Blankets and how to use them

I love to talk to people about their horse blanketing beliefs – there are dozens of different systems, and those within each system believe their way is the only way. As a gal who’s owned trail horses, show horses, outdoor horses and stabled horses, I want to share my own blanketing beliefs and de-bunk a few myths. Make sure to leave a comment below and weigh in with your own thoughts!

First off, I believe that mother nature will always give a healthy horse a warm coat for winter. When the days grows shorter, a horse’s coat grows longer and thicker. Just like certain breeds of dogs, horse’s have two layers of hair: 1) The undercoat, which consists of short, fluffy hair. The hairs serve as insulation by trapping warm air and preventing the loss of body heat. My chestnut horse’s undercoat is a soft beige colour. 2) Guard hairs, which are long, coarse hairs that move with the horse’s muscular system. These hairs shed snow and water, and they can withstand a fair amount of precipitation before soaking through.

Photo © sailingaway719 on Flickr

Photo © sailingaway719 on Flickr

If your horse is healthy, can grow a natural coat, and has shelter from wind and the elements, you probably don’t need to blanket.

If your horse is aging, cannot grow a thick coat, does have access to shelter or sweats easily during winter workouts, you will need to design a blanketing system. Here are a few types of blankets you may want to consider for your tack trunk:

Stable sheet by Schnieder's

Stable sheet by Schnieder’s

Stable Sheets
Designed to keep a horse clean in a temperate barn. Stable sheets do not contain insulation, and their fabric and construction will not stand up to pasture play.

Stable blanket by Schneider's

Stable blanket by Schneider’s

Stable Blankets
Designed to keep a horse clean and warm in a cool barn. Stable blankets can contain as little as 180 grams of insulation or as much as 440 grams. Their fabric is usually designed to shed straw and shavings, but they do not stand up well to pasture play.

Turnout sheet by Schneider's

Turnout sheet by Schneider’s

Turnout Sheets
Designed to keep a horse dry in temperate climates. Turnout sheets normally have a nylon lining with little-to-no insulation. Their fabric and construction is designed to standup to pasture play. Sturdiness is ranked in denier count. 600 denier blankets are suitable for horses who are gentle on clothing, while 1200+ denier blankets are better suited to horses who like to roughhouse. Generally, the higher the denier count, the higher the price of the blanket.

Turnout blanket by Schneider's

Turnout blanket by Schneider’s

Turnout Blankets
Designed to keep a horse warm and dry in cooler temperatures. Turnout blankets can contain as little as 180 grams of insulation or as much as 440 grams. Like turnout sheets, they’re designed to stand up to paddock play. The higher the denier count, the tougher the blanket.

Blanket liner by Schneider's

Blanket liner by Schneider’s

Blanket Liners
This is my favourite new trend in horse clothing. Blanket liners are essentially stable blankets designed to be layered under a turnout sheet or turnout blanket. They generally have a closed front and no surcingles or leg straps, and instead have reinforced openings for the over blanket’s straps. The one draw back to blanket liners is that they do not stay in place without an over blanket, and therefore do not make good stable blankets.

Cooler by Schneider's

Cooler by Schneider’s

Designed to help a sweaty horse dry and return to a normal temperature without incurring a chill. Coolers are usually made of fleece or wool. Some can be used as blanket liners, but coolers will not stand up to pasture play.

So what blankets do you need for your horse and climate?

Horse turned out during cold, dry winters
Make sure your horse as adequate shelter. Use a turnout sheet for the rainy fall, and then add a blanket liner or switch to a heavy-weight turnout blanket when the day time highs drop below -10. Keep a cooler on hand for drying out after a ride.

Horse turned out during mild, wet winters
Make sure your horse has adequate shelter. Use a turnout sheet for the rainy fall season, and then add a blanket liner or switch to a mid-weight turnout blanket once the temperature drops. Keep a cooler on hand for drying out after a ride.

Horse stabled during cold, dry winters
Throw a heavy-weight turnout blanket on your horse before sending him outside to play. If he stays in a warm barn, use a stable sheet or no sheet when he comes inside. If he stays in a cold barn, leave the turnout blanket on or swap it for a heavy stable blanket.

Horse stabled during mild, wet winters
Throw a mid-weight turnout blanket on your horse before sending him outside to play. If he stays in a warm barn, use a stable sheet or no sheet when he comes inside. If he stays in a cool barn, leave the turnout blanket on or swap it for a mid-weight stable blanket.

Blanketing Myth:

My horse grows a thick winter coat and only needs a rain sheet.

Remember how I talked about the horse’s undercoat? How it traps warm air and acts as natural insulation? No matter how thick your horse’s natural coat, never send him out into the cold winter air with nothing but a rain sheet to cover him. Sheets flatten your horse’s hair, and any natural insulation his coat offers will dissapear. Uninsulated sheets are meant for mild weather. If you are blanketing your horse in the winter, you need to replace his natural hair insulation with the polyfill in a stable blanket or turnout blanket.

