Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Barn girl tip: Blanketing is a big deal

If you work at a boarding barn, you know that with the colder weather comes a whole new layer (so to speak) of boarder/manager interchange about... Blanketing. Make no mistake about it, blanketing is a big deal. Sure, we know that horses are born to live in 30-40 degree weather...

But blankets are as much about the owner as the horse. Parents are always asking their kids "are you warm enough?" Ditto with horse owners. No one likes to think of their horse as cold or wet or overheated. It's ironic that horses thrive in temperatures much colder than we might guess.

But once the horse is used to being blanketed, it's all kind of moot -- they start to depend on them, and someone has to monitor the horse's comfort. Blanketing mistakes can make a horse sick. For clipped horses and certain sensitive horses (some just aren't cold tolerant) it's even more critical that the horse is kept warm.

What's a worker to do?
The transitional seasons are the worst -- cold in the am, warm in the p.m., rain rather than snow. Barns and/or owners usually have rules for when and how to blanket. Barn workers need clear guidelines, but there needs to be some room for personal judgement too. Here are some blanketing "rules of thumb" that I've used...

  • Feel under the blanket to monitor comfort (feel cold? feel sweaty?)
  • Cold horses have cold ears.
  • A horse whose hair is standing on end is probably cold.
  • When doing turnout in the a.m., consider mid-day temps, sun, and wind.
  • For an unclipped horse, err on the side of underblanketing.
  • For a clipped horse, err on the side of overblanketing.
  • The combination of wind, cold, and damp calls is a worst case scenario for horses.
  • Water resistant is not water-proof.
  • Watch their water consumption.
  • Extra hay will help a horse keep warm.

Best Practices for Owners
A good system is to have layers that can be added or removed. Barn workers typically add or remove a blanket, but elaborate layering instructions ("Please remove middle blanket and replace with...") or contingencies (If it is warm use blanket X except if raining, then...") should be avoided. Make sure you have one waterproof blanket if you want your horse out in wet conditions. Cheap blankets are often not breathable, and can make a horse sweat in cold conditions -- go for good quality. Owners should also keep in mind that weather at the barn may be very different, esp. if the barn is a long commute away.

Oh, and keep the blankets clean, especially the leg straps, which can get -- well, icky!


  1. Horses in backyard, totally under my care and I still fret about the blankets.

  2. When I lived up north, I found the simplest situation to be a breathable medium-weight blanket (for stabling and turnout on sunny days) that could be covered by a windbreaking waterproof blanket for turnout on nasty/windy days. Then you're only taking one blanket on/off instead of completely swapping stable and turnout blankets (which drives barn workers nuts!), and you don't have to worry about the stable blanket getting wet.

  3. "A horse whose hair is standing on end is probably cold." A horses hair stands on end in the winter to keep heat in believe it or not. It may not mean they are cold but it's their way of insulating themselves. A horse with a heavy coat that has a blanket put on can make that hair flatten, making the heat in their body dissipate quicker.

  4. Very timely advice, thanks especially for the tip about cold ears = cold horse.

    My horses are at home, and during the last week of frequent chilly rainsqualls I discovered that the little desert-born-and-bred Arab is perfectly happy to dance around naked in the rain, snuggly warm in the thick winter coat she grew herself.

    Meantime, my swamp-born-and-bred standardbred hangs out in the middle of the pasture (NOT under the trees, where it's relatively dry and not windy) shivering and miserable.

    Therefore: extra hay and a waterPROOF blanket for the standie, and nekkidness for the Arab--exactly the opposite of what I would have predicted!

  5. I have read the same thing about the "fluffy coat" in cold conditions.

    Mine are in the backyard too (and side yard and front yard) which makes it pretty easy. Free choice hay is the bottom line around here.

  6. My favorite instruction is, please "remove the middle layer." It happens more than folks would think... really.

    The other thing that drive me NUTS is a horse with an entire wardrobe: inner lining, turnout shell, chill chaser, Baker sheet, stable blanket, cotton sheet, waterproof sheet, light turnout, mid-weight turnout blanket, heavy turnout blanket, slinky/bra/'speedo(!)', etc. That horse owner usually leaves instructions like, "please remove the chill chaser (middle layer?!?) and add the midweight for turnout and then remove all three layers before noon because it is going up to 50 degrees and I don't want him to collic." Every large barn has one of these folks... you know who you are.

  7. Ahhh....the dreaded winter blanketing....

    Great tips and thanks for sharing! It's always something to think about, especially when you board your horse.

  8. Thanks for the blanketing advice. I keep my Arabians au natural- they do get shaggy! The only one that seems to be bothered by the cold is my Annie who is somewhat underweight and doesn't grow a thick coat. When she seems extra cold, I throw a blanket on her. Luckily, in the southwestern US the cold spells are just that, spells, with warm sunny days and cold nights.
    A really good sign of a warm horse is a snowy back. The snow should not melt right away.

  9. Very interesting. I don't blanket very often ( in California). I do use the ears as my temp indicator.

  10. AAACCCKKK! The horrors of blanket-age!
    The absolute worst boarders are the ones who post on the stall door a chart of temperature ranges (25 deg - 35.78 deg Fluffy shall wear X blanket, 35.79 deg - 48.37 deg Fluffy shall wear Y blanket...yada yada yada). These are the ones who usually insist on the dreaded middle blanket changes. AND have boots on all 4 legs, AND usually require standing wraps to be removed 3 out of 6 mornings. AND question your every move.....I equate these horses with having to dress a toddler for playing in the snow. It throws off the whole day's schedule when you're taking over 10 minutes to put on a horse's clothes to go out.
    Jeesh- can you tell I'm SO done with that???!!!

  11. Good tips - but I have to say that blanketing is probably the one thing about horses that I don't like... Layers, quality, cleaning, repairs. Ugh. I live in Canada and at my last barn all of the horses went without blankets. All had shelter and lots of hay.

    My horse now is almost 20, so I blanket him because of his age...but I grumble about it every time I take the stinky muddy blankets off! lol

  12. My mare despised the blanket and did not like to be inside during inclement weather. She had her special spot out of the wind. Then there was the very old shetland pony - she had a very furry coat, but I put a light blanket over that on extra cold nights. It did not squash her winter coat and added just enough to make her cozy.

  13. Great advice! How many times have we made ourselves miserable by dressing inappropriately? That horse blanket can make the difference between a healthy, comfortable, and cooperative horse and one who becomes ill or even injured, and we all know how cranky they can be when they don't feel good! We have found that dry erase boards and chalkboards make an excellent tool for keeping track of which horses need specific care.


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