blanketing · cushings · winter

What to Wear: The Winter Horse Version

For those new, when Tristan was diagnosed with Cushings, one of his most obvious outward symptoms was that he went from a horse could live outside, naked, 24/7 in Vermont to a horse who needed a full set of blankets starting at 40 degrees. Most Cushings horses have trouble in summer and get overheated. Tristan wanted to buck the trend.

That first winter, I put out the call and between the barn and friends, I was blown away by generosity. I got a stable blanket from a friend’s beloved horse who had recently passed. A medium weight from another friend whose daughter’s horse had recently retired south, delivered to me via meetup at a highway rest stop on a trip to Montreal. The barn did an extraordinary job of monitoring him closely and working out the nitty-gritty of when he needed what blankets. Eventually, I came around to the idea of owning a horse who needed blanketing.

It’s been three years since that diagnosis and that first winter of blanketing, and I’ve learned a lot about what he actually needs and what fits him. This year, he got some new-to-him blankets. Luckily, one of the things I discovered in those two years is that Tris is actually pretty easy on blankets! He rolls hard in them, but he doesn’t play much in pasture (anymore).

Through trial and error, I discovered that Smartpak’s regular line of blankets fit him pretty darn well at a 72. I took advantage of two different sales to buy him an unlined turnout sheet and a medium weight stable blanket.

True confession time: he probably could have gotten through ok with most of what he had – he definitively needed a new turnout sheet, but the others could have continued hodgepodge – but I got some extra money from a side job, and I wanted him to match. Yeah. I’m not really proud to admit it, but that was part of my motivation. He clashes with most colors, so our colors have always been black and silver. Those Smartpak blankets come in black with gray trim. And they fit him great. And I wanted them. Adulthood mostly sucks, but if it means I get to buy new things for my horse just because I wanted them, then I will. SO THERE.

new turnout sheet

new turnout sheet in action

new stable blanket fitting session, just out of the box (to right)

The final new-ish piece is that he also wears a quarter sheet to warm up and cool down. Not all the time – but when it 30 or below, it really does make a difference. I spent a long time borrowing the barn ones, and then I made my own and I love it. I’m trying to work out a system to make these for the shop, but they’re awfully labor-intensive and my time is short around the holidays.

so handsome ❤ ❤ ❤

This combination of stable blanket + turnout sheet has been working quite well so far this winter, and it’s been well below zero a couple of times. The best barn staff checked on him and he was cozy and comfortable even when it got super cold. So I’m pleased with the system as it is.

He still has another medium-weight that’s a bit big on him that will serve admirably as another layer in the event that it gets even colder (always a possibility, thanks Vermont!). But I think we’ve got a good winter plan in place.


Ah, there’s the rub

We’re used to thinking of winter as blanket rub season. That’s the way I always saw it.

No more!

With Tristan’s host of immuno-suppressed issues have come a series of generalized allergic reactions. Last summer, he broke out into really nasty hives several times. So I got out the fly sheet I had bought on a whim almost 9 years ago because it was on clearance, and he wore it a few times when he seemed particularly bad.

This summer, we thought, well, we’ll get out ahead of it! He’ll just be one of those horses who wears a fly sheet all summer!

Yeah, you can see where this is going, right?
It’s not sensitive, did not open up in any way, etc., but damn it all. Next year, new fly sheet.
blanketing · stupid human tricks

BEST Bombproof Pony

Last night, I had only a limited window between the end of work and date night with the boy. I sprinted to the barn, grabbed grooming tools, and decided to do a really thorough, end to end curry.

I was capital-L-lazy, and unbuckled the surcingles on Tristan’s blanket, and folded it up over his shoulders while I curried away along his back and his haunches. We were both pretty pleased with life: it was snowing outside, which meant everything was quiet and still and muffled. He loosened and relaxed and chomped away on his hay.

Then he put his head down in just the right way and the entire blanket slid forward onto his head.

He picked his head straight up, and the ENTIRE blanket was covering from about mid-neck to well past his nose, still folded over. A heavyweight blanket, that was already one size too large for him

He just stood there. He was clearly nervous, but he stood like a rock.

I reached forward and slid the blanket back onto his body – thankfully it hadn’t gotten twisted. He turned his head around to look at me, all “well THAT was stupid, MOM.” He blew out. He put his head back down and went back to eating his hay.



Small Things

I got to see my horse last night! Whooooooo!

I did not ride, on account of still not being able to take a deep breath without wheezing. But I brought him out of his stall and let him hoover up the little bits of spilled hay in the aisle, and pulled his blanket, and curried and brushed him all over. He was happy to see me, which is always a nice feeling, and it was heavenly to spend even 30 minutes in the quiet with him.

He was wearing his heavyweight and not too warm. I remain amazed by this. It was 34 degrees outside, which is not that cold! Good grief. Of all the changes wrought on his body by aging, this is one that continues to flummox me. How is MY horse, Tristan, my tough little mustang, who lived outside 24/7 through multiple Vermont winters, who turned up his nose at going in the shelter in driving snow, how is he wearing a heavyweight blanket in November comfortably?

