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Get the Most out of a Clinic

Blanket or No Blanket?
Doris Eraldi

Guests over the holidays followed me down to the barn when I fed in the evening, and they were full of questions about why I was blanketing some of the horses, while others went “coatless.” Here in Northern California, the weather is hardly even so cold that horses need a blanket – in fact horse’s coats are excellent insulation all on their own, and in some cases a blanket can makes it worse for the horse. Deciding to blanket your horse should be based on individual needs and conditions.

Horses that are old or who’s health is compromised will benefit from the extra warmth that a horse blanket can provide. Horses burn up a lot of calories just staying warm, but a healthy horse with adequate body fat should have no problems without a blanket, assuming they have some shelter or windbreak available, and are getting plenty of feed daily. I generally don’t blanket horses who are on pasture because it is hard to find a truly water-proof blanket (though many of the new water-proof materials are far superior to the old waxed canvas) and also horses in a large area with other horses tend to tear and destroy their blankets.

Any horse who is having trouble staying warm – older horses or those who are underweight, in particular – get a blanket, but also are moved into a stall or paddock with shelter where I can customize their feeding program and provide other support. The other horses who are regularly blanketed are the show horses, or horses I am riding on a regular basis. Blanketing improves the quality of the horse’s coat, keeps the horse cleaner, and helps them shed more quickly. There is a big convenience factor too. The horse is generally cleaner and requires less grooming before we ride.

I prefer blankets that are designed to breathe and keep the horse from sweating. If the horse is even slightly hot and sweaty after a workout, I like to let them dry before putting on the heavy stable blanket. A hot horse under a blanket can sweat more and you will come back in the morning to find a drenched shivering horse instead of a warm dry one. Wool or polar-fleece type cooler blankets can help the horse dry quickly without chilling, and then once dry I put on the regular blanket. The cooler is also useful to toss over the horse, saddle and all, at shows where the horse has to stand between events. The cycle of warming up and then cooling off too fast can cause stiff achy muscles and definitely effect performance.

Many people think that a blanket will keep the horse from putting on as heavy of a winter coat, or will make them shed earlier, but the truth is that the length of daylight has more to do with growing and shedding a winter coat than “warmth” does. The blanket will make the horse look sleeker because it keeps the hair laying down, but to keep the coat from growing long in the first place, one needs to provide artificial light for an increasing amount of time per day during the fall and winter. This will cause the horse to think that spring is here and they will begin to shed. For horses being shown year around, barn lights on a timer will keep the short shiny hair all year, but for these slick beauties, the blanket becomes even more important. Most show horses are not only stalled, but wear a blanket and hood at all times except when working. Often I rotate between lighter daytime blankets and then change to a very warm blanket and hood at night and on extra cold days.

Keeping your horse blanketed requires a certain amount of daily care. When you feed, check to be sure the blanket is properly on the horse, that no straps have been broken or are rubbing and that the leg straps are not so loose that the horse could get a leg through while laying down or rolling. Make sure that nothing is causing a sore or wearing away the hair – this most often happens on the horse’s point of shoulders, withers, or between the hind legs. Rubbed off hair is both unsightly and if abraded enough can cause the hair to grow back in white like a saddle sore. If your horse stands outside with his blanket on, make sure it is staying dry underneath. Blankets come in all levels of water-proofing but even the best sometimes leak in at the neck hole. On sunny days give the horse some time without his blanket to air out. The skin needs to have good air circulation in order to avoid fungus growth and other skin disorders. Horses that are blanketed most of the time also appreciate the opportunity to roll, especially in sandy soil. While this means we need to groom them before putting the blanket back on, it is vital to the horse’s physical and mental well being!

In many cases blanketing is more of a convenience for the owner than a necessity for the horse, the exception being thin horses who are using up most of their caloric intake to stay warm and therefore don’t gain weight. Making sure that horses who are in poor condition are getting enough high quality feed and have adequate shelter will usually take care of the problem and the blanket becomes a passing need as the horse gains weight. A few pounds of quality grain a day will usually be more beneficial than an expensive blanket and a lot less work for the handler.


Doris Eraldi of Eraldi Training in Potter Valley, specializes in Pleasure, Showmanship and Equitation events. She can be contacted at 707-743-1337, or by e-mail

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