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 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.
Leave 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.
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.
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.
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 has spent a lifetime studying sound horsemanship- both as a groom for top international horses and as a renowned braider. Quietly twisting manes atop a ladder, she watched and learned in some of the best stables in the world.
As her passion for great grooming grew, Ruthann became focused on researching, collecting and sharing the best practices of the world’s keenest horsemen. Ultimately, Ruthann used her vast experience to develop exceptional equine grooming products to help raise the bar of horsemanship.
The knowledge she dispenses and the products Ruthann developed solve age-old grooming issues. Making quality horse care easier, they have received the highest honors in the equine industry*. Her Lucky Braids for Top Turnout coat care and braiding products are the best, most versatile, cost-effective and easiest solutions available on the market today.
Now Ruthann offers her LOVE, LOVE Guarantee. If not totally thrilled with a product she developed, Ruthann will refund you in full, regardless of where you purchased it.
It’s her life’s mission to empower horses by educating, motivating and equipping their people to be true horsemen. You can access Ruthann’s tips at: The Grooming Resource on LuckyBraids.com, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and her Horsemanship Clinics.
*After testing 350 products, Lucky Braids All-In-One Horse Shampoo was named product of the year by Horse Journal, the “Consumer Reports” of the industry. They also named Lucky Braids Shampoo and Whitener Spray Top Pick for greys and whites. Lucky Braids specialized braiding yarn also got stellar reviews.