About Blanketing and Horse Clothing
If your horse has excellent protection from winter's biting wind, sleet and snow, and you rarely ride him in winter, then he may not need to be blanketed. He'll acclimate to cold weather as the season approaches through the development of a thick, fluffy coat and extra grease in his skin as protection against the elements. All you may need is a mid-weight turnout blanket to put on your horse in the coldest or wettest weather.
However, any horse that is turned out in winter without shelter, or that meets any of the following factors, will benefit from being blanketed:
If you choose to blanket your horse for extra warmth and protection, you'll have to monitor the fluctuating winter temperatures and change his blanketing to prevent him from sweating when temperatures rise or shivering when temperatures drop. It is very important to prevent sweating under a horse blanket, as it can cause a chill or lead to illness. For this reason, most people who choose to blanket horses have several articles of horse clothing that offer varying levels of warmth on hand to use in various conditions. Once you begin to put a blanket on your horse, you'll need to keep him in some type of covering until warm weather arrives to avoid causing him illness or discomfort.
Some equestrians find layering to be the most practical approach to blanketing. Ready-made layering systems are available on the market, such as Rider's International Blanket Layering System, or you can create your own layering options with pieces of horse clothing that can perform multiple functions, such as a fleece dress sheet that can act as both a blanket liner and a cooler.
Horse clothing falls into two main categories: those used for turnout and those used in the stable, while trucking or under supervision.
Types of Turnouts
Any article of horse clothing that is designed for turnout will be waterproof and made of a durable, rugged fabric to stand up to horseplay. It will be styled to allow freedom of motion and may have special features, such as gussets and shoulder darts, to enhance the flexibility of design. Shoulder darts and gussets on blankets can be helpful for outfitting broad-shouldered horses.
The interior fabric may be a slippery nylon fabric to glide over a horse's coat, a netted fabric to help with breathability or a fabric blend. Waterproofing is an important aspect of turnouts for those times when your horse is exposed to wet conditions-it is unhealthy for a horse to wear a wet blanket. (Over the years of use and laundering, you should check your turnouts to be sure they maintain water repellency. Waterproofing can be replaced by professional horse blanket cleaning services or with products available for home use such as Nikwax Synthetic Rug Proof.)
Turnout sheets, sometimes called "lightweights" by certain manufacturers, are the lightest weight turnout available. You could compare this type of covering to a lightweight raincoat or waterproof windbreaker that you might choose to wear yourself. They usually have a poly/cotton mesh lining. Turnout sheets are designed for horses to wear for protection from wet weather or mud during cool temperatures. They are usually too warm for horses to wear during hot, summertime temperatures, but they don't provide warmth in cold temperatures.
Weigh the benefits of using a turnout sheet for a particular horse. Turnout sheets, as can any sheet without the benefit of fill, make a horse's hair lie down flat, thus preventing the horse's natural ability to keep itself warm by circulating body heat through fluffed up hair. Turnout sheets should not to be confused with rain sheets, which are intended for use while a horse is being supervised.
Turnout blankets are available in a range of weights, where the weight refers to the amount of poly fill between the outer and inner layers. The fill adds warmth and insulates the horse's body heat. It is measured in gram weights; the higher the number of grams, the warmer and heavier the blanket. You could compare this type of clothing to winter jackets and down-filled parkas that offer varying levels of insulation.
Horses differ in their needs, making it difficult to prescribe a blanket until you get to know your horse. Some horses, like people, naturally run warm. Other horses do not develop thick hair coats and may suffer from the cold. You'll have to observe your horse to determine the appropriate level of warmth he or she requires throughout your varying winter weather conditions.
If you're new to blanketing or plan on purchasing only one turnout blanket, choose a medium or mid-weight blanket. Heavyweight blankets can become too warm in certain conditions-like a sunny day-and lightweight blankets might not provide enough warmth, especially for a clipped horse.