The scents of summer barbecues may still be on the wind, but winter weather is only a few months away--and you don't want to wait for temperatures to plummet to discover that your horse blankets need mending or replacement.
Even if you laundered and packaged your blankets carefully before you put them into storage last spring, a pre-season inspection is worthwhile. Make sure they're all still in good condition and that every horse who'll need a blanket will have one that fits him well. Then if you find any shortcomings, you still have plenty of time to either make the repairs or shop for replacements. Here's a brief guide that will help you ensure that
all your horses will remain warm and comfortable all winter long.
Looking for Trouble
Start by unfolding each blanket in a clean area with plenty of light. Examine both the outer and inner surfaces as well as each item of hardware, looking for wear or damage such as:
- rips and frays in the fabric
- separated seams or areas where the seams are loosening
- snaps that no longer work
- elastic that is losing its stretchiness
- evidence of damage from mice or insects
- missing or broken buckles
- fleece that has matted flat
- mold or mildew
- straps that are worn or coming loose
As you go through your blankets, sort them into three categories: those that are good to go as they are, those that could be used with minor repairs, and those that would not be worth the cost of fixing. (But don't throw out the discards pile just yet; you may be able to salvage hardware, straps and other accessories for your repairs.)
If you have blankets that need repair, check with the manufacturers to see whether any are still covered by warranties. If you need to replace specific parts of a blanket, you may also be able to order these from the manufacturer.
Fixing blankets may be a do-it-yourself project for some, but stitching horse blanket material generally requires a heavy-duty sewing machine. If you don't have one suitable to the task you can probably find a blanket repair service in your area. Many people across the country operate small businesses that will do basic repairs--replacing straps and hardware, patching holes, closing open seams, etc.--as well as laundering and waterproofing. If you can't find a repair service close by, check the Internet--many of them accept blankets via mail.
How Does it Fit?
Once you've separated the blankets that can handle another year of service, make sure that they still fit properly.
Do not assume that because a horse wore a certain blanket last winter, it
will still be comfortable for him this year. Many factors can change the shape of a horse's body over the course of a summer: He may have gained or lost weight; he may have grown; training may have increased his muscle mass or idleness may have reduced it. A horse's body can also gradually change shape with age, as his ligaments loosen and his belly droops.
To assess fit, put the blanket on the horse and make sure he is standing comfortably. Then:
1. Run your hand up and over the withers. If the blanket's neck hole is the appropriate size and shape, your hand will slide easily through. Also, unless the blanket is designed to leave the withers uncovered, make sure the front edge sits well forward of the withers, extending at least three inches over the mane hair.
2. Slide your hand under the blanket at the shoulders. If it fits well, there will be enough space for your hand to slide easily. Very active horses may rub hair off of their shoulders despite a good fit; in those cases, adding a layer of fleece or stretchy horse "undergarments" is a good idea.
3. Scrutinize the shape of the blanket's neck hole: You'll want the lower edge to rest where the horse's neck merges into his chest. To test this area of fit, use a carrot to encourage your horse to lower his head. A properly fitting blanket will allow him to reach for the treat without pinching or restriction.
4. Check the fit of the belly straps by sliding your hand between them and the horse. A few inches of clearance will reduce the chances of rubbing, but more than five inches of play in the straps poses the risk of dangerous entanglement. Fortunately, nearly all belly straps are adjustable.
5. Rear leg straps are notorious irritants, particularly when they become soiled with manure. Fit isn't as much of an issue here as the way the straps are buckled. To keep them from rubbing the tender skin inside a horse's legs, buckle one as you normally would...
6. ...then loop the other strap through and buckle. This technique keeps the straps clear of the legs.
7. To check the fit over the hips, slide your hand under the blanket over the horse's rump, looking for snug spots.
8. Finally, check the fit of the blanket above the horse's tail. If a blanket or tail flap is too long, it can prevent a horse from lifting his tail, leading to a real mess.
Even a blanket that is the right size overall may bind or chafe in certain areas. If that is the case, a blanket repair service may be able to make the necessary adjustments.
Measure Before You Buy
If you decide the time has come to buy a new blanket, measure your horse before you start shopping. Chances are, of course, he'll need the same size he wore before, but it's wise to double-check all the same. If you have a particular blanket in mind, refer to the manufacturer's sizing system to see what measurements are required. Some differ, but most blankets are sized according to body length.
When the new blanket arrives, be sure to try it on the horse and assess its overall fit carefully, as indicated above. Keep in mind, however, that even tack shops with liberal return policies won't appreciate having to take back a blanket covered in dirt and hair. The first time you try a new blanket on your horse, cover him with a clean bedsheet first. The sheet will protect the blanket without interfering with fit.
This article originally appeared in the September 2008 issue of EQUUS magazine.