time. Turn him out with the clothes he needs for the ma­jor­ity of the day.

Type of Horse

Breed and type of horse may play a fac­tor in blan­ket­ing de­ci­sions be­cause some horses nat­u­rally run hot or cold. For in­stance, Thor­ough­breds of­ten carry less body

weight and grow less coat, so they tend to get colder more eas­ily than heav­ier breeds. But there are ex­cep­tions to ev­ery rule.

“It goes back to the old adage of ‘know your horse,’” Max says. “I’ve looked af­ter warm­bloods who run cold and vice versa. Gilt­edge [a top event horse who won mul­ti­ple medals with rider David O’Con­nor] was a thin-skinned mostly Thor­ough­bred who ran hot all the time. He al­ways wore one less rug than ev­ery­body else. If he de­cided he was hot, he would take his clothes off in the mid­dle of the night.

“If I have a horse who does run cold, I’ll use a ther­a­peu­tic sheet [a sheet de­signed to re­duce in­flam­ma­tion and in­crease cir­cu­la­tion] un­der­neath [as a base] be­cause it uses body heat to in­crease heat in the mus­cles.”


“Hay fu­els the fire,” says Max. As a horse me­tab­o­lizes for­age, his di­ges­tive sys­tem gen­er­ates heat and helps keep him warm. Dur­ing win­ter, when grass is scarce or there is frost or snow on the ground, pro­vide plenty of good-qual­ity hay, both in- side the barn and out in the field, whether your horse is wear­ing a blan­ket or not.

Age and Health

Age can af­fect how well horses keep them­selves warm. Older horses me­tab­o­lize food less ef­fi­ciently and may have a harder time keep­ing on weight. Some may also have less mus­cle and grow a thin­ner win­ter coat, al­though this varies from horse to horse. “It can be harder when they’re older to stay warm or warm back up again,” says Max.

By the same to­ken, a horse with health is­sues or a “dif­fi­cult keeper” who has a hard time main­tain­ing weight in win­ter may need help stay­ing warm by re­main­ing in­doors at night or in in­clement weather and wear­ing a blan­ket.

Again, Max says, the best prac­tice is to know your horse. An 18-year-old horse might get cold more eas­ily than one who is 25. It all de­pends on the in­di­vid­ual and his over­all health. Mon­i­tor any older horse closely through­out win­ter to check if he is los­ing weight, his body con­di­tion changes or he shows signs of be­ing cold.

A Good Fit

An ill-fit­ting blan­ket is not only un­com­fort­able, but it al­ters how ef­fec­tive the blan­ket is at keep­ing a horse warm. A blan­ket that is too big can shift back­ward and slide side­ways, ex­pos­ing large parts of the body and risk­ing en­tan­gle­ment. A blan­ket that is too small can con­strict move­ment, cause rubs or hair loss and prob­a­bly will not keep him all that warm.

“I like to be able to pull a blan­ket for­ward a lit­tle, so the horse can put his head down with­out chok­ing him­self. But it should still cover the en­tire hindquar­ters and top of the tail bone,” Max says.

Re­mem­ber that ev­ery brand of blan­ket is dif­fer­ent. Fol­low each blan­ket’s mea­sur­ing guide. Some run large or small, and some are even built for dif­fer­ent body types (e.g., nar­row shoul­ders ver­sus broad). Try dif­fer­ent sizes and brands un­til you find one that works best for your horse. A shoul­der guard (a light­weight, stretchy, fit­ted gar­ment) can also help pre­vent rubs.

Un­less the weather is wet, many un­clipped healthy horses are con­tent with­out a blan­ket.

A full clip re­moves all the hair off a horse’s body, elim­i­nat­ing any warmth and pro­tec­tion the coat could pro­vide. A sheet, at min­i­mum, is nec­es­sary when the tem­per­a­tures dip be­low 55 de­grees Fahren­heit.

As a horse me­tab­o­lizes for­age, his di­ges­tive sys­tem gen­er­ates heat and helps to keep him warm.

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