Horse lying down wearing blanket - Horse blankets

What is a Horse Blanket?

At varying times, horses may have a covering placed over them while they’re out in a field or paddock, while they’re travelling on a float or horse box, or even while they’re in a stable or barn. Depending on where you live, you’ll know this covering as a horse blanket or a horse rug.

A horse blanket is a large material covering that’s typically used to cover a horse’s chest, shoulders, back and rump. There are horse blankets that also cover the horse’s neck, but these won’t cover a horse’s head or its legs.

3 Common Reasons Why Horses Are Rugged or Blanketed

When it comes to putting a horse blanket on a particular horse, this may be done for a few different reasons. The most common ones are:

  • To keep a horse warm
  • To keep a horse clean
  • To protect a horse

Depending on what the horse blanket is made of, it can be a great resource to keep a horse warm, especially if the horse is underweight. Although horses are more comfortable in cooler weather than hot, there are times when it gets too cold for their comfort and a rug can certainly be a benefit. Aside from literally keeping them warm, one of these will also stop a horse from using up energy stores by shivering to try and warm itself up.

If a horse has been washed and prepared for an event like a show or a parade, using a rug can be a great way to keep them clean leading up to the event. If they lie in manure in a stable stall or roll around in dirt out in the field, then the rug gets dirty—not the horse!

Besides as a way of keeping them warm and clean, rugs can be put on horses as an extra layer of protection. This may happen when a horse is travelling to a show or when they’re out in a field where biting insects are an issue.

Alternatives to Rugging

Rugging a horse isn’t something that feels natural to them, so it’s up to each horse owner or caregiver to determine if a horse blanket is truly needed. This will often depend on the reasons why a horse blanket is to be used.

If the idea is for warmth, then there are alternatives. Horses can be moved to areas that are more comfortable. Perhaps the stall of a stable, a shelter in a paddock or even a belt of trees can provide enough protection from the elements that a rug isn’t needed.

Horses are herd animals by nature. They often get warm by standing together, and this can be another alternative to rugging, if many horses are available.

Horses will happily consume grass or an alternative roughage source for 12 to 20 hours of the day. When hay is processed in the horse’s digestive system, a lot of this is broken down in the large intestine. The result of this being turned into nutrients is the production of heat. So it follows that feeding hay to horses in cooler weather can keep weight on them, keep them occupied and keep them warmer.

The Process of Rugging a Horse

It’s important to put a horse blanket on in a safe manner and to ensure that it’s securely resting on the horse. This should be done before you turn the horse out to pasture or leave it in a stable by itself.

Putting a Blanket On

It’s safest to secure the horse with a head collar and lead rope first. If you can have someone hold the horse for you or tie it up with a quick release knot, these are both viable options.

When first rugging horses, it’s a common practice to lay a rug out on the ground and fold the back third towards the middle of the rug. The front third should be folded back towards the middle as well. The resulting smaller folded rug is then able to be placed over the horse’s withers.

Next, the front third of the rug can be unfolded and be buckled around the horse’s chest. Then, as you slide the rug back into place in the direction of the hair, the back third can be unfolded. If there are leg straps, these should be unclipped, brought inside the horse’s hind legs and around to be clipped up on the same side of the rug. One of the two leg straps should be looped through the other for extra security.

When doing up the clips, try to ensure that the buckles are done up inside, pointing towards the horse. If the clips are pointing outwards and a horse rubs its rump or rug against a fence or another structure, it’s possible that these clips will undo and attach to a foreign structure. This could result in a distressed horse, or a fence being pulled down by a horse trying to move away!

Taking It Off

When removing a rug, the same steps can be followed as above, but in the opposite order.

First, undo the back leg straps and reclip them to the horse blanket. If they aren’t clipped up and are left loose, they can hurt either the horse handler—or the horse—by flinging up against the horse’s body.

Once the back straps are undone and resecured, the front buckle can then be undone and the rug removed from front to back, which is done by sliding the rug over the rump. Following that, it’ll be time to put the rug away.

One caveat to keep in mind is that if any rug has belly straps, these should be done up last and be undone first.

Choosing the Right Blanket Size

It’s best to measure a horse if you plan on investing in a blanket or two for it. A blanket or rug that’s too big or too small can cause rubbing and discomfort. Over time, the horse’s hair can end up being rubbed away from its coat and open sores can also be created.

Rugs are measured in feet and inches. It’s not uncommon for a horse that’s 15 to 16 hands high to fit into a 6-foot rug, a 5 foot 9-inch rug or a 6 foot 3-inch rug. The length of a horse’s body and how stocky it is will affect the size of rug needed. Horses should be measured from the centre of their chest to the point of their buttocks in order for their size to be determined.

Be Careful

Horse kicks up back legs while wearing blanket - Horse blankets

Using a horse blanket on a horse can be a positive thing. However, if a horse owner chooses to put a blanket or rug on their horse, it’s up to them to ensure that it’s secured properly and the horse is comfortable with it on.

Regularly checking the horse’s coat and body condition underneath the rug is important, as is looking for any signs that the rug is causing discomfort to the horse.

Although blankets and rugs can be highly beneficial to horse owners, as well as their horses, it’s essential to ensure that they aren’t causing any detrimental effects.


image 1: Wikimedia Commons; image 2: Thowra_uk