As we approach winter, a lot of talk about rugging horses for the cold emerges. But cold protection in winter isn’t the only function horse rugs (or blankets) serve, so let’s delve a little into their types and uses.
A Guide To Different Types Of Horse Blankets
Horse rugs (or blankets) are one of the most basic equipment pieces you may have for your animals. There are several types and styles, each with their function, and while not all might be useful to everyone, it’s important to know them. So let’s explore the different types of horse blankets there are, what they look like, and their function.
Turnout vs. Stable Horse Blankets & Sheets
The first difference we need to establish is between turnout vs. stable blankets. Not all horse rugs have the same function, and varying weights exist, but a turnout blanket will be appropriate for horses to go outside wearing them, while stable blankets often won’t.
This means that stable rugs should be worn indoors only, as they will likely rip when worn outside. These are more comfortable and softer for the horse to wear inside, and they might be lighter. In some occasions, it may be necessary to complement a stable blanket with a heavier one over them. Some may also be worn under regular turnout blankets for extra protection from the cold.
Turnout blankets, on the other hand, will protect your horse from mud, dust, snow and “survive” a horse’s natural activities without ripping or tearing. They often have waterproofing treatment and some (especially summer horse blankets) may have UV treatments to them. They should favor a good range of motion so your horse doesn’t feel tied up and cramped in its blanket.
The idea of putting a blanket on your horse during summer may sound odd. But these have a different intent: these protect your horse and keep it clean. They’re useful for transport and before an event when you don’t really want your horse to be full of dust. These also prevent your horse’s coat from bleaching out in the sun. Thinner-skinned horses, or with a more sparse coat, might also feel the cold in places where, even in summer, it isn’t very hot. There are both stable and turnout blankets.
Some blankets might even protect your horse from the weather when it’s too hot and there’s no shade, and some come with UV protection for horses with delicate skin. Whatever the reason behind it, make sure your horse isn’t sweating and uncomfortable in its summer wear.
These might seem contradictory, but they can be very useful. Horses, like humans, cool down their bodies through sweat, and the more exercise, the more sweat. If you’ve ever felt the chills while cooling down from vigorous exercise, you’ll know what these horse blankets are for. They will keep your horse warm as it cools down from exercise, and whisk away the sweat from their bodies. These might be fleece, wool, mesh or other breathable, soft material that will absorb the sweat and let the skin breathe. They are often light as summer blankets as well, so they can be worn for that purpose.
This is especially important in areas where mosquitos and other insects such as midges are common. The fly sheets are light and breathable to the skin and help your horse stay safe from insects. Usually, they will protect the horse’s sides, neck, and belly, the most usual targets for pests. Some also come in zebra print — which might sound like a style decision, but has some actual scientific background to it. The zebra print helps confuse the flies that would attack your horse. The finer the mesh, the better the protection.
Fly sheets also often come with UV protection to prevent your horse’s coat from bleaching out. Other than blankets, there are protections for the full face, just the ears, just the nose, or just the eyes. It all depends on the horse’s tolerance and particular needs. They’re especially important against sweet itch, provoked by midges in some regions.
Rain rugs & sheets
These are just like raincoats for humans. They will protect your horse from the rain, but there’s a little more to it than that. These are good to protect horses that stay out in the wet or humid weather. However, this does come with a cost: rain sheets aren’t as breathable as other rugs, which might lead to moisture gathering under it. Sometimes, it will be necessary to use a lighter rug underneath the rain sheet, to wick moisture away from the horse’s skin. If not, be sure to remove the rain sheet as soon as it’s not necessary anymore.
Winter horse rugs
There is some controversy about whether horses should or should not wear blankets in winter, and it’s largely dependent on the horse and the weather. Older horses, ill horses or horses that have clipped coats will benefit from rugs and blankets. Healthy horses develop winter coats that protect them from the elements, but depending on circumstances, extra protection is necessary. A way to figure out whether your horse is cold is to see whether it’s shivering, huddling together with other horses, or if its ears and nose are cold. In places where the weather changes too quickly, horse rugs and blankets become more necessary as well.
Remember as well that horses need more food during winter, as they spend more energy keeping themselves warm. Horses that lose weight quickly, or have trouble putting or keeping weight, may benefit from blankets more than horses without such issues. Depending on the temperature and the horse, whether it’s clipped or unclipped, you may need different combinations of horse blankets and different weights (amount warmth protection) for different horses and occasions.
Like with human coats and jackets, there are rugs out there with different weights and warmth levels, and so be careful to pick one that’s good for your horse in particular. In any case, always watch out for whether the horse isn’t overheating.
Show horse rugs & exercise blankets
Show horse rugs tend to be more aesthetically pleasing and are for horses going out to the show ring. The purpose here is more protection from the sun and dirt than actual warming, although in different conditions they might be necessary for that purpose as well. These often come in different colours and styles for a stylish look and have few buckles and fastenings for ease of use. They can also be worn during travel and ringside, so the horse stays protected.
They are not to be confused with exercise horse blankets, though. These are worn during cold weather while the horse exercises, including during riding. These are meant to protect exposed areas such as side and hindquarters and loins. Whether or not these are necessary depends on the horse and the weather. Some may be even reflective for night riding or riding in poor conditions, or in bright colours.