To cover or not to cover: Here’s a good rule of thumb for rugging horses

When temperatures drop, many horse owners’ thoughts turn to blankets.

It’s no wonder owners often find themselves wondering which blanket best suits their horses and the weather conditions, with choices ranging from summer scrims to heavyweight blankets with attached neck covers.

Not all horses need blanketing, according to experts, because a full winter coat is well designed to protect the horse from the cold.

“That coat gets heavy in the winter for a reason, and it stands on end and acts as a layer of insulation when it gets cold to keep the body warm,” explains Dr Rhonda Rathgeber, the director of Hagyard Equine Medical Institute’s Sport Horse Program in Kentucky.

“I don’t think any of them need blanketing if it’s dry outside and there’s no wind,” Rathgeber said of unclipped horses with a full winter coat. “But horses that are clipped do need to be blanketed probably anywhere from 40 degrees Fahrenheit and below.”

A good rule of thumb for blanketing unclipped horses involves the owner considering three factors: wind, wet, and cold. If any two of those conditions exist, it’s as well to toss on some sort of blanket, although unclipped horses who are healthy and fairly young will not normally need heavy blanketing. Be sure to keep water- and windproof blankets on hand, too, for those inclement conditions.

“Older horses have a harder time staying warm, and thinner horses do, as well,” Rathgeber said. “Horses that are recovering from illness also have a hard time trying to keep warm while using their energy to try to heal or get over their ailment at the same time. Those are all horses that, even if they’re not clipped, don’t fit the normal mold of blanketing only when it’s windy and cold.”

Horses that have been kept under lights, either for breeding purposes or to keep their coats shinier and thinner, also will need extra consideration if they move to colder climes.

If your horse does need blanketing, look for something strong, waterproof, and breathable, advises Horseware’s Caoimhe Derham, who spent five years in the company’s research and development department before becoming its category planner.

“A turnout rug’s job is to protect the horse from wet and allow the skin to breathe,” Derham said. “The main things to look for are the strength of the fabric, to help prevent nicks and tears in your rug from daily use. You should also look for a rug that has a high waterproofness and breathability rating.”

Two terms to be familiar with about blankets are denier and fill. The higher the denier, the sturdier the fabric. Fill, also known as polyfill, is the batting inside the blanket. The fill weight indicates how heavy or warm the blanket is. Lightweight blankets generally are around 100 grams to 200 grams, medium weights are often around 200 grams, and heavyweights can be 350 grams or more.

Hagyard’s Rathgeber advises owners to ensure blankets are in good order before using them.

“When you put them on your horse, double-check that all closures are correctly snapped and secured. Make sure the straps hook securely,” Rathgeber said.

“We do see injuries every year from horses who got wrapped up in their blankets somehow because they weren’t secured properly.

“Most of the newer blankets have really good clips and they stay. But when clips get older and bent and out of whack, it’s time to get in touch with one of the blanket-repair places out there.”

Send blankets for cleaning and repairs well before they need to be worn, and store them in a clean and secure place, such as a clean plastic box or trunk, when not in use.

Reporting: Glenye Oakford via US Equestrian Federation

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