Continuing our series on horse blankets, for Part 1 A Peek into the History of Horse Blankets, see here.
Anyone that is interested in buying a horse should know that the horse will need tack and equipment. If you ask anyone who already owns a horse, they will most likely make it seem like owning a horse is easy. It can be if you start out with the proper horse equipment!
Remember that you will need a saddle blanket if you will also be buying a saddle. A saddle comes in all shapes, functions, and sizes. The saddle you purchase should fit the horse’s and your needs. If you only plan on riding your horse for fun, you don’t need a barrel racing saddle. If you won’t be racing your horse, you won’t need a flat racing saddle. The appropriate horse equipment will be far more useful and practical than purchasing the wrong kind of equipment for your horse. Horses don’t require a lot of clothing but a blanket could be considered a part of their clothing. They will definitely need one at least once in their life, too.
When you are searching for horse equipment to buy, or even the blanket for your horse, you should find an experienced horseman to help you. You may want their advice so they can share which items you will want to make quality choices on and where you may find them. Even the blanket should be a good quality investment.
A saddle blanket is necessary if you plan on using a western saddle. These saddles are not padded and can cause discomfort and pain for the horse if there is not any additional support or padding. A saddle blanket must be placed under the saddle to prevent blisters, chafing, and sore spots. A rider that thinks ahead will gain better results from their horse.
There are different types and sizes of blankets for different types and sizes of saddles. Sometimes blankets are not necessary, sometimes they are. Whatever the case may be for you and your horse, you should understand the importance of having the right tack and equipment for all situations. The horse will thank you by way of performance, good health, and top form.
If you browse through any horse tack catalog, or look through the blanket section of any tack store, you will immediately see that there is a vast selection of blankets and blanket types. To a non-horse person, the exact use and purpose for each of these blankets can be confusing.
Turnout blankets are exactly what they sound like. Turnout blankets are study enough to handle the wear and tear of being worn on a horse that is turned out outside. They are also designed to tear if the horse gets caught on something in the pasture.
There are two types of turnout blankets. The heavy type is designed to be used during the cold winter months while the lighter blankets, typically called sheets, are to be worn in the spring to fall months.
Quarter sheets may seem odd since they look like half of a blanket but they do have a practical use. Quarter sheets are designed to hook to the saddle and cover the horse’s hindquarters so the horse’s muscles stay warm while the horse is being worked outside on cooler days. Quarter sheets can also be used on the horse while the horse is waiting to enter the show arena so their muscles stay warm, too. Some riders may use a normal stable sheet folded in half to cover the horse as well.
Stable sheets are light weight sheets that are too thin to be used outside of the stall. They are generally used to blanket the horse after it has been groomed and bathed so the horse stays clean. Some horse owners may put sheets on their horses while it is being hauled in a horse trailer to keep the cool air off the horse. Some horses may rub against the trailer partitions and the sheets will prevent rub marks from appearing on their coats. Many large stables will have their stable sheets custom made in their stable colors and some may even be monogrammed with the owner’s last name or the stable’s initials stitched into the fabric.
Coolers are another type of blanket. Coolers are placed on a hot, sweaty horse to help slow down the cooling process so the horse can cool down at a safe pace. They cover the entire horse from ear to tail. The cooler has an open design that allows air to flow through them while wicking away moisture. Coolers are often custom made in the stable’s colors and can also be monogrammed. Many shows will give away coolers, instead of trophies and ribbons, as a reward for first place in championship classes.
Fly sheets are blankets that are made to help keep flies from biting the horse. Some fly sheets have a close knit design or a large weave pattern.
Blanket liners are made from thin, smooth material that is designed to smoothly slide across the horse’s body without rubbing hair off or chafing the skin. Blanket liners usually only cover the horse’s chest and withers which is typically where the blankets will rub the most.
Regardless of what type of blanket you decide to use on your horse, it is important to make sure that the blanket fits your horse properly.
Dressage is a discipline that is performed under saddle. Dressage amplifies the athleticism, grace, beauty, and elegance of the horse.
For dressage riders, less is more. A rider that is competing in the lower levels should wear polished black hunt or field boots and breeches. All shirts should be white and have a collar as well as a stock pin. The jacket should be dark colored and the rider should wear matching dark colored gloves too. The rider should wear a black helmet. If the rider is under the age of eighteen, numerous show committees require that the helmet meets ASTM/SEI standards. Spurs are optional.
The tack for the horses entered in lower levels of dressage should also be simple. Horses should be thoroughly cleaned and well-groomed prior to the show. The horse’s mane should be pulled and if the horse is being shown at higher levels, the mane should be braided. If the horse has a steady head, the braids can be wrapped with white adhesive tape to accentuate this positive quality. In lower level dressage, braided manes are not required but they are accepted. All tails should be left unbraided and free of tangles or debris.