Also, what are we going to do when it gets actually cold? He is carrying a bit too much weight right now, so on the one hand being a little cold and burning some calories wouldn’t be the worst idea; on the other hand, I am still utterly terrified of the one cold-induced colic that he had.


No barn tonight, on account of our Thanksgiving storm. Hopefully Friday.

Tristan is pretty firmly in that 10″ purple band.

blanketing · smartpak · video

OMG: Smartpak mentioned my blog!

So there I am, on my fourth piece of banana bread and third cup of tea of the day (don’t judge) and I’m taking a short mental break. I click on this video, because I love the Stuff Riders Say series. This should be good, right?
Then I got to 1:13 on the video: they mentioned my blog! I can only guess it’s because my review of their new SmartBlanket App came across their desk somehow. The power of the internet?
I laughed and laughed and laughed. Yes, that is how you say that. 🙂
blanketing · clipping · winter

Should I clip my horse?

I’m really struggling with this question this year, so I thought I would do a straight-up pros and cons list. I’m going to present Tristan as an anonymous case study, and ask you all to weigh in on what you think. Ok?

Background: horse is a 19yo mustang gelding in work 3-5 days per week for 20-45 minutes each, primarily dressage and trail riding. Never been clipped before. Not a huge sweater (rarely more than a slightly damp/tacky coat in the girth and chest area once the weather cools), but typically does get warm enough to require extended cooling off time 1-2x per week over the winter.

– horse exhibited signs of cold weather-related colic when temperatures began dropping this season, and will now be fully blanketed through the winter for the first time ever
– though the plan is to stay at 3-5 rides per week, there will no doubt be periods of time during the winter when 1-2 rides per week at the walk of short duration are the most work he’ll get due to extreme cold or snow
– horse was diagnosed with Cushing’s in August, is maintained on 1mg/day of pergolide, and is essentially asymptomatic on medication, with a totally normal winter coat and no signs of the classic long/wavy Cushing’s coat
– horse is heading into the winter at a body condition of about 5.5/6 after dipping down to a 4.5 or so this fall
– horse lost weight last winter, though not dramatically; say down from a 5 to a
– horse will have access to (essentially) free choice hay through the winter
– horse will have between 4-10 hours per day of turnout, depending on weather
– horse did not add muscle/wind well before starting medication for Cushing’s, and work will be harder for him as he regains fitness now that his body is capable of building it again; he has been running hotter than normal for the last 3-4 weeks

Possibly extraneous factors:
– owner is neurotic and terrified that clipping will result in constant vigilance to prevent cold-related colic symptoms
– owner also does not want to pile coolers and walk out for an hour after each ride

So: in my situation, what would you do?


Tristan’s Blanketing Plan for 2014-2015 – Fashion Show with Pics

So I’ve gone back and forth and back and forth on this blog and 30x as much in private about Tristan’s blankets and sheets – what he would need this winter now that we know he needs some blankets, what to use, when to use them, what blankets to buy. I’ve had a dozen different solid plans that I’ve moved on and then discarded.

Here’s what has emerged as our plan heading into winter.

1. Stable Sheet. Used sometimes as a straight sheet in the barn (40s-50s), or as a liner underneath a turnout sheet. Tristan’s is a Tuff Rider brand stable sheet that I’ve owned for a few years but used primarily to keep him clean after baths until now. It’s not the highest quality sheet ever and its a teensy bit small, but it does the job. Basically a previous style year version of this sheet.

2. Fleece cooler. Used on its own sometimes (low 40s, high 30s in the barn) but mostly as a liner for a turnout sheet to create a sort of light-fill blanket. Now, I had a previous fleece cooler, but I bought this one new this year because the previous cooler did not have a belly band. This one does. It’s the Smartpak Fleece Cooler. I like some things about it a lot (styling, straps, length, and overall cut) and other things not at all (it’s long for the size and the back gather is awkward, and there’s no fleece at the withers to prevent rubs).

3. Turnout sheet. Unlined, basic, waterproof turnout sheet to use as a top layer over the sheet and cooler above, or sometimes on its own on a rainy but warmer day. This particular sheet has the distinction of being the one I’ve owned the longest for him: I used to keep him at a place that had the most incredible clay deposits in their pastures, and all horses in that barn went out during mud season in turnout sheets. Otherwise you’d be currying dried clay off of them for an hour before you could ride. It’s a Saxon that I’ve always really liked, actually, for all that it’s a “cheap” sheet. Basically the older model of this sheet.

4. Stable Blanket. One of the two blankets my friend J. gave to me, this will enter the rotation when it’s 30s overnight and during the day, under a turnout sheet. I have no idea what brand it is, but I like a few things about it: the cut back withers, the belly band (which you can’t quite see in this photo), and actually the closed front – less to fiddle with, less bulk under another blanket.

