When the temperature drops, horse people know it’s time to blanket their horses – especially for turnout when they’re exposed to the elements. But what about when you’re riding? Sure, your horse will warm up when in work, but the periods of time before and after that are crucial for keeping your horse comfortable and preventing injury.
Think about it: your horse is leisurely munching on hay at a comfortable temperature with a blanket on. You come in and remove the blanket in order to groom and tack up. Then, you hop on and expect loose and supple muscles, and an even-tempered, responsive mount. Meanwhile, your horse is still trying to bring their body temperature back up to what it was with the cozy blanket on back in the barn. Their muscles are tight, and they need to move around a lot to generate heat. That’s not always the best equation for an enjoyable and productive hack.
Quarter sheets protect your horse’s uncovered back and hindquarters to keep them temperate while grooming and warming up, and/or to wick moisture and help cool down gradually to prevent a chill. For clipped horses, quarter sheets are an integral item for cold weather riding.
You can ride as normal with a quarter sheet and allow for a complete range of motion for both you and your horse. Some quarter sheets are secured underneath the saddle like an extra long saddle pad, and others fasten over the rider’s legs to keep you warm as well. Some, like the Bucas Riding Sheet, allow for either option.
Anti-Sweat Sheets & Coolers
Anti-sweat sheets and coolers can also help with the transitions before and after riding. They are larger than quarter sheets, and they cover most of the horse’s body like a traditional horse blanket. They are made from materials that wick moisture, which will help dry and warm your horse.
Anti-sweat sheets are meant for milder weather – often in the spring or fall – when you need to wick moisture without providing as much additional warmth. They tend to be made of cotton and often are knit with ventilating holes to prevent overheating the horse in warmer weather.
Coolers are meant for cooler weather, when you want to both wick moisture and provide warmth. Some coolers are simply large rectangles of fabric, with basic attachments near the horse’s ears and tail. This style provides coverage for the horse’s neck, and it goes on and comes off quickly and easily – but it can also shift out of place just as easily, potentially causing your horse to spook and trip on the cooler. Because of this, most coolers on the market now are fitted more like traditional blankets, with chest straps and belly surcingles to keep them secure. By and large they are made out of fleece fabric, which wicks moisture, insulates heat, washes and dries easily, and is available in a wide variety of colors and thicknesses. If you’re looking for neck coverage but don’t want to use a rectangular cooler, some coolers come with a neck combo attachment that you can use as needed. One example of this is the WeatherBeeta Fleece Combo Cooler.
You can layer an anti-sweat sheet with a cooler to wick moisture and provide warmth in instances such as cold weather bathing. Some coolers now function as a combination between an anti-sweat sheet and a cooler. One of these is the Horseware Rambo Airmax Cooler, which provides maximum ventilation to effectively release sweat from the horse’s body.
When to Blanket Your Horse
It’s important to remember that each horse is unique, and so are their needs when it comes to blanketing. Clipped horses will begin feeling the cold at 40°F, while horses with thick winter coats may begin feeling the cold at as low as 18°F. Once a horse’s coat becomes wet – either with sweat or precipitation – that temperature where they’re affected by the cold will be 10°F to 15°F higher. For example, the clipped horse that begins feeling the cold at 40°F may then begin feeling cold at 55°F when wet. That’s why it’s especially important to cool your horse down properly during the winter, particularly after they work up a sweat. If you’re riding outdoors, always consider the effects of wind chill and use that as your lowest temperature when deciding how to blanket your horse.
There are some other important factors to consider in order to keep your individual horse warm. Smaller horses, seniors, horses in a new environment, and underweight horses tend to be more sensitive to the cold than bigger, stockier horses. The temperatures previously mentioned are a general estimate and don’t take these factors into account.
For more resources on blanketing, check out…
Our post on Understanding Horse Blankets:
- Turnout vs. Stable Blankets
- Denier: What is it? And what do the numbers mean?
- Lite, Medium and Heavy
- How should my horse’s blanket fit?
Our guide to Blankets for Every Equine (and Animal):
- Growing Horses and Other Animals
- Ponies and Miniature Horses
- Draft Horses
- Narrow and Wide Chested Horses
- “Houdini” and Wrecker Horses
- Measuring for a Blanket
- Dog Blankets