Has this ever happened to you? Your horse is at grass, and it starts to rain. It might be the middle of the night, or you were away from home and couldn’t get there in time to blanket him.
Maybe he’s just had a bath and you need to cool him out and dry him off, but it’s getting cold and you’re worried about him catching a chill.
Or perhaps it’s winter, and your horse is covered in snow by the time you can bring him in.
You know putting a blanket on him is the right thing to do, but it’s too late – he’s already wet. Can you blanket a horse that is already wet?
The Right Blanket is Crucial
Whether or not you can blanket a wet horse depends on the blanket you’re using.
In order for your horse to dry, air needs to circulate so his coat can breathe.
If the blanket you plan to use has a breathable lining, chances are you can throw it on him and he’ll be fine.
If you don’t have a blanket with a breathable lining, use a wool, cotton, or other breathable cooler underneath his blanket to facilitate air flow.
There is no industry standard for what “breathable” means, but most natural fibres (like cotton, hemp and wool), anti-sweat sheets, or waffle weave coolers are breathable.
Does it Breathe?
If you’re not sure if your blanket material is breathable, try this simple test: Try to blow air through it yourself.
If you can press your lips or a fan to the fabric and blow air in through it, the fabric is breathable. If you can’t feel any air flow through it, it’s safe to say it’s not breathable.
Before You Blanket
It’s good practice to get a wet horse as dry as you can before blanketing.
Use a sweat scraper or squeegee to remove the worst of the moisture. If you don’t have one, a piece of clean bale twine pulled taut between your hands is an effective (and free) way to remove excess water, and has the added benefit of being safe to use over legs and other bony parts.
Dampness at the back of the heel can lead to ailments like scratches or mud fever. Use a cotton towel to dry the backs of his pasterns as you get him ready for blanketing.
When Not to Blanket a Wet Horse
If the blanket in question has a nylon lining, as many turnouts do, it’s not a good idea to throw it on a wet horse without something underneath to help air circulate. Water that can’t evaporate and stays on the skin can leave the horse susceptible to rain rot.
Rain rot is actually caused by bacteria, not wetness, but persistent moisture robs the hair of its natural protective oils and leaves skin open to infection.
If you’re using a cooler underneath a blanket to dry him off, avoid fleece or synthetic coolers. Although they may wick moisture away from your horse, these materials tend to absorb moisture and will stay wet.
An Old-Fashioned Fix
If all you have is a non-breathable blanket, use this old trick: thatching.
Sprinkle a layer of hay or straw over the horse’s back, and then apply the blanket. Straw is preferable to hay because its shafts are hollow and will hold air (and it’s a lot cheaper!) but either one will work fine. Thatching creates air pockets over the horse’s back, which will allow water to safely evaporate.
As soon as he is dry, remove the blanket and brush off the straw or hay.
The Most Important Part
Regardless of which option you choose, the most important thing is to check your blanketed horse regularly.
Slip your hand under the blanket and close to his skin. While you want to make sure he’s drying, you also want to check the temperature under the blanket. He may begin to overheat as the water evaporates, in which case you’ll need to swap out coolers or thatching.
A Wet Horse is Not an Unhappy Horse
Sure, nothing looks sadder than a soaked and sullen horse standing in the field, but nature has equipped most breeds quite well for the elements.
So long as your horse is healthy, in good weight and not clipped, he’s likely just fine to wait out inclement weather without interference, so long as he has access to a shelter of some kind.
Remember: a horse wearing no blanket is often better off than a horse wearing the wrong blanket.
Do you often have to blanket your horse when he’s wet? What’s your #1 trick for blanketing a wet horse? Let us know!
Featured Image by Henryk Niestrój