Now tell me, what are your blanketing beliefs?

23 thoughts on “Blankets and how to use them

  1. Oh no I put a rain sheet on because it rained in the morning and turned cold in the afternoon. She was wet and then it froze with wind and she was cold and shaking. She does not have a heavy coat and it fluctuates from -2 pm to -18 am. She is warm under the rain sheet and I am, afraid to take it off now. Not looking forward to -30 and -40 then I will have to at some point put on her winter blanket. She has shelter but no barn. Any thoughts?

    • If she has shelter, I would recommend purchasing a medium weight turnout sheet and a blanket liner. The Schneider’s blankets are very reasonably priced. The medium weight turnout would keep your mare warm and dry during the late fall and early spring months, and then you can add the liner underneath for extra warmth during the -30 to -40 drops.

  2. I have racehorses and I alsways turn out with a blanket depending how cold or wet. My horses have a spring fall and winter collection. When they have been out all day I keep there outside blanket on until the barn warms up then I switch to a lighter balnket for the barn. I hate it when people where balnkets in the barn and take them off when they turn them out. That makes no sence to me. I put my coat on to go outside.

  3. I agree with the rain sheet statement! Last winter I was under the impression that my Icelandic would be alright with just the sheet since he grows a massive winter coat. Later in the spring I found out he had caught pneumonia. Granted there were many other factors in the equation, but my lack of knowledge with blankets sure didn’t help.
    I would also like to add that almost all stable sheets and indoor sheets have a back seem, and a back seem indicates that a blanket is NOT waterproofed. Working at Greenhawk I’ve had many people come in expecting our stable sheets to hold up during turnout, but come back complaining that their blanket is soaked. 99.9% of blankets that have a back seem are not waterproofed and can make your horse colder if there’s not a waterproofed blanket put over top of it (i.e a rain sheet). Even if a stable sheet feels waterproofed, don’t let the fabric deceive you.

  4. well I have horses and I leave my horses outside 24/7 with shelter….and no blankets
    a horse is much healthier if outside instead of in and out of a barn where temperatures change ….this is when they are more apt to get sick because there body has a hard time adjusting to the temperatures……so its my belief not to wear blankets….it is way better for the horse!!!!

  5. For sure the horse is better of without a blanket IF it is lightly ridden only and IF he does not sweat heavily/or the rider has a few hours to walk te horse after work. In our case we have many horses in heavy, competitive training. Some are clipped, some are not if they have a fine coat. All the working horses have blankets on and we layer with heavier ones as the temperature goes lower. The horses, even the show horses and the stallion, are out WITH other horses 24/7 unless the weather is really bad- heavy rain, below -25, snow storms ( over 15-20cm ) or, in the summer, if it is very hot and/or buggy. We never blanket during summer as it is too hot here and they would be soaked from sweat chronically. I don’t believe the is ONE right way. It all depends on, use of horses, type of coat, climate and season. We are near Ottawa, Ontario so we have very cold winters and very hot summers.

  6. Im just curious about the rain sheet part.. my 3 live out side 24/7 with a shelter however we ran in to a really bad fall full of rain and we were batteling rain rot on one horse so I put blankets on all 3.. its not a rain sheet but prob the lightest blankets out there.. sheet with linner but no stuffing… my thoughts were to keep them dry.. everyone is doing great and no one is cold.. but wondering if next year we should go without? Thanks

    • My guy is an otherwise healthy and happy Arabian, he just doesn’t grow a winter coat as quickly as the other horses. I blanket him when it starts to get cool in the fall – this year it has been pretty mild so the most he has worn has been a cooler under a rain sheet if it is below -5 or he is sweaty from riding. His winter coat has still grown in nicely underneath but I leave the rain sheet on to keep him dry. I find he is warmer if he can stay dry. He also has a heavy winter turn out for those -40 Ottawa days.

  7. I enjoyed this blanket discussion and hearing the various methods and beliefs. I tend to believe that natural is best – as much turnout as possible and preferably no blankets, but of course many horses can have special needs. My one founder prone, heavy mare is not even allowed to SEE a blanket 🙂 and appears to be fine in all weather with shelter, free-feed hay etc. But I bring her in every other night or so, to be able to restrict her hay to 1-1.5% of her body weight.
    Unfortunately my newer Standardbred mare just doesn’t seem to withstand the cold well, I’ve often found her shivering and seeming stressed in the cold, and so reluctantly I blanket her. I tend to bring them in the barn for nights colder than -15C ish during this uncharacteristically cold winter. If not for the SUPER cold, and the challenges in keeping my one mare’s weight down – I’d leave them out 24/7.

