For the Horse
How to outfit your horse will depend on if he is body clipped or not, the type of weather and if he gets easily cold or tends to heat up easily. My winter climate has temps that usually range from 25 degrees to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. We can get cold spells that drop into the single digits, but not that often. The following advice is based on this type of climate.
For a body clipped horse, you will need at least 3 types of blankets and 2 types of neck covers:
1. Waterproof breathable rainsheet
2. Waterproof breathable mid weight blanket (usually 200 grams of insulation with at least 1000 denier outer shell)
3. Waterproof breathable heavy weight blanket (370 grams of insulation or greater with at least 1000 denier outershell)
4. Neck covers that attach to blankets but do not cover the horses head. I have both unlined versions and versions with insulation.
The outershell should be a high denier because it will not rip as easily as the lower denier count blankets. Having waterproof and breathable outer shells will allow the horse to go from stall to turnout without extra blanket changes. If you are the person putting on and taking off the blankets, this makes a big difference! I also prefer to layer a rainsheet over a medium weight or heavyweight if we are expecting heavy rains or very cold conditions. The air trapped between the blanket and rainsheet helps keep the horse warmer because it acts as an insulating layer as well as extra protection from the wind.
My favorite blankets are from Horseware Ireland. These blankets are well made and well designed. The Horseware brand does not have leg straps but instead uses tail straps to help hold the blanket in place. I prefer not to deal with leg straps because of the extra time to connect and unconnect them as well as the chance of a horse getting a leg caught in them. The tail straps can get dirty, but you can often remove some of the dried mess on them with a hoofpick brush. Horseware now also makes a tail strap that is PVC coated so it stays clean.
Mares will sometimes get a bit of dried urine on their hind legs above their hocks from the urine hitting the tail cord when they urinate. I cover that area on the leg with baby oil gel and it keeps it from scalding or collecting on the hair.
The Rambo Supreme is Horseware's top of the line winter blanket
The Rhino is Horseware's mid range blanket
The Amigo is Horseware's economically priced blanket. If your horses aren't hard on their blankets, it is a great value.
I really love neck covers. Not only do they help keep your horse warm, but also clean and dry. I like the fact that the face is not covered so it is safer than a full hood. I have also found that clipped horses that wear neck covers don't seem to sport the long guard hairs that clipped horses without neck covers seem to grow. The clipped neck is a large expanse of area to lose heat from so it makes sense that neck covers will keep a horse warmer.
Testimonial modeling his blanket and neck cover
An unclipped horse will probably not need as many blankets. I board retired horses, and I have found that I can keep them warm and comfortable with a medium weight blanket, a rainsheet and two unlined neck covers. For cold temperatures, the rainsheet over the medium weight seems to provide enough warmth that a heavyweight blanket is often not necessary. It does depend on the horse, as some horses may not need blankets until it gets really cold and some start shivering at 40 degrees F.
Sample Blanketing Guide:
45-60 degrees and rain: rainsheet with unlined neck cover
Below 45 degrees and rain: midweight blanket with unlined neck cover
Below 40 degrees any weather: midweight blanket with unlined neck cover
Below 30 degrees: midweight blanket with rainsheet over top both with neck covers
If the winds are over 20 mph, I add the next warmer layer of clothing.
If it is sunny with low winds, sometimes I go with a lighter layer of clothing or no blankets. If the forcast is for cold torrential rains or snow, I may layer a rainsheet over the medium weight blanket. This is where you need to check each horse individually. If he is sweating under the blanket or sheet, his clothing layer needs to be adjusted. This is also why I keep a weatherband radio in the barn to listen to forcasts so I can blanket appropriately.
50-65 degrees and rain: rainsheet with neck cover
35-50 degrees: midweight blanket with insulated neck cover or unlined neck cover, depending on horse
25-35 degrees: heavyweight blanket with insulated neck cover
Below 25 degrees: heavyweight blanket with rainsheet over top with both neck covers
For those that body clip their own horses, try wearing scrubs when clipping. The scrubs seem to attract less hair than other materials and they are easily to throw in the laundry after you are done. You can also wear them as a layer over your other clothes to help keep them clean.
Sometimes a horse may become chilled, often when caught in an unexpected cold rain or if the rains soak through a blanket. A shivering horse needs to be warmed immediately. If unblanketed, I will will try to dry him as best as I can and put on a large polarfleece or wool cooler (because both will wick away moisture from the skin and still remain warm when wet) and add layers of blankets on the horse until he stops shivering. If the horse is blanketed, remove the blanket and follow the same directions. Once the horse is warm and dry, put on a dry blanket. Do not leave a cold wet blanket on a shivering horse.
It is a good idea to have coolers even if your horse is not body clipped. Polarfleece coolers and wool coolers both have wicking properties and can keep a horse warm even when wet. I like polarfleece because it is easily laundered, but it is prone to static electricity during the winter months. If you do launder your polarfleece coolers, don't use fabric softeners on them because this can interfere with the wicking capabilities.
If possible, having a full body cooler that covers the neck as well as the traditional stable sheet style cooler offers greater flexibility depending on the horses need. Full body coolers are offered in the traditional square design or the fitted design that follows the contours of the neck. These coolers work well after bathing a horse in cooler weather so he stays warm while drying. The stable sheet style cooler works well for cooling a horse after workout that doesn't need the additional coverage. Some of my favorite coolers come from the Horseware line as well as Saratoga Horseworks.
I will also make a mention here of the Back on Track product line. Back on Track products use ceramic fibers imbedded into the clothing to help hold the body's heat and purported to increase circulation to the area. Anecdotally, I have found these products to work well for my chronic aches and pains. I have the wrist brace, back brace, elbow braces and knee brace. I don't wear them all at once but only when I feel the aches in that region associated with the normal aging process. This is not intended as a replacement for proper diagnosis and treatment by a qualified professional, however! I would just prefer to use it as palliative treatment for minor aches and pains. I use the mesh sheet and the saddle pads on my competition horses and I think it does help them stay more comfortable. I think the mesh sheet would be the most versatile for the horse because it is the most lightweight and can make the transition from spring through fall and/or be used under a winter blanket if needed.