Stablewear for Soundness by Ruthann Smith

Stablewear for Soundness

Would you wear tight pajamas that pinch? What is your day like if you don't rest well? Your horse needs to sleep comfortably, too. Clothing for bed is not just a matter of keeping warm. If clothes pull or restrict at the shoulder when the horse lies down, he'll get stiff and sore. Blood is constricted in the area, so it does not heal well, either. Meanwhile, horses are fight or flight animals. Wardrobe malfunctions can cause panic and even death. So, here are very practical tips for keeping your horse comfy, safe and sound.


The Bucking Strap

The horse's flank is a super sensitive. It's ticklish because organs are not protected by ribs. Broncos go wild because of a rope tightened around the flank. So, they buck in a blind panic.
The same thing can happen if a horse's clothes slide back. Often involuntary twitching at the withers leads surcingles slide back to the big part of the belly, suddenly becoming a bucking strap. There is no warning! The horse goes ballistic. This is not to be underestimated. Braiders are tempted to undo the front buckle, without undoing the surcingles. They figure it will just take a moment to braid at the withers. As a result, many can tell you about panicked horses that ran right through: tied down tent flaps, wood walls and even into a neighbor's pool and drowned. Yes. Surcingles very easily become bucking straps and death traps.

Proper On and Off

  • Put clothes on from front to back. Fasten the chest, then surcingles, followed by leg straps.
  • Take them off from back to front. Undo leg straps, then surcingles and finally the chest.

That way, whenever surcingles are fastened, the chest is closed so clothes won't slide back. When the chest is undone before the surcingles, you are asking for problems.

SurcinglesFit surcingles with a stacked fist.


Surcingles, whether crossed or not, should have a good stacked fist-worth of slack. Too loose and the equine could get his foot through it when he lies down. That would be disastrous.
BibLeave a good 4 inches of slack in the chest. Repurpose old bandages to reduce rubs and drafts. They stay without fasteners.

I always leave a good 4-6 inches of slack in the chest. Blankets slide back, so if you put it on a bit forward, chances are it won't pull so much on the shoulder when he lies down. Many clothes have shoulder pleats, but those help a horse run, not sleep comfortably.


Cross leg straps through each other to the same side, hanging loosely but at least 4 inches above the hock to avoid getting caught.
You want leg straps to be comfortable and safe. I find it best to cross them through the other, fastening to the same side. This way they hang away from the body. If too loose, the hock can catch when the horse lies down. Then he'll panic and get hurt. So, be sure they hang at least four inches above the hock.

Moving BlanketsFold and lift to move blankets comfortably.

Moving Blankets

Chances are you know a horse that threatens to bite when you fuss with his clothes. That's because someone pulled to adjust them. When the hair is pushed back against the direction of growth, it hurts! So, horses get defensive. To comfortably adjust clothes, fold them forward. Then, lift to move them.


Layers provide extra insulation. Sheets stay against the coat.

On extra cold days we use Whitney blankets. They are traditionally gold with a black and a red stripe. We place them between the sheet and parka and fold them back at the base of the neck. They'll stay in place. Or, use a blanket pin to secure the chest.


If your horse is damp, he'll only chill to the bone and be prone to illness and injury. Be sure your horse and his clothes are bone dry. How would you feel if you slept in a cold wet bed? Keep stalls clean. Rubber mats are extra cold and don't drain. If you want to save money and keep your horse sound, bed very deep and pick often. If the stall doesn't get dirty, you rarely need to replenish shavings.

Determining Comfort

If your horse's ears are cold, he is already chilled. If his shoulders are clammy, he is apt to colic. The most important area to keep warm is the loin. Many horses can seem comfortable, but when you feel above the flank, kidneys are cold. Ideally both the shoulders and kidneys should be toasty, but never damp.

Each horse is an individual. Stallions tend to run hot. Mares can vary with their cycle. Older horses' backs can be extra sensitive.

Night check is important because temperatures drop: when the sun goes down, later at night and again just before the sun rises. If you put night clothes on at dinner, they'll likely sweat or get cold. If an animal is too hot, the distress can lead to colic. It is better to add another layer later. Keep in mind that if a horse is cold, he can lie down to keep warm. However, he gets up, he'll run cold for a few minutes.


Poorly fitted clothes and dry skin promote rubs. If skin is parched, hair is brittle and breaks. So, curry lots to bring out natural protective oils. Keep horses well groomed. Otherwise, dirt is drying. Choose clothes cut for your horse's body type. Then, adjust them properly, leaving lots of room at the chest when dressing.

Fresh Air

Good circulation is pivotal to health. It is better to leave doors or windows cracked, as long as they don't blow directly on horses. Once I taught in a barn that was sealed tight and I ended up in the hospital. It is better to dress horses well and keep air fresh. Picking stalls often helps as well.


No one likes to be cold. Every horse is different, while proper bed clothes are also contingent upon weather, when a horse was clipped and where his stall is located. It is easy to leave the barn and shift gears. But, pay mind. Be proactive and consistent. Keeping your horse comfortable allows him to be a sound and willing partner.

Ruthann Smith
Ruthann Smith


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