Do you know your blankets?

Going into winter, how well do know your blankets and what each of them do?

Going into winter, how well do know your blankets and what each of them do?

With winter approaching, blanketing pops up in every horse owner’s mind – do I need to blanket my horse? What type of blanket should I use? It all boils down to personal preference and your horse’s individual needs. This month we look at the types of blankets and when they are used to help make your decision a little easier.

Factors to consider when blanketing

  • The horse’s coat – consider how long, short, fine or coarse it is and you can then blanket accordingly.
  • Environmental temperature – South Africa has moderate winters compared to other parts of the world and we may not need to use very thick duvet blankets.
  • The horse’s ability to withstand cold and wind – horses are able to generate body heat through their digestive activity and can withstand temperatures as low as -12°C, provided they are stabled and/or sheltered during the coldest hours.

Types of blankets

Stable rug

The stable rug, also known as a duvet, is used to keep the horse warm while stabled. It is not suitable for outside use. Most stable rugs are made from padded material, ranging in thickness from 150g to 300g of filling. Heavy-duty stable rugs may have more than 300g of filling. An under-rug can be added underneath the stable rug for extra warmth on extremely cold evenings.

Turnout rug

Traditionally known as a New Zealand rug, this blanket is used to keep the horse warm and dry when turned out in the paddock. The rug is usually waterproof on the outside and may have filling to keep the horse warm, and can be used with an under-rug on extremely cold days. It is important to ensure the turnout rug is not too tight or rubbing the horse anywhere.


A fleece rug is warm but breathable and usually has moisture wicking properties. Fleece rugs are very useful and can be used as a light stable rug, a travel rug, or an under-rug. Some fleece rugs may have a smoother outer to avoid bedding sticking to it.


A cooler is a rug that looks like a jersey-type of blanket. Coolers are used to keep the horse comfortable after an intense exercise session by wicking away the moisture generated by the heat of the horse’s body. Coolers are usually made of wool or jersey-type material and are ideal for cooler weather.

Sweat sheet

A sweat sheet is a lightweight sheet that usually has small holes in it. It is used for cooling the horse down after an intense exercise session in warm weather or after a bath, allowing air to flow without your horse catching a chill. Sweat sheets can be layered with a cooler on very cold days.


Day sheets are great to use on cooler days and to keep your horse clean at shows

Day sheets are great to use on cooler days and to keep your horse clean at shows

Day sheet

A day sheet is a lightweight sheet, usually made of cotton. A day sheet can be used as a travel rug in the summer months, to keep the horse clean before or at a show or event, to display sponsorship branding, or as a lightweight sheet on windy days.

Fitting the blanket

Different brands may vary slightly in the sizes of their range of blankets. Keep in mind to always check the size guide and manufacturing guidelines on how to measure your horse for the correct size of the brand of blanket or sheet you are interested in.

Common misconceptions

  • A fly sheet and a sweat sheet shouldn’t be confused purely because both have mesh or holes in them. Biting insects can bite through a sweat sheet.
  • A cooler is not the same as a fleece. Both are breathable and have moisture wicking properties but they are made of different materials. A cooler is used temporarily as the horse is cooling down, whereas a fleece can be used while the horse is stabled or travelling.
  • A blanket will give your horse added warmth, but in return will decrease your horse’s natural winter hair growth. Once you have started to blanket your horse for the winter, you should continue throughout the winter.
Use a sweat sheet to cool down your horse properly after early morning or late afternoon rides

Use a sweat sheet to cool down your horse properly after early morning or late afternoon rides

Tip box

  • Only apply blankets to clean, dry horses.
  • Use the appropriate blanket for the appropriate use. For example, do not use a fly sheet as a stable blanket.
  • Check your horse regularly for sweating – it is important that he does not overheat if blanketed.
  • Performance horses might need clipping and blanketing to control winter hair growth, so they can exercise without getting too sweaty and the sweat can dry easily.
  • Remove the blanket daily and groom your horse before refitting.
  • If your horse is scratching, biting or tearing his blanket, there is a good chance he is not comfortable with wearing it – listen to your horse!

With the wide choice of blankets and sheets available, it comes down to personal preference and which type of blanket works best for your horse, considering his age, coat type, condition, work type and workload. Be aware of any signs your horse gives of discomfort – he knows his body best!

The full article appears in the May (110) issue of HQ. 

Text: Hayley Kruger


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