Thursday, October 7, 2010

Intermediate/Advanced Blankets

So you bought your first horse this spring and had a great season with her. But now it's getting cold :( Time to think about blankets! Why? That's discussed in the beginner section of today's post -- feel free to read it :) In this post, what to know before you buy: size, weight, care, hoods, fit

So you realize you need a blanket and duitifully go to the tack store to purchase one... And are greeted with a whole wall of choices. And absolutely no idea what it is you should be buying. You randomly look at a tag. After cringing at the price you note some other information. Three numbers. No idea what they mean. Great. With Google's help, you end up here :)

I'm not going to discuss brands -- everybody has their own favourites and their own budget. However, there are some things that will be required throughout: size, weight, and care. And for those who *really* want the short version the numbers refer to size, shell and insulation. The end :)

For the long version...:

If your horse is going outside in it, it should be waterproof. Since most waterproof items don't allow sweat to evaporate either, it can lead to overheating which is almost worse than being cold. For this reason you should look for blankets that are both waterproof AND breathable. Harder to find and slightly more expensive, but definitely worth it for your horse's sake. You can always check your horse for overheating by putting a hand between the blanket and the chest or by the girth. If they're overly warm or sweating you've got them over-blanketed. This can happen even when it's cold out -- particularly if it's sunny.


Size is the first number you'll usually see on the tag. It is measured in inches and will range anywhere from about 66" (smaller for foals of course - think baby-clothes) to about 88" (I'm trying to think if I've ever seen a 90" and I don't think I have -- but it doesn't mean they don't exist, it just means I don't work with many HUGE horses :) The usually go up in increments of 2" with always being even numbers, but not always since my ottb is currently wearing a 75" so clearly somebody felt the need to defy the rules *g* Or offer more variety :) Anyways - how do you know what size you'll need?

  1. Grab a tape measure and, if you have one, a friend :) Can be done with one person, but much easier with two.

  2. Make sure horse is standing square on a flat surface.

  3. Have your friend hold the end of the tape at the point where your horse's neck meets the center of his chest.

  4. Take the other end of the tape along the side of the horse all the way around to the middle of his hindquarters (will be usually a little less than 1' below where the tail meets the body). Make sure when you're doing this that the tape measure crosses the widest part of the shoulder or your blanket will be too small. Also make sure it's taut (if it's loose your blanket will be too big). Note the measurement. Multiply by 2 and you're good to go.

Now when you're shopping if you're on a half-size go up one. Also, as with people's clothing, different brands and styles fit differently, so while you may technically be a 74, for some brands you may need a 76 or a 72. Well trained sales staff will be able to tell you how the various blankets usually fit.


Just like you're not going to wear your heavy down-filled parka on a day that's 5deg (ummm that'd be about ..... to our US friends :) it's important that you dress your horse according to the weather as well. Other considerations include activity level, indoor temperature, the length of your horse's hair, and metabolism (a horse that's hard to keep weight on may need a warmer blanket). To this end we have not one but TWO numbers regarding the weight. The second number (after size) you'll usually see on the tag is for the shell (outter layer) and has to do with the weight of the fibers in the fabric. The lower the number, the finer and lighter the fabric (think silk). The higher the number, the coarser and heavier it'll be.

The last number refers to the insulation. Anything below 175 is considered a Light-weight. This could be anything from a rainsheet with no insulation to a stable sheet. A midweight will be in the 175-250 range. A heavyweight is 250+ (up to about 500). Note that realistically the numbers are just guidelines -- anything that's within about 50 of a boundary could switch levels based on the type of fabric used for the shell and the lining. Pretend you have a fleece vest for your "insulation" and you put it over a t-shirt and under a light spring jacket. Now take that same fleece but put it over a sweatshirt and under a heavy leather rain jacket. Technically you've got the same level of insulation, but to a very different result. So you have to consider the overall package not just any one number on its own.


For me, care is once or twice a year making a giant pile of all the blankets and sending them to our wonderful blanket lady who, for a reasonable fee, returns them cleaned and repaired -- complete w/ smilie face stickers indicating all the repairs. However, for those who are a little more ambitious than I...

Most blankets now are made machine washable (yeah!) -- they do tend to be hard on the washers though (and most laundromats will kick you out :) so be forewarned (you might get away with it if you go to a city laundromat where they don't know any better :). They also make a lot of noise since the metal buckles fly around. Generally just follow the instructions -- can't tell you much more than that. Usually wash in warm, rinse in cold. Don't use bleach and don't dry-clean (the chemicals effect the waterproofing and are not particularly good for your horse). The big thing to remember is don't use the dryer as that will undo the waterproofing.

Obviously tears should be stitched, straps must be in good repair, and the inside @ least should be reasonably clean of mud, hair, dirt, etc.


Some blankets come with hoods (essentially neck-warmers :) These add time and a bit of a pita to the daily routine, but if your horse has a full-body clip you should seriously consider one (if they have their natural coat on the neck, I don't worry about it). Note that there are some blankets now which do not have hoods but seem to have a little "extra" piece that comes over the withers and just a bit up the neck. These are great in theory. However, in practice I've noticed that since that extra piece doesn't really lie ON the neck so much as over it, there's a tendency for snow and other miserable weather elements to get in there (esp if the horse's head is down) ending with a very wet and very cold horse. Be aware though that's only my personal experience. It's enough that I don't use them any more, but there might be some out there for which that's not an issue.


Once you've bought your blanket (or blankets as the case usually is) bring them home, groom your horse, and then try them on. It should cover from the withers to the dock (most have little tail flaps now -- great addition!) It should fit reasonably closely -- anything that moves too much, or conversely is too tight, will rub, leaving bare patches on your horse's skin. Check particularly the points of the shoulder and hip as well as by the withers. The blanket should go just past the belly. If it's down near the knees it's way too long and the horse will risk getting tripped up by the straps that attach underneath. Anything that's too big will be subject to twisting and getting tangled. Straps are pretty well always adjustable. They should be loose enough to not be touching the horse (it's not a girth!) but not so loose that they dangle. The chest straps should be snug enough that the blanket is not moving around.


  1. One add to Lauren's awesome advice!

    Make sure you take dampness into account, not just temp. I'm in Pacific Northwest, and we blanket much more heavily in comparison to the temp than you would in a drier climate. Heck, I DO wear a light parka when it's above freezing!

    Also... wool is your friend if you're in a damp climate. It can be expensive, and a bit high maintenance, but totally worth it...

  2. Very good point Jael - thanks tons! And absolutely right on the wool -- esp if you're living somewhere damp. Nothing better. Same goes for people for that matter :)