Getting a Good Blanket Fit

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Photo: Thowra_UK/Flickr

By Laura Neufeld

Shorter days, morning frost and fallen leaves to sweep off the path are telltale signs of fall. Similar to the way the spring sunshine starts the grass and flowers growing, our horse takes his cue from the decreasing daylight hours to start growing a warm winter coat, and starts “hairing up” up even while the weather is still warm. When the fuzzies start to grow, it’s time to consider your horse’s winter care and wardrobe options. With adequate shelter from wind and precipitation, proper feed, access to fresh water, and room to move and maintain body heat, most horses will be comfortable spending the winter outdoors wearing only their natural thick coats, and in general, they’ll be healthier than their stabled counterparts.

But wearing a heavy winter coat is just not practical for horses that work or show in the winter months, and once nature’s winter coat has been clipped off, it must be replaced with adequate cold weather protection. For special cases such as the older, underweight, or ill equines, and for those not acclimatized to the cold, blanketing is also a good idea.

Once the decision to blanket has been made, or if last year’s blanket just won’t stand up to another season’s wear and tear, it’s time to find your horse some new threads. Take the time to make sure your horse’s new blanket fits him to a tee, and provides him with the protection he needs. Here are some tips for getting the best blanket fit possible.

1 — Know what you want. Before you go out and buy a fancy new blanket, decide exactly what your horse needs. Take into consideration the average climate where you live, whether your horse will be stabled most of the winter, how much he’ll be turned out, and how much natural winter coat he will wear. Will he be clipped for schooling or showing? Is he a senior who needs a little help to keep warm? Or does he just need an extra layer of protection from water and wind to help him weather the worst winter storms?   
One of the problems common to horse owners is over-blanketing, according to Vickie Forster, founder of the now permanently closed Dog & Pony Shop in Ladner BC, which for 20 years sold high-end equestrian supplies to clients all over the world. “A lot of horses here are stabled most of the time, so they don’t need a really heavy blanket. You want to make sure that you don’t over-blanket. A lot of times people bring blankets back in to us because they think they are leaking, but really their horse is just sweating. Breathability is key.” Alternatively, if you live in a region of Canada that boasts a cooler climate, make sure your horse’s blanket provides sufficient, waterproof protection to help him withstand the extremes of weather.

horse blanket shopping, measuring for horse blanket, should i blanket my horse, how to blanket my horse, buying a horse blanket

Horses start growing their winter coats early in response to the diminishing daylight hours so they're well prepared by the time winter winds start to blow. Photo: Robin Duncan Photography

2 — Measure and be sure. When taking your horse’s measurements, make sure your horse is standing squarely on a level surface. Start measuring from the centre of his chest, around his side, to the rear of his haunch  where the blanket would end. This point should be about 11 or 12 inches below his dock. Make sure that the tape is not too loose, or you will add inches to your final measurement. Similarly, ensure that it crosses the widest part of his chest and shoulder, or it will be too small.

Visit a tack store armed with this measurement and you will be off to a good start. However, “if you want to get a super fit, you can also measure from the top of the withers along the back to the top of the tail,” suggests Forster. “That way you have two sets of measurements, which will give you the fit around the neck too.”

If you have a critter with a tape measure phobia, use a piece of string or baling twine, then measure the string afterwards.

Related: Clipping 101

3 — Become blanket savvy. Keep in mind that blankets made in North America are sold in two-inch size increments (usually starting at 58 inches, and moving up to 84). Those manufactured in the United Kingdom, Australia, or New Zealand usually come in three-inch increments. If your horse falls between sizes, it is advisable to go for the larger of the two.

The majority of horses should fit fairly comfortably into a ready-made blanket; however, horses who are very broad, or with unusual fit problems may be better served by a custom-made blanket. The extra cost will be repaid by having the blanket stay in place, resulting in reduced maintenance and replacement costs for you, and good protection and rub-free shoulders for your horse.

If your horse is broader across the chest, but is otherwise average-sized, you can also look for chest extender pieces, which will give your blanket a little more breathing room.

Across the chest, shoulders, and withers are the most important areas to fit properly: if the blanket is too large through the neck, it will droop forward or drag backwards, restricting your horse’s movement and rubbing against him; if it is too small, it will rub and leave bare, sore spots. “A lot of people tend to fit too loose, so they roll around and pull back and chafe the horse’s shoulders,” says Forster.

4 — Try it on. Most tack stores should let you take your blanket home to try it on (or at least let you bring it back if it doesn’t fit). When you get the blanket on your horse, take a good look and test out the fit.

Make sure the blanket is not too tight. Slip your hand between the blanket and your horse’s withers — does it slide in easily? Same with the shoulder area, you should have no tight spots which force you to push your hand in.

Can he graze comfortably? Put a treat on the floor in front of him, and allow him to reach for it to test out his freedom of movement. There should not be excessive pressure anywhere on the blanket (though it is okay if it gets a little snugger).

If the blanket has a tail flap, does it sit comfortably on the top of his tail? If lower, then the blanket is probably too big. Does it lift easily when he lifts his tail?

Does the blanket stay securely in place when he moves around? You shouldn’t need to fasten the surcingles very tightly; if you do, it is probably too big. (Make sure that they are not so loose that he is in danger of catching a foot in them.)

#5 — Check out the extras. There have been all sorts of new developments in blanket technology over the past few years. Some blankets are cut so that they go part-way up the horse’s neck. These can help to reduce smaller fit issues, but can sometimes tent up a bit, especially on high-withered horses.

“A lot of blankets are now made without a back seam, so they look like they are wearing a giant blanket, but they work really well,” advises Forster. “Plus they don’t leak!”

Some blankets come with a nylon lining, which helps to reduce friction and rub spots. As a bonus, the lining also helps to give your horse’s coat an extra sheen. However, don’t let the lack of lining rule out a blanket that otherwise fits perfectly. You can easily make your own lining by purchasing some satin blanket liner from a fabric store, and adding it yourself. Just sew two large pieces to the interior, where the blanket meets the points of the shoulders.

Spandex “bras” are also available for your horse to wear underneath his blanket. These help to protect his shoulder and chest, though they can be tricky to put on. They are available in an array of colours and patterns.

Related: The Great Canadian Equine Cover Up

Main Photo: Thowra_UK/Flickr - Make sure your horse's blanket fits him well so that he's well protected and comfortable.