The horse’s hooves should be polished with clear or black hoof polish. The bit should also only be a snaffle bit without any copper portions. The bridle should be plain, black leather and the saddle should also be plain, black leather. However, in lower level dressage, black and brown tack are both acceptable. The saddle blankets may be black or white and square cut or cut into the outline of a saddle.
After the rider reaches the upper dressage levels, there are a few small changes to the required show attire. FEI rules require that upper level riders wear white breeches and hunt coats are not allowed. Riders are required to wear the more elegant shad belly jackets. Helmets are not banned in upper level dressage competitions however most riders choose to wear a derby hat. The rider should wear white gloves instead of black or other dark colored gloves.
The horse’s tack also has some small changes in the upper level classes as well. The tack should be made of black leather and the bridle should be a double bridle (using both a snaffle and curb bit). Some riders have added a jeweled brow band to their bridles for a more elegant appearance. A whip is not allowed in upper level dressage shows. The horse’s mane is required to be braided however the tail should be left unbraided. The saddle is required to be a black dressage saddle.
For a non-horse person, the word ‘dressage’ may be confusing and difficult to determine the true meaning behind the word. Some may think it relates to clothing or bandages or that it could be a type of course. Dressage actually means ‘horsemanship by using subtle movements of the hands, legs, and feet to control the horse’.
What does dressage have to do with horse blankets? There are certain types of horse blankets that are allowed in dressage shows such as the quilted square blankets and the quilted saddle-cut blankets. These blankets are usually black or white. During training, riders may use quarter sheets if it is still fairly cold outside. A quarter sheet may be used during schooling days at dressage shows as well.
No matter what kind of blanket you choose to use on your horse, the blanket should always fit the horse’s needs and size. If your horse will be wearing a sheet so that he will remain cleaner, it should fit the climate as well. Improper fit can result in blisters and sores around the saddle and girth area. If the horse is still ridden after these blisters and sores form, the horse may become disobedient out of pain. In dressage, showmanship and obedience is crucial for top scores so an ill-fitting blanket can be costly — both in time spent managing any injuries as well as receiving penalties for a horse with poor performance due to blisters and sores.
“Horse boots?” you ask. “Horse blankets…does my horse come with its own wardrobe?” The purchase of a horse can bring so many changes; it can overwhelm the owner just by the information needed on the supplies.
It can be difficult to adjust to the substantial amount of information needed when you purchase a horse. As you begin to purchase items and equipment for your horse, you will learn that you will need a good quality blanket. There are several types of blankets that suit various purposes (coolers, saddle blankets, sheets, turnout blankets, etc.) and you may need one of each depending on what you do with your horse. The saddle blanket is usually used in accompaniment of a saddle pad underneath a heavy western saddle. Taking good care of your horse will result in receiving the best performance from your horse.
Besides blankets, pads, and saddles, you will want to purchase other things for your horse such as a trailer, hay and grain, grooming supplies, tack, a halter, and thousands more items. One of those items may be boots. Depending on the various factors such as intensity of the work performed, your horse’s natural ability to move, and terrain, you may need bell boots or splint boots. Some horses may need both.
An example of a type of boots for horses are the hard rubber soled boots that are worn by miniature horses that are service animals. These hard rubber boots protect their hooves from city sidewalks and hot pavement. Another type of boots are knee boots which prevent the horse from hitting its knees together as it moves.
Regardless of the type of work that you do with your horse, you should remember that the horse is in your care and deserves the optimum treatment and should be offered the best equipment that the horse needs.
There is a difference between western and English tack. English tack has saddles and bridles to accommodate the many different riding styles within the English riding discipline. Western tack is used for western pleasure, cutting horses, rodeo events such as barrel racing, and riding on ranches and farms. Western saddles do not have padding built-in so they require the accompaniment of a saddle blanket for the horse’s comfort.
The English saddle also does not have a horn. For a non-horse person, a horn is not the same as a horn on a car or bicycle. One of those on a saddle would surely invite unwanted attention from a passerby and may even spook your horse. The western saddle horn is used for holding a rope to lasso cattle as well as for support for the rider.
Review the following short list to become familiar with western tack:
The list is fairly short, yet to the beginning horse owner, it can certainly be overwhelming! There is a wealth of information available about horses, western tack, blankets, how to care for horses, where you should buy tack and equipment, how you should feed your horse, and more. You should do as much research as possible before you become a horse owner.
If you are using search engines online to search for information on tack, you should use keywords in your search such as ‘western tack’, ‘tack’, ‘equipment for horses’, ‘equestrian supplies’ and ‘horse supplies’. Even if you search ‘horse blankets’, you will eventually come across tack items. Almost any area of the United States will have someone who owns a horse or someone who collects western tack items and blankets. Blankets are associated with western tack as it is a necessary addition to your collection of horse care items.
Saddle blankets can be used for more than just riding your horse. If you spend a night outside, you could use the blanket as a pillow or as something to lie on. If you are a western tack collector, consider adding these blankets to your collection.
