Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Winter Delights and a Pet Peeve (or Two)

This morning it was one of those splendid winter mornings - clear blue sky, bright sun, white snow making that satisfying crunch underfoot - I think I read somewhere once that the snow makes different sounds underfoot depending on the temperature. This was at the "firm crunch no squeak" stage. All the bare surfaces had the slightest sprinkling of glittering frost crystals. It was about 6F when I left for the barn - I usually walk as it is only a couple of hundred yards away - and had risen to about 10F by the time I got home two and one-half hours later. (I usually get my morning chores done in about 2 hours, but this morning I had to blanket horses, fill water tanks and deal with frozen beet pulp buckets.) It was one of those mornings where the air is clean and cold, so cold that as you breathe it in it almost burns. There was almost no wind. It was about 20F inside the barn, and as always, the horses were delighted to see me - you get a lot of credit for being the breakfast and turnout person!

As I filled water tanks, enjoying my time watching the horses in turnout, water vapor was swirling over the surface of the heated tanks - it almost looked like smoke. The mares apparently decided yesterday to drag the cylindrical core of their round bale almost 50 yards from the feeder - I'm not sure how they managed that, but I went out to check it - no signs of strings (I'm fanatical about checking for strings) and no sign that anyone ingested a string yesterday - it's amazing what they can get up to!

And now to one of my pet peeves - blanket fit. One of the more labor-intensive aspects of our barn is blanketing. We don't have any horses clipped for show, and some of our horses, although not all, grow impressive winter coats, but our pastures are very exposed - no shelters or windbreaks of any kind and we get a lot of wind - so we do put on rain sheets for cold rain and blankets for colder weather or wind. I've had to deal with all sorts of blankets over the years, both my own and those of boarders, and I've blanketed a lot of horses. I've found that many people buy blankets that don't fit their horses and also don't always put them on correctly or adjust the straps in a way that makes the horse uncomfortable. This is one of my peeves, closely following the one about people who don't pull their saddle blankets up into the gullet of their saddle, thus relieving the pressure on the withers when the the cinch or girth is tightened - and then they wonder why their horse is sore!

Back to blankets - a properly measured (center of chest to center of tail, at the widest part of the horse) and adjusted blanket will reach from just in front of the withers (putting high necked blankets to the side for now) to the base of the tail - if there's a tail flap it should start just where the tail joins the body of the horse, not below. The most common mistake people make, in my experience, is getting a blanket that is too large for the horse - I'm not sure why they do this but it's perhaps because they think the horse will be more comfortable, or they've selected a blanket with inadequate coverage on the sides and are trying to compensate. Some people tend to fasten the front of blankets too loosely - particularly with high-necked blankets, I find, which should sit up the neck while still fitting in the chest. A blanket that is too large, or where the front is too loose, will tend to slip back, putting pressure on the chest and withers and making it hard for the horse to lift the tail flap to pass manure. And then, because the blanket is too large and tends to shift when the horse rolls, the owner will sometimes tighten the leg and belly straps too much to try to hold the blanket in place - all of which make the blanket slide back even farther. The belly straps of a properly fitting blanket should not be dangling, but shouldn't be tight, either - if they're too tight they pull down on the withers, which can cause pain for the horse - and believe me, the horses let me know if they think their blankets don't fit correctly! Leg straps, which I always loop through each other to prevent rubs, should hang freely but not dangle. And here's my biggest peeve - don't make the poor horse wear thong underwear! - sometimes the rear leg straps are so tight that the horse is clearly uncomfortable. I do what I can to adjust the straps so the horse is both comfortable and the blanket will stay put, but some of the owners have their own opinions and at some point I just give up, although it's sad to see an uncomfortable horse. There! Pet peeves over with for today.

Have a wonderful late December day, and may it include horses!


  1. Those colder days seem to be easier to tolerate when the sun in shining...

    lol on the mental image of a horse "thong"! I'm with you on blanket fit! It is tricky though - it's like buying jeans - each brand fits differently even though it is a certain "size"... Pain in the butt. Yet another reason to move to Arizona or somewhere warm! :-)

  2. Horse thong? OMG! ROFL!

    Okay. Okay. I think I can breathe now.


  3. One of the residents has this cheap Jeffers blanket which I HATE!! I call it his 'thong' because of where the rings for the rear leg straps are located (very high by the tail area!?). It has no option but to become his thong if it shifts even the slightest bit. I 'de-thong' him several times a day but I do feel so sorry for him.

  4. What I'd give for a heated water trough ;)

    And yes, a badly fitted blanket/rug is more of a straight jacket for the poor horse wearing it:(

  5. Thong? Good one Kate! I know what you mean, I've seen it but thankfully all our horses have blankets that fit correctly and saddle pads that get pulled up properly. There are just so many little things that most owners don't understand about their horses and this is one of them. I can see why it would become a pet peeve. Stay warm. We've got some nasty wind and cold today, I'm glad my herd has their blankets on today.

  6. You had me fuming at the mention of the saddle pad/blanket not pulled up. The same idiots put the saddle on too far back and pull it forward against the lay of the coat.

  7. Kate, here's an idea -- why don't you do a post with pictures of the wrong and right ways for a blanket to be fit and for the straps to be done?

    Anyway, I have Panama's leg straps so that I can easily get my hand (both my hands, actually, and then some) in under the strap, but not so loose that he could get a foot in it... Does that sound right?

    Same with his belly strap -- my goal is to be able to slip my hand under there and have room to turn it sideways, but I don't want him getting a foot caught. I've seen people who let the straps out so much that they hang 8 inches below the horse's belly, and that worries me because it seems too low.

