Have you ever wondered what the purpose of a fleece horse blanket is?
They don’t make a great turnout, and you probably wouldn’t want to use one in the middle of summer, so what exactly do they do? And more importantly, does a fleece cooler deserve a space in your horse’s already expansive wardrobe of wraps, boots, turnouts, rain sheets, saddle pads, and stable blankets?
You may be surprised to know the seemingly humble fleece blanket is one of the most versatile pieces of equine clothing you can own. Read on to learn why.
What is a Fleece Horse Blanket?
Before we detail how useful a fleece blanket is, we should discuss what exactly it is.
Pretty self-explanatory, these multi-purpose blankets are typically made of polar fleece, a hardwearing, affordable, and widely available fabric made partially out of recycled plastic.
Initially developed as a lightweight alternative to wool, polar fleece is soft, warm, lightweight, and machine washable. It’s hydrophobic, meaning it doesn’t absorb moisture, making it very quick-drying compared to other fabrics.
Even when wet, a fleece blanket still retains most of its insulation ability. However, it is not windproof, meaning it’s not suitable as an outer layer for chilly turnouts, but its breathability makes it an excellent layering piece.
Fitted vs. Square Fleece Blankets
If you’re sold on the versatility of fleece for your horse, your next decision is fitted vs. square.
Square Fleece Coolers
A large rectangle of fleece, square fleece blankets are great for cooling out after a workout or preventing chills after a bath, which is why you’ll hear them almost exclusively referred to as “coolers”.
Unlike fitted blankets, square coolers are designed to cover from the head to tail. They’re much easier to fit than fitted coolers and often come in one size. They’re designed to fit fairly loosely and to allow maximum airflow over the horse and through the chest while still keeping him warm.
Square sheets make for a quick on/off and are secured using a few front ties, browband tie or halter clips, and either a tail strap or leg straps, making them great for shows or a supervised walk.
A horse should never be left unsupervised in a square cooler.
A square cooler also has the advantage of being easily folded in half to become a quarter sheet to keep his hindquarters warm until he’s warmed up, without the worry of dangling surcingle straps getting caught up.
Fitted Fleece Blankets
Fitted fleece sheets make a versatile addition to your horse’s wardrobe but function a little differently than a square fleece.
For starters, they’re fitted, so you’ll need to measure your horse for one just as you would a turnout blanket or stable blanket.
Instead of front ties, look for either Velcro or buckle closures. Buckles may take an extra few seconds compared to Velcro, but they tend to last longer when cared for properly. Velcro may lose its “stick” after multiple washes and hard wear, and the sound can startle very young or high strung horses.
Fitted sheets usually have cross surcingles and a tail strap, although some models have leg straps instead.
What Does a Fleece Blanket Do?
A fleece blanket may well be one of the most versatile and useful parts of your horse’s wardrobe. From breezy shows to winter turnouts and everything in between, a fleece blanket can come in handy in tons of situations.
As a Cooler
One of the most common uses of a fleece blanket is as a cooler.
After strenuous exercise or a bath, a horse needs to be kept warm and chill-free as he dries. Both square and fitted fleece blankets will keep his muscles warm until he’s cooled down enough to be bathed or put away.
On warm days be mindful that he doesn’t get too hot under a fleece blanket, and check periodically by running your hand underneath the cooler. Undo the chest buckles and open up the chest to help him cool down faster if it’s a very hot day or he’s very warm.
After a Bath
After a bath, rinse and use a sweat scraper to remove as much water from your horse as you can. However, he’ll still probably be a bit damp.
On chilly days, a fleece cooler will prevent him from getting a chill until he’s dry. Walk him or let him hang out in his stall until he’s completely dry, and then replace the fleece with his regular blanket. Avoid putting his regular stable blanket over the damp fleece.
For more information on whether or not you can blanket a wet horse, check out our post about it <here>.
As a Blanket Liner
On chilly days, sometimes you just need an extra cozy layer. So does your horse.
You can layer a fleece blanket under a stable blanket, turnout, or rain cover for an extra bit of warmth on a cold day.
Note that even though polar fleece is pretty good at repelling some moisture, it won’t stand up to hard rains, snow, or other inclement weather. It’s also not windproof, so if your horse is wearing one outside, make sure that it’s covered with a windproof layer, such as a rainsheet or turnout shell.
As a Quarter Sheet for Warm-up
Most unheated arenas can get very cold during the winter and can be a nasty shock to a horse who has been warm and cozy in a stable blanket all day.
A horse doing hard work or jumping may not need a quarter sheet to work in but can still benefit from keeping his hindquarters warm until he’s warmed up.
A fleece cooler folded in half and thrown over his hindquarters gives you the best of both worlds—the warmth of a quarter sheet until he’s warmed up, then easily removed when it’s time to “get down to business.”
When the ride is over, toss it back over his hindquarters to keep him warm while you cool down.
Just make sure to tie up the surcingles, so they don’t flap around and startle your horse.
Fitted fleece sheets are the perfect option for keeping your horse cozy while trailering.
In all but the worst weather, keeping the trailer’s windows open is a good way to improve ventilation but can lead to chilly drafts inside the trailer, even on otherwise mild days.
If you think your horse may be exposed to a draft while trailering, a fitted fleece blanket can help keep him warm without adding bulk.
Fitted fleece blankets also make a good stable sheet. Warm and cozy but with next to no weather protection, they’re perfect for use when your horse is stalled in the fall or winter.
Depending on the fleece, the blanket may attract shavings (and stains) if your horse likes to lie down or roll, but are easily maintained with a spot clean or stiff bristle brush to dust off bedding.
A fitted fleece sheet is also a great option to help “beef up” the warmth of a light stable blanket when temperatures drop.
If you’re stabling at a show, you know how horses always find a way to make as big a mess of their neat braids and shiny coats as possible. For chillier days, a fleece blanket is a great way to keep him clean but still warm (although it won’t stop him from rubbing his braids out!)
Fleece blankets also lend themselves well to embroidering, which makes them ideal awards or stable show team blankets, or gifts for your favorite up and coming rider!
How to Buy a Fleece Blanket
When it comes to buying a fleece blanket for your horse, you have a few things to take into consideration.
First, the style. Do you have enough liners and stable sheets already and are just looking for an easy on/off cooler? If so, a square fleece cooler should fit the bill nicely.
If you’re looking to maximize your options and want something that can do it all (or just prefer a minimalist approach to horse clothing), then a fitted fleece blanket might be right for you.
How to Fit a Fleece Blanket
Fitting square fleece coolers is a breeze- they’re usually one size fits all or come in general sizes like pony, horse, or XL.
Sizing fitted fleece blankets is the same as fitting a turnout blanket or stable sheet – measure your horse from the center point of his chest to the center point of the buttock. If you get a number in between two sizes, opt for the size up.
How to Care for a Fleece Blanket
Another great thing fleece sheets have going for them? They’re super easy to clean, and most can be thrown in the washer and line dried.
Whatever you do, avoid tumble drying on high heat, ironing, or otherwise exposing the blanket to extremely high temperatures, as this can cause the fleece to shrink or warp.
Low-quality fleece made with a high polyester may begin to pill over time, but a fabric shaver can help improve the appearance of a fleece blanket that has seen better days.
Fleece blankets with leather buckles need the same level of care as your regular leather goods to stay in good shape.
Otherwise, a quality blanket can provide years of faithful service.
There’s a seemingly endless array of high-tech blankets, covers, and liners available for your horse, with more being released every year. While you certainly don’t need to own every one the versatility, affordability, and easy care of the classic fleece blanket makes it a worthwhile addition to nearly any equine wardrobe.