9 Blanket Tips for the Well Dressed Horse
By Melanie Huggett
The sheer number of horse blankets on the market can make choosing the right one rather overwhelming. Modern blankets offer many options in fit, style, fabric, and accessories, with innovations made every year. When choosing new clothes for your horse, consider that the “right blanket” can vary dramatically depending upon the blanket’s intended use and your local climate. Unusual conformation, or horses who think blankets make better toys than outerwear, can make finding the perfect blanket even more difficult. While no one blanket can be the best for all horses and climates, these nine categories will help you define your needs based on the variety of conditions that Canadian weather and our horses may throw at us.
#1 For Durability — Go Ballistic!
When choosing a turnout blanket for a horse that is prone to blanket destruction, or has a pasture mate who thinks tearing holes in his buddy’s sheet is a fun game, durability becomes extremely important. “If your horse is turned out with other horses, get the toughest blanket you can afford,” says Vickie Forster from the Dog & Pony Shop in Ladner, BC.
Durability in blankets is expressed by denier, which measures the number of threads in the material; the higher the denier number, the stronger the fabric. When choosing a durable blanket look for a minimum of 600 denier. You can also get “ripstop” material, which has a grid pattern of heavier thread woven into the material which stops small tears from growing. Our experts agree that the most durable blanket material on the market currently is ballistic nylon. Originally developed by the Dupont Corporation as a material for flak jackets worn by World War II airmen to protect them from flying debris and shrapnel, it is extremely tough. A high denier ballistic nylon blanket should resist tearing from even the most persistent horse.
Blanket fittings are also important when considering durability. Straps and attachments in the right places will keep your blanket secure. In the front, two or more straps are recommended for tough-on-blanket horses, so if one should get broken, the second will keep the blanket securely in place. Likewise, two surcingle straps, those that go underneath the belly, should keep a blanket in place. Lastly, elastic leg straps or a tail strap will stop a blanket from being pulled or sliding forwards. Our experts agree that double elastic straps are generally more secure than a single, horizontal strap under the tail. If your blanket does not have them, they can be purchased separately and attached to an existing blanket. Make sure all straps and attachments are made of high quality materials. Nylon straps should be of a tight weave, and be double stitched where straps are attached to the blanket. Look for strong metal or plastic clips that will not bend or break under strain, such as a high quality stainless steel.
#2 For Rain — Look for Waterproof & Breathable
There are a few things to consider when looking for a rain sheet to keep your horse dry besides the word “waterproof” (which is also important!). Ensure there is no seam along the spine of the blanket; water can easily seep into seams where fabric joins, and leave a horse damp. If there is a seam on the top of a rain sheet, ensure it is well sealed. Also choose a blanket style that has a wither cap or goes a short ways up the neck so water cannot run underneath the blanket at the withers. A tail cover will ensure that a horse’s back end stays dry.
Layering blankets is a good option when your horse’s normal turnout rug isn’t warm enough. Make sure the waterproof top layer covers the entire bottom layer. Photo: Robin Duncan Photography
If you plan on layering blankets, it’s important to make sure the waterproof top layer covers the entire blanket below; otherwise, the bottom layer can act as a wick, pulling moisture up underneath the top layer. It’s also important that a rain sheet be breathable, so if any water does sneak through, or the horse sweats, it can be evaporated away from the skin.
A number of companies have their own special waterproof coating such as Horseware Ireland’s AquaTrans coating. Glynis Schultz from Vancouver Island Greenhawk Harness and Equestrian Supply recommends the DuPont Teflon coating, which is “very good because it is waterproof and breathable.”
#3 For Cold — Layer Up
Winter in most parts of Canada means cold. If your horse has an inadequate winter coat or is clipped, a good cold weather rug will keep him toasty warm through the chilly weather. Blanket warmth is noted in the number of grams of fill. Typically, fill weights range from light (zero to 100 grams of fill), to midweight (around 200 grams of fill), to heavyweight (above 360 grams of fill). Choose a weight that suits your average winter climate. Another option is layering a warm stable blanket or liner beneath a lighter turnout blanket or rain sheet; this is a good option if it gets unexpectedly colder than your normal turnout rug can handle.
Winter involves precipitation, and whether snow or rain, it’s important to ensure that winter turnout blankets are waterproof and breathable. The best cold weather turnout blankets will have the same features as those best for rain, above.