  8. Katharine - what you're doing sounds about what I like to do! I agree about the too loose straps as well.

  9. Oh Kate.... Thong Underwear...LOL!!! You made me chuckle this evening :-)

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  11. But I do have a question...one of those lost socks in the dryer question. Why is is that you can take a well fitted/strapped blanket off a horse on Tuesday and put it back on exactly the same horse on Wednesday and end up having to adjust all the straps and surcingles again? Is there some kind of alternate universe in which the blanket resides after you take it off where the surcingles take on a life of their own? *G*

  12. LOL Kate- a thong? LOLOLOL! Sonny would agree. He is SO *NOT* into butt floss! ;)

    Your weather sounds ... cold ;) But that wonderful description did make me kinda miss the sheer beauty of a cold winter day... I really miss seeing the snow look as thought it's been dusted by diamonds and shine in the sunlight.

    But I don't miss my nostrils sticking shut when trying to breathe in that bitter cold air! hehe

  13. Oh Jean -- I know exactly what you mean! I've been experiencing the same thing myself, though in my case I think it's because Panama is being exceptionally well fed at the new place. :o)

  14. Isn't it funny how horses will tolerate all kinds of twisting and sliding with blankets. The power of desensitization! And we all know how uncomfortable thongs are...

    The only thing I really hate about blankets is when the temperature rises suddenly and I'm across town thinking my poor horse is sweating under there.

  15. The image of a horse wearing thing underwear totally made me laugh. Good one!

    I'm picky about blanket and saddle pad fit...almsot obsessive about it due to comfort and safety. But I rarely ever blanket my mare, unless we get freezing rain or wet snow. She has 24/7 access to the barn and shelter and we have trees and windbreaks in both of her paddocks, so it's up to her how comfortable she wants to be.
    Strangely enough she usually chooses to stand out in the snow and rain over being in the barn or shelter, too. She has a very thick coat on, though. And when I do blanket her she ends up feeling too warm underneath her blanket, even in temps of 10-20 degrees outside.
    I think that's one of my biggest horse-related pet peeve, is when people blanket and stall their horses when they obviously don't need it. It's easy to do, I know, because if I'm cold, I just assume my horse is, too. But I don't have a thick hide and even thicker fur coat and the very active metabolism that a horse does.
    I've seen poor horses standing outside in the bright sunlight in temps of 20-40 degrees and only a slight breeze, looking miserable in their heavy blankets. I'm sure they are covered in sweat underneath, too.

    Wouldn't it be nice if horses could just tell us if they wanted to, or not, wear a blanket?


  16. Lisa - I couldn't agree more about the over-blanketing thing - a horse that is in proper weight and not elderly, with adequate shelter, is good to around 0F without a blanket. I often dream of run-in shelters - if we had those I'd rarely have to blanket!

  17. My pet peeve at the moment is the horse who decides to destroy his buddy's blanket, which is 3x as expensive as his. Grr!

  18. Hi Kate, thanks for the nice comment you left on my blog!

    I hate fussing with blankets too--alas, my mares have to have them this year because we don't have a run-in shelter and our winters tend to be wet/windy/chilly. The desert-bred Arab grows a coat like a yak (which doesn't keep her warm when it's soggy, alas) and the swamp-bred STB just plain hates to be cold. Sigh. So, I fuss with blankets (at least this year!)

    I do think about moving to Arizona, though. Ahhhhhhh.....no blankets needed there!

  19. yes, i say, do a photo documentary of how to properly fit a blanket!

    it took me forever to learn these things. lots of poopy buckles and withers rubs. awful!

    just go ahead and show us how it's done!


  20. Horse thong?!! Ha! That is funny---But not for the poor guy stuck wearing one. Blankets take real care in selection. A good fit may take a while and several different attempts to get right! What I don't like about blankets is how they rub fur off! Grrr!!!
    I agree with Laughing Orca who doesn't appreciate it when people needless blanket horses that do not need it.
    I confess, in the horse magazines I am always drawn to looking at the pretty colors and plaids on the blankets. But the one time my horse wore a flysheet (for sunburn in the summer) it was just plain white!
    As usual, I learned a lot from your post, including how to properly measure for good fit.

  21. I agree with the photo essay idea. I am one without a horse, but I hope to remedy that soon. I want to do things correctly!

    But not a horse thong... no photos of that, please.

  22. I have to throw in that even if the horses have run-in shelters, if they're well-fed, youngish & in good weight, they probably won't use them!! My guys are in a herd of 10 geldings all in the range of 8-16, and even in -0 temps they won't use their shelters. They just happily cozy up to the round bale & munch all day, with not a sign of shivers or chill. It's fun to see all those big boys go for a run across their snow-covered field. Glad to hear Noble is doing better :)

  23. I was going to post what Jen said. I laugh when people have these visions of their horses using their run-in sheds in inclement weather. At least around here they prefer the woods to their fancy, expensive, open and inviting run-ins! They use the sheds on occasion but it is infrequent. If they didn't have woods they would probably use the shelters.

  24. My old arab grows a coat like a yak, too! He gets blanketed at night, because it's cold at night in the high desert! Usually in the teens or twenties. I've never seen him shiver, but he's elderly and a hard keep- not taking any chances. My mare doesn't get, or need, a blanket. Both horses are from MI, so they probably think this AZ winter stuff is weak!

    Poor old Dutch, when I was leasing him, he got a with rub from his blanket. I didn't know enough at the time how to fix it. He actually still wears the smae blanket, which is probably slightly too big, but fits him much better now that he has put on weight. He rarely wears it for an entire 24 hour period, and if her must, I take it off if possible for about an hour. Still has the white hairs, but no rubs since I've had him!

    Good post.


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