Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Blanketing 101

An Experience in Blanketing:

I am a firm believer in blankets. As a Minnesotan, I feel they are a necessary evil for the sport horse owner. A quarter horse that looks like a yak in winter? Probably doesn’t need more than an 600d cheap-o sheet for when it’s pouring. My thoroughbred who doesn’t grow a actual hair coat, sweats profusely in workouts and is very affected by weather? She needs a wardrobe.

I think the anchor of any blanket collection is the waterproof sheet. This is the most flexible piece for me – I can wash it at home, because it doesn’t have fill and fits in my home washing machine. I like a European cut blanket, or one with a “half neck” for those persistent rainy days, and as high a denier as you’re willing to go. My experience with 600d blankets has been less than stellar, and I feel that instead of nixwax-ing them with every washing (and I am fastidious about washing, since Fox gets rainrot at the drop of a hat) I have good feelings about my more expensive investment with the Weatherbeeta Orican 1200D High Neck sheet. It’s mesh lined for breathablility, has a fantastic tail flap for windy days and fits nice and deep to keep clipped bellies warm and mud-free.

From there, I feel there are two options. Having separate blankets has worked out for the mudball, but I feel that you can also have a smaller collection with the use of stable blankets and non-fleece liners if you are willing to do fast turn around washing or have a cleaner horse than I currently do.

Example: Foxie has a sheet, a light weight 80 gram, a medium 220, a medium 220 with a hood and a 320 with a hood.
Layering, you could have: 1-2 sheets of good quality, such as one with a removable neck cover and one without - add to that two or three stable blankets, say a 180 and a 220, and a 330 gram weights, you get the same flexibility and probably spend half as much. The thing with stable blankets, though, is that you need a system that doesn't cause friction between the layers, and remember, stable blankets  aren't made for turn out - they will shred, absorb water and be a horrible mess without that over layer...

Foxie has two medium weights, one with a removable neck hood and the other a nice deep European cut. I like the hoods to keep necks from getting stiff, and because I like to clip throats to keep them mostly sweat free. I think for a stabling situation where blanket removal is a free option, or at home with a snug-but-unheated barn, underclothes are a great option, but should be low static and fitted with appropriate straps. Well fitting, of course, is always the key, and sometimes it takes a few brand tries to get a good fit. My mare has a wide, muscular shoulder and a high wither – she does well in Weatherbeetas because she has whither padding and a cupped shoulder shape. Her European cut blankets tend to give her whither sores or rub because the shoulder dart is placed too far back to make motion easier, but creates friction across the shoulder.

Check out the nice high neck to keep out drafts, the deep fit that covers the belly and the broad tail flap - happy Fox! This blanket also has a velcro on neck cover, which, as opposed to those attached by elastic and nylon surcingles, doesn't leave a 5-inch gap when she grazes or puts her head down. Because of this, this blanket tends to be a little warmer (and by warmer, I mean the horse feels warmer when I stick my hands under the blanket) than a medium without a neck cover, like below (notice the lack of booty coverage and tail flap): 

I also have a heavy weight blanket that I try not to use, but always seem to need for at least a week. It’s reserved for the coldest of winters, and Minnesota has more than it’s fair share. It has a hood that is removable and is a great piece to have on those frozen days – just maybe too warm for inside!

I try to follow the below format when choosing blankets. This year, Foxie has worn a sheet up to 60 degrees, as night temperatures are low enough into the morning that she shivers without, and I am unable to get out to change it mid day – plus it seems silly to take it off when it will just go back on – that’s why you buy breathable, folks!

Clipped or not, Foxie falls into the “Short Coat/Clipped” Category – she sucks at hair production!
Guide for Maintaining Current Coat Condition
Warmth of Blanket
Short Coat/Clipped
Medium/Full Coat

Extra Heavyweight
Subzero – 15o F
15 o F – 30 o F
Subzero – 15 oF
30 o F – 50 o F
15 o F – 30 o F
50 o F +
30 o F +

As for accessories, I like quarter sheets (just be cautious of our loving friend, static!) and fleece coolers. I don't believe that fleece should EVER, EVER, be a liner to a turn out situation. Fleece makes static. Fleece will drive your horse nuts, and make him rip what ever you put on him to shreds (at least in my experience!). If you need a liner, consider the swishy-fabric liners - much more appropriate, and static free! (check out those holes for the leg straps - no need to double up!

 I also have a hood for shows and keeping braids neat, and a shoulder slinky or two to keep shoulder rubs at bay. As Foxie's muscle has atrophied, her blankets don't fit quite the same, so these are now more of a use than ever. Just watch your velcro front blankets so you don't destroy your investment!

A final note on deniers: its all about durability. 600 is like those off-brand shoes you buy and they last you maybe one year, but leak/absorb water and tear easily. 1200+ denier, in my experience, is not that much more for a longer lasting, more waterproof product. The numbers equal thread count - the more threads, the harder it will be for your horse's favorite bully to tear your investment to shreds. If you have a persistent blanket shredder, try a textilene fly sheet, like a Kensington, over the top of your blankets (they even make a line of their own that does just that!). Rip stop is always a good feature to the fabric, as is a tefflon coating - also, remember, your horse will lay down, and roll, and get filthy. Please don't buy a white/light colored blanket and expect it to be pristine. As always, wash with caution (check with manufacturers so you don't ruin the waterproofing with detergent or high heat) and make sure to remove your leg straps so they don't rip your blanket if caught in the washer and tie up your straps to ensure they don't snag your beloved blanket!

And don't tell the laundromat people I told you about the rug size washer that can take two blankets at once.

Questions are welcome!

- Ashley and Foxie

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