Monday, December 31, 2012

Horse blanket commitments

Once you’ve decided that your horse might benefit from blanketing, you still have plenty of smaller decisions to make. Does he need a light blanket or sheet for daytime and a heavier blanket for night? Will he be turned out, necessitating a waterproof blanket, or does he just need a stable blanket for time indoors? Will he be turned out with other horses who will run and play? If so, he needs a blanket that will survive that.

Or will you turn him out blanketless, but then groom him before re-blanketing? If he rolls in the mud with his blanket, what will he wear while you’re washing the muddy one?

And aside from the cost of buying a blanket or two, there’s the time commitment that goes with blanketing and unblanketing, day after day. Who is going to do that work? If your horse is cold, blanketing may be your best option. But if you have choices, such as whether to body clip him or not, other time and nuisance factors come into play.

There’s the matter of keeping the blanket clean. Depending on the blanket materials, that may mean brushing the underside of it daily—or at least checking it—to remove any hay, hair, or stickers that could potentially rub against your horse’s coat. It may mean washing the blanket, which also means drying it thoroughly before putting it back on your horse. This likely means you’re going to need a second blanket. Don’t forget that it’s inevitable that you’ll have to do some repairs—even if it’s only to reattach a buckle.

Even with a blanket, which will help keep your horse clean, you should groom your horse every day. He’ll get itchy wearing a blanket, just as you would if you wore the same sweater day in and day out.

If your horse is turned out with his blanket, you have to make sure that the fabric doesn’t absorb and hold water when it gets soaked. A wet blanket will get a horse cold very quickly. Read the labels carefully. “Water-resistant” may be fine in a light mist, but you need “waterproof” if your horse is to stay out in the weather. And that means you’ll have to re-weatherproof it after cleaning.

Of course, you’ll have to be sure that the blanket fits well and doesn’t rub your horse’s coat. Even if it seems to fit, keep an eye out for the telltale hairs that seem as though they’ve been shortened, as if newly clipped or roughed up. This often happens over the hips, on the shoulders, or around the neck opening or withers after the horse has been wearing the blanket for a while.

When the hair gets rubbed, the skin will become tender also. For some horses, even a good-fitting blanket will eventually rub, so he may need an undergarment that will allow the blanket to slip along his shoulders more easily.

And even when everything works perfectly, you can still come home to find your horse naked and your blanket investment shredded by a naughty pasture mate.

As in most things, getting by as nature intended is generally your best option. But when blanketing is the right choice, you get to enjoy the warm feeling of knowing you’ve done your best for your buddy.