It may seem like a simple task to just open a horse tack catalogue or scroll through an online tack store to buy a new saddle blanket. Within just a few moments of doing this, you will begin to realize that it is not so simple and easy to purchase a saddle blanket. There are numerous pages of saddle blankets and pads and each item has its own cut, material, and function. There are brief descriptions about each saddle blanket and pad but the descriptions are not always very helpful. However, they do often have one factor in common — horse blankets can be expensive!
You should first consider your budget. You should plan to buy the best product that you can feasibly afford to purchase at the time. Many horse owners live on a tight budget due to feed bills, veterinarian bills, farrier bills, utilities, and more with not nearly enough income to balance the bills. It may be tempting to purchase the cheapest saddle blanket available but you should consider why you are purchasing the blanket first. Is the blanket for you or your horse? Who will get the most benefit out of the blanket? Your horse, of course! Cheap saddle blankets and pads can be thin and may not provide enough cushion underneath the saddle. Cheap blankets and pads may also slip underneath the saddle depending on the cut of the blanket and how the horse is built.
Cheap saddle blankets can usually be washed in a washing machine but they do not hold up to being cleaned very well. The only time you should consider purchasing an inexpensive saddle blanket or pad is when you are first saddling a colt. If the colt damages any of the tack, then it is not a large loss to you to replace it. If cost is an issue, several online tack stores and magazines have year-round sales and clearance sections on various items.
The second factor that you should take into consideration is the type of saddle that you will use. Not all saddles are the same and some saddles are designed to fit certain breeds and disciplines. American Saddlebreds often use a cutback saddle while a warmblood uses a hunt saddle. An American Quarter Horse may use a western saddle too. All of these types of saddles and disciplines need varying types of blankets due to the requirements of padding and coverage. When the saddle is on the horse’s back, there is no part of the saddle that should touch the horse’s back.
If your horse has any conformational problems such as high withers, swayback, or is extremely wide, you need to take those problems into consideration as well when you are purchasing a saddle blanket. If the horse is very round, you will want to purchase a blanket or pad that is made of non-slip material. If your horse has very prominent withers, you will want to purchase a blanket or pad that has additional padding around the withers. A horse with a swayback will need a saddle blanket or pad that offers additional support at the lowest point of his back with a gradual decrease in extra padding toward the withers.
Western saddle pads are not very easy to clean. They can be stiff and too difficult to handle to fit into a washing machine. If you are successful in washing them in a washing machine, you may learn that it is extremely hard on your machine and the blankets will then take several days to completely dry.
Anyone that owns a horse knows that flies can be a problem. Many horse owners attempt to control fly populations by using various methods including fly spray, fly strips, bug zappers, fly systems that mist the stalls and aisles with fly sprays, wraps and collars that have absorbed fly spray, and may even have the manure hauled away from the barn. In the wild, mustangs will search for muddy areas and cover themselves in the mud to deter flies. Some horse owners use blankets to protect their horse from flies but in the hot summer months, it is too hot for the horse to wear sheets.
Luckily, there are fly sheets! The material used to make fly sheets is a finely woven mesh material. Fly sheets are made of polyvinyl that is UV resistant. These sheets come in a vast array of colors including blaze orange for horses that are turned out outside during hunting seasons.
There are two different types of fly sheets: scrim sheets and turnout fly sheets. Turnout fly sheets are typically made of a stiffer lightweight material than scrim sheets. When fitting a turnout fly sheet to the horse, horse owners should be sure that the sheets fit well so that the breast straps, surcingles, and leg straps do not impede the horse’s movement. Owners should not cross the leg straps of a turnout fly sheet like they may do so with a regular turnout sheet. Most horse owners prefer elastic leg straps instead of the nylon straps since nylon can rub and chafe the thin skin.
When purchasing a turnout fly sheet, horse owners should look for a sheet that is made of lightweight mesh material that is easy to clean. Fly sheets can get deep stains by manure and grass which can damage the material. Horse owners can try using a stiff brush with a gentle detergent or soap directly on the stain. A polyvinyl fly sheet will usually dry within thirty minutes. You can wash a fly sheet in a household washing machine but they should not be run through a dryer cycle. If possible, they should be hung out on a fence or a line to air dry. It is not a bad idea to buy two sheets in the event that one gets dirty or torn so the horse will have a second one that he can wear. Fly sheets are designed to tear if the horse or sheet gets caught on something but it should be designed so that the damage is minimal.
Scrim sheets are designed to be used while the horse is in a stall or is being hand walked. Scrim sheets are designed to loosely fit over the horse’s body. Some horse owners use scrim sheets as a way to blanket their horse without causing the horse to sweat. The mesh design of fly sheets prevents horses from being dirty and dusty like solid material blankets do. A fly sheet will help wick away moisture and help keep the horse cool and comfortable throughout the summer months.
This concludes part two of a series of four on horse blankets, stay tuned for the next part or join to get the entire series in eBook format.