Monday, February 3, 2014

To Blanket or Not to Blanket

With winter's cold temps and northern winds upon us, some horse owners wonder if blanketing is something they need to be doing. I think that decision should be based on several factors. If your horses are not kept at home or boarded somewhere that someone can keep an eye on them, then it might be best to just make sure they have adequate shelter and skip blanketing. The most common concern is if the blanket slides out of position in such a way that it can be stepped on or the horse can get tangled up in it.

However, if your horses have adequate supervision, blanketing can be beneficial. Blanketing helps horses maintain their weight over the winter, keeps hair coats cleaner, and may lessen the cold on arthritic joints. Older less active horses may benefit from the warmth. Here’s a few basic guidelines to help get you started.

Select a blanket/sheet/turnout rug that is designed to fit your horse’s conformation. My personal preferences are blankets with the rear leg straps for keeping the blanket on straight, and gussets in the front to allow freedom of shoulder movement. Some blankets are cut back further on top to allow for prominent withers. The quality of the blanket usually determines how long it will hold together. There are many brands to choose from, I have always had good luck with BMB and Big D products, but there are several other quality manufacturers. Each winter, make sure the blanket/sheet/turnout rug still fits properly and is in good working condition, especially the leg and belly straps. Reinforce the stitching holding on straps and straighten or replace any bent buckles. If it is a new blanket, after your horse wears it a day or two, check to make sure the straps are not adjusted so tight that they are rubbing hair off, or that the blanket is not slipping sideways because the straps are adjusted too loosely. Make sure the front of the blanket is not rubbing hair on the shoulders or chest. Remove the blanket from your horse before the temperature is warm enough to make your horse sweat while wearing it. The dampness is likely to cause a skin fungus similar to rain rot, especially when longer thicker winter hair coats are unable to dry out quickly.

All-weather turnout rugs are waterproof, but usually do not breathe as well. I recommend you limit their use to rainy days. Wash horse blankets periodically to get rid of the buildup of hair, dirt, bacteria, stains, etc. Your nose will tell you when it’s time. Don’t take them to a public laundromat!

If your horse’s blanket is made of sturdy denier but still manages to acquire several rips and tears, it is possibly the work of a playful pasture buddy.

If you don’t feel confident about turning your horse out to pasture with a blanket on, you may prefer to blanket him/her only at night while in their stall, or when the temperatures get really low.

If you have comments or additional suggestions to add, please share! CJ Farmer CJ Farmer is the owner and operator of Grove River Ranch a North Georgia equestrian center. CJ has over thirty-five years experience with equine breeding, raising foals, training horses, showing several disciplines on a national level, boarding horses, and instructing riders of all levels of ability. She focuses on natural horsemanship and resistance-free training and riding methods and specializes in hunt seat, western pleasure

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