  8. Herd of 10 – ranging from 5-19 yrs old….not one of them is blanketed…are outside 24/7 with tons of tree coverage for shelter and plenty of open fields for running around….have consistently had -25 to -30 (-30 to -40 wind chills) and the herd has not batted an eyelash…Mother nature really knows what she is doing with these amazing animals

  9. We have 2 QH, 17 and 21 this year in May, and the only time they get blankets is when they feel off, or they get soaked and its windy. In the later case they have access to a barn where they get dried off and a blanket thrown on until they dry just to take the chill off. Other than that they are happy as clamps in their -40 winter coats that they grew and are hiding the horses somewhere deep within.

  10. i have a 21 year old horse and he is is out 24/7 yes he has tree’s for shelter and yes we have had some real cold days like 30 to 40 below so no i do not put a Blanket on him

  11. HI there,
    I like your article! Having sold blankets for over 13 years I know that unfortunately, it is not accurate to say that higher Denier count is a tougher blanket. It really depends on the weave of that blanket, the strength of the material that makes up the outer shell whether that be polyester or ballistic nylon or whatever.
    I have seen 1200D T/O blankets, one from a well know manufacturer and another from a lesser known company where one will far outlast the other and where one is priced much higher.
    Horse owners really have to be more aware of what they are buying and more important whether or not their horse actually needs it.
    Thank you for your information!

  12. I have one Welsh pony cross. She is 7 years old and healthy, so she gets no blanket. She has full access to huge barnyard and barn, so she decides whether she wants in or out. Our temperatures last winter reached -30 C a few times and Ginger was fine. As others have mentioned, there is no right answer. It depends on the horses age, health and circumstances. I do think it is very, very important that if you are going to blanket, you HAVE to make sure to keep an eye on your horse and change blankets or take it off as needed. Leaving on a wet blanket, or one when it’s not needed can be as uncomfortable as not having one in the first place. Monitor your horses for sure.

    • Great comments, Cathy, and so true! You often can’t see a horse’s condition under a blanket so it’s important to check them daily. Thanks for sharing.

  13. I live in Canada and it gets to -30 with -52 windchill….Im really thinking of starting to blanket with a medium weight at least for overnight. He has a heavy natural coat but when it’s that windy and cold would the blanket help?… Thanks

    • Putting a blanket on your horse overnight will slick the coat down flat. So you’ll need to put a blanket on him during the day as well, as a slicked coat has no loft (insulation). I live in Winnipeg, and when we get down to -30, I put a heavy weight blanket on my Thoroughbred. You might want to do the same thing.

    • A horse’s natural coat will shed a certain amount of water, but you need to check non-blanketed horses regularly to make sure their coat has not soaked through. A blanket is a great way to protect your horse from rain and wet snow. Just make sure the blanket has enough insulation to fend off the damp cold.

  14. I have two mares that have free access to barn and shelter. On extreme wet and windy days they will still be standing out in the bad weather. They will come to the barn/shelter area for food and be soaked and sometimes shivering. That is usually when I end up blanketing them and locking them in for the night. They have access to the outside but not the pasture and yes they still will go stand out in the rain! I try to keep the blankets off for the most part but if we get a lot of wet cold days in a row, then it is a toss up as to if they should remain blanketed for the season.

  15. I have a 15 yr old. I’m in central NC. My horse has a carport for shelter but no wind break. She stands under the shelter a lot when it rains but with that she still gets damp even then. I have a 1200d waterproof sheet with high neck and a waterproof blanket (regular neck). I started putting her sheet on early in the season but got told it’ll make it worse when it rains/snows as wet blanket (even if its waterproof turnout) keeps one from staying warm. So with that said, since before thanksgiving I quit putting it on her. Please tell me what to do. I have to add, when it gets close to or below freezing at night the barn owner brings them inside the barn.

    • Hi Sharon,
      Have you seen the blanket soak through yourself? A good quality blanket should remain water-resistant even through a tough rain storm. If you haven’t washed it in sometime, I recommend washing it in NikWax Tech Wash and then tumble drying it on a low setting – it will re-waterproof the blanket. After drying, you could spray it with a re-waterproofing spray for extra protection. Dirt from the outside and oil from the horse’s skin will compromise a blanket’s breathability and waterproofness, so it’s important to wash them regularly.

      Also, a horse’s natural coat can shed quite a bit of water on its own. Have you seen her soaked through? If she is getting soaked and shivering, I’d recommend keeping her blanketed. You may need to invest in a higher-quality blanket if the washing tips don’t work, or buy a second blanket and ask the stable-owner to alternate them during wet weather.

  16. What would you recommend for horses that are ridden recreationally over winter, that have access to shelter, but after rides can be a bit sweaty? I usually either put a cooler on and walk them out till fairly dry, or a cooler under a winter blanket and then take it off once they’re dry. We’re in the Winnipeg area too so it gets extremely cold and windy at times!

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