#4 For Heat & Flies — Stay Cool & Breathable
Reasons for blanketing in hot weather usually include guarding against flies or protecting a horse’s coat from bleaching in the sun. Light coloured horses may also be prone to sunburn, especially when clipped. A good summer sheet “is useful for showing, trailering, and turnout use,” says Meaghan Calnan from Victoria Saddlery in Victoria, BC.
Fly sheets are especially important in summer for horses that are irritated easily or prone to skin reactions such as sweet itch. Photo: Montanabw/Wikimedia Commons
Fly sheets are especially important in summer for horses that are irritated easily or prone to skin reactions such as sweet itch. Many sheets also have added UV protection to protect against the sun’s harmful rays. Not only do they need to keep the bugs out, but fly sheets should be durable as a torn sheet will negate its protection. Fly sheets should also be light and breathable to keep your horse cool and dry in the hot summer sun. Consider adding a belly band, neck cover, and leg wraps for horses that are extra sensitive.
#5 For Coolers — Wick Away Moisture
For cooling out after a long ride, keeping warm after a bath, or waiting between classes at a show, a good cooler can come in handy. Coolers come in either fitted or square cuts and are typically made out of fleece or wool. Many people prefer one material over the other, but both act in the same way by wicking away moisture from coat, keeping the horse from getting a chill while it dries. However, our experts suggest that the most common type of cooler is fleece.
“Thick polar fleece wicks moisture away from the horse while keeping the back warm as the horse cools down,” says Schultz. She adds that they are also “useful for trailering in the winter months and as an under blanket on very cold winter nights.”
#6 For Show Sheets — Polish Your Grooming Job
Sheets protect a clean coat from dirt, are especially useful for protecting a pre-show grooming job, and can be used underneath another blanket to stop rubs and keep the coat looking shiny. Nylon show sheets are recommended over cotton ones as they add polish to the coat by keeping hair smooth and flat. Calnan suggests a nylon sheet with ripstop technology to ensure it lasts.
When looking for a blanket to keep out rain and snow, ensure there is no back seam and that there is a wither cap so that no water can seep through. Photo: Robin Duncan Photography
#7 For Little Tykes — Size Matters
Miniature horses, foals, and ponies have unique conformation traits that require a blanket suited to them rather than the average horse. It’s important to choose the correct size blanket to ensure it can do its job correctly, and so the horse’s movement is not impeded by extra bulk. Both foal and mini blankets typically feature belly bands to keep them secure. They also feature Velcro straps to allow adjustments to be made for the different sizes and conformation of minis or a growing foal. Many tack stores also carry rainsheets and blankets specifically made for our smaller companions; some horse blankets may also come in sizes 32 to 40 with a closed front for miniature horses or foals.
#8 For Big Boys — Look for Special Fit Features
Many large breeds, such as drafts and draft crosses, have broad shoulders and thick necks that make a typical blanket fit incorrectly. This can often lead to a blanket rubbing causing hair loss and discomfort. Chest extensions can help by adding inches to the front of the blanket. These add extra material and length to the front attachments. A number of brands carry chest extensions to match the main body of the blanket. For horses with large shoulders, look for shoulder gussets which allow for extra room in the shoulder area. Some companies also make blankets specifically designed for drafts or horses with larger necks and bodies, such as Rambo and Bucas.
#9 For Saving Money — Set Your Priorities
Not everyone can afford the top-of-the-line blankets, and purchasing a blanket for every condition can be expensive. Fortunately, there are many good quality blankets available at reasonable prices. You may have to make compromises, but by prioritizing the essential needs for your horse, you can still end up with a good quality blanket. Another option is getting two blankets that can do double duty. A good lightweight rain sheet can be used from fall to spring either on its own or as a waterproof outer layer. Then, consider a warmer stable blanket or fleece cooler for layering underneath on cold days, or using indoors or while trailering. Finally, sometimes it is worth saving up to buy a very high quality blanket that will last multiple years over buying a new one every season or more.
Regardless of the price, a good reputation and a warrantee can protect you in the long run and are a good indicator of the quality of a blanket.
Thank you to our panel of blanket specialists for their assistance with this feature:
Meaghan Calnan from Victoria Saddlery
Vickie Forster from the Dog & Pony Shop
Glynis Schultz from Vancouver Island Greenhawk Harness & Equestrian Supply
Joy Viel from Paddock Tack & Togs
The products featured in this article have not been tested or endorsed by this publication. For more information on these and other blankets, please contact your local tack store or the blanket manufacturers.
Main article photo: The BigD Magnum 1200 denier rain sheet is designed for the tough-on-blankets horse. Photo courtesy of Joy Viel
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2008 issue of Canadian Horse Journal.