As winter approaches, every horse owner wants to ensure their equine companion stays warm and comfortable. Choosing the right horse blanket is essential for keeping your horse safely in the sweet spot between ‘shivering wreck’ and ‘dripping wet with sweat’ during the cold months. In this blog, we want to walk you through the different types of blankets available and help you make the right decision for your horse.
Clipped vs. Unclipped Horses
Before we get to the good stuff, it’s important to understand the difference between blanketing a clipped horse and an unclipped horse. It's essential to assess your horse's coat and condition when choosing a blanket. The difference in approach may surprise you!
Keeping themselves warm during winter is something horses are naturally adapted to do - and their coat plays an important part. They grow a thick, insulating winter coat, and when it gets very cold, their hair can stand on its end to create a pocket of cosy air around their body. Because of this, most unclipped horses are very well prepared for winter. In fact, it is very easy to over blanket an unclipped horse, which we will touch on later. As a rule of thumb, you can start blanketing your unclipped horses lightly when temperatures drop below 5°C.
Clipped horses are another matter. Clipping removes the horse's natural winter coat, meaning they have a harder time regulating their body temperature compared to unclipped horses. This makes them more susceptible to the cold (a little bit like us going outside without a jacket in mid winter). Because of this, clipped horses require extra insulation and protection in the form of blanketing from a much earlier point in winter than unclipped horses. You can typically start blanketing your clipped horse from around 10°C.
Characteristics, Age & condition
Aside from whether they are clipped or not, you should always take into account your horse's individual characteristics, such as their natural coat thickness and build when deciding whether or not to blanket. For example, if your horse's coat is naturally thin, or if they struggle to produce a winter coat, you will want to start blanketing a bit earlier, even if they are left unclipped.
Similarly, your horse's age and condition also plays a part. Young, fit and healthy horses are, for the most part, able to manage their own body temperature without too much help, provided their winter coat is left intact. By contrast, older, or sickly horses may not be able to produce enough extra energy to keep themselves warm or throw out a good winter coat, and should be blanketed sooner and more heavily.
Stables vs Unstabled
Finally, you should think about what type of weather conditions your horse will actually be exposed to, and whether they will be kept indoors or outdoors.
Stabled horses who are kept in a well sheltered, dry, wind free stable or barn with a thick bed of shavings will most likely not need to be blanketed at all, or should only be blanketed very lightly. The inside of a stable is usually warmer than the outside, and your horse can lie down to keep themselves warm if they need to.
If your stables are very open, or your horses are kept outside, then you need to first think about what kind of conditions they will experience. Is your local weather more of a dry cold, or does it frequently rain? For example, if your horse is outdoors in a very cold area, and there is heavy rain and wind, you will want to use a thick and sturdy outdoor rug, whereas if your horse is in an open stable that gets cold but it otherwise sheltered from the wind and rain, a thick duvet is likely to be enough.
Over Blanketing, meaning using a blanket that is too thick for your horse, is a very common practice in South Africa, but it can have some serious consequences. It’s easy for you to step outside and feel cold, and make the assumption that your horse must be feeling cold too - but often this is not the case and you should avoid the temptation to throw on a heavy rug.
How do you tell your horse is over blanketed? It’s easy! They will begin to sweat as they try to get rid of some excess heat. When that happens, they also get wet, and the blanket will become totally useless, leaving your horse worse off than they were before. Being wet means being cold, and that can mean stress and loss of condition - the opposite of what you were trying to achieve.
When in doubt, you will be better off slightly under blanketing your horse than going over the top, so keep that in mind when choosing a rug.
Understanding Different Types of Horse Blankets
Once you’ve figured out if your horse needs a blanket at all, you can delve into choosing the right type. Here are some of the most common rugs available:
Cotton Day Sheet:
A day sheet provides lightweight coverage and protection against dust. It's ideal for mild weather or as an additional layer beneath a heavier blanket for indoor use. As they are often not wind or water proof, and offer poor mobility they are not typically suitable for turning your horse out.
Designed to repel water, rain sheets are perfect for wet and rainy conditions. They keep your horse dry and comfortable, helping them avoid getting chilled in summer or winter. They are not warm, so are not suitable as a winter blanket.
Fleece blankets offer warmth and breathability. They are excellent for layering or for unclipped horses in moderately cold temperatures. Fleece wicks away moisture while providing insulation, although it can be quite tricky to keep clean.
Stable duvets are ideal for colder indoor environments. They provide excellent insulation and are quilted for added warmth. They are not designed for outdoor use. They come in a wide range of warmth factors, and depending on the fill and denier of your blanket, they can be used as a light to mid weight blanket.
Outdoor rugs are heavyweight blankets built to withstand harsh weather conditions. Their heavier denier means they are windproof, but consequently also warmer and less breathable. They offer maximum warmth and protection against wind, cold and even snow, but you should be careful not to over do it. Outdoor rugs are water resistant, and do not have quilting or a back seam. As they are designed for turning your horse out, they are also more durable and offer a wider range of movement. As they are often rip-stop, a light outdoor rug can also be considered for horses who destroy more delicate blankets. In terms of blanket weight, outdoor rugs can start with no fill at all which is very light, but can go up to very heavy weight depending on the fill.
Quarter sheets are versatile blankets used during rides. They cover the horse's hindquarters, providing warmth while allowing freedom of movement. Check regularly to make sure your horse is not getting too warm and sweating. In South Africa, it is only really necessary to use a quarter sheet for clipped horses.
Choosing the right horse blanket for winter is crucial in ensuring your horse's well-being and comfort. Remember to consider the specific needs of your horse, including things like clipping, climate, stabling conditions, and activity level. Once you’ve chosen the type of blanket, it’s on to fitting it onto your horse, but more on that another time!
If you’re not sure what you need or want, we offer a wide range of affordable blankets suitable for all seasons, and our knowledgeable staff are ready to provide expert advice and assist you in selecting the perfect blanket. Don't let the cold weather hinder your horse's enjoyment—explore our selection today!