5. Medium Weight Turnout Blanket. Used for temps below 30s, possibly combined with the stable blanket when it gets down to the teens. The other blanket J. gave me, this is a Weatherbeeta that is clearly showing its age. The straps – as you can see – are hanging on, and the edging is almost entirely gone. There are rips in the flannel lining. That said, this blanket has been hard used for many years and the fact that it’s even still intact shows its class.
6. Heavy weight turnout blanket. Used for single digits and below. Depending on how he handles the winter, might double over the stable blanket when it really starts to dip below zero. This is the blanket he wore last year for single digits and lower. Another gift from a very generous friend, this is the Rider’s International Heavyweight Turnout Blanket. As you can see, it’s a great blanket but it swims on him a bit – it’s a size too large, and the cut of the blanket is too long for his legs. Not the end of the world, but I would not buy this blanket new, even in the right size, because of the length against his legs.
So, there’s the plan, anyway. What’s your rotation for the winter?
blanketing · smartpak · there's an app for that

Product Review: Smartpak’s SmartBlanket App

Eventing Nation had a post about the new SmartBlanket app yesterday, and being that I am in the midst of fussing about Tristan’s blanketing options, I downloaded it instantly and spent some time playing with it.

The app purports to offer tips about blanketing, based on a series of customizable questions about your horse and your location. You can add multiple horses later on.
So here’s Tristan’s information in the add-a-horse phase. I liked the questions they asked, actually, and there were lots of options in each section. One option under clipping style was “show coat,” which took me a while to figure out – they mean clipped short but not all the way down to the skin. I’ve never seen a horse clipped like that, but I guess anything is possible!
Here’s the thinking screen. That little blue arrow circles the horse. Kind of fun. It made this thinking screen anytime I changed a setting for Tristan. It didn’t last terribly long – a second, two or three at the most. I’ve waited much longer for apps to load!
Ta-da! Here’s Tristan’s recommendations. I really like that they gave separate recommendations for night versus day, keeping in mind that it would be colder overnight. They also took into account the rain – if you scroll down to days when there’s no rain predicted, it suggested I leave him with no blanket.
I monkeyed back and forth with the settings quite a bit – pretending he was all the way clipped, partially clipped, overweight, underweight, etc. I got it to tell me he should go totally naked all the way up to a medium weight turnout overnight, depending on the settings. The little “i” next to each blanket type will lead you to more information, telling you what exactly they mean by each blanket.
It’s easy to adjust the settings: see the horse head in the upper right-hand corner? Tap on that and it gives you a list of horses you have saved. Then you tap on the horse’s name and it brings you back to the information screen that I showed above. You can just adjust things from there, save them, and then it will recalculate everything.
In general, I was pleasantly surprised to see this app erred on the conservative side for blanketing. I admit, I was expecting it to recommend all the blankets! all the time! and it definitely didn’t. For example, on the night when it recommended just a turnout sheet for Tristan, he would probably wear a stable sheet + turnout sheet, or a cooler + turnout sheet. Yesterday during the day, he was actually wearing a stable blanket + turnout sheet. This year is the first year he’s being blanketed that aggressively, though – remember, he colicked from the cold just a few short weeks ago. Any other year these recommendations actually would’ve been spot on, or perhaps a titch more than he needed.
Moral of the story? If you are really new to blanketing, or new to your horse, and need some rough guidance, this actually works really well! I love the updated weather information, I love the customizable features, I love that it saves multiple horses. If you need some more information to take in while considering your decision (if you’re like me and can’t get enough data points for neurotic things like this) it’s a great thing to have around.
I think its recommendations are a lot like what an old trainer of mine used to say about Pony Club stuff: you will always be okay following their rules, but sometimes there’s a better way to do things. It’s a good baseline.
Another thing about which I was pleasantly surprised: it didn’t push the Smartpak brand sheets too much at all. I didn’t really even notice too much brand creep. Just the facts, ma’am.
The last pieces of the app were interesting, but not terribly useful for me, honestly. 
Again: if you’re new to blanketing, or new to blanketing a particular horse, I think some of the fit tips, how to measure, and blanket type glossary information would be really useful. I read through a lot of it and it’s good, solid information. I even learned some things I’d never heard of before: apparently a rain sheet is something even more specialized than just a waterproof turnout. HUH!
If you find yourself in any of the situations I listed above – new to blanketing, new to blanketing a particular horse, or in need of/curious about extra data points for your own blanketing – I’d recommend this app. If you’re a longtime, confident blanketer with a horse you know well, I’d probably skip it.
Anyone else download it and play with it? What do you think?
blanketing · longeing

Monday Morning Longeing

After a short hack out on Sunday –

hold please, I need to complain.


Anyway. After a short hack out on Sunday, Monday was for longeing, for a couple of reasons: I didn’t have all day to tack up and go through a lengthy warmup for a dressage school, I didn’t really want the kind of work that a dressage school promised, and I wanted to get back in to using the chambon and the resistance band.

(Side note, someone on COTH linked to my original post about my homemade resistance band and it has taken off in the last few days. Kind of cool!)

I was very glad I had chosen longeing, because I got a nice, clear progression. He started off a bit stiff when loose, and chose to canter for a while instead of trotting. I let him, because it was a nice, soft, semi-balanced canter, not careening around, and if that’s how he wanted to warm up, I was ok with it.

After 15 minutes of warming up, I put the chambon and resistance band on. Initially, he fussed about them both, but within a minute or two he actually settled in to the work nicely. He had some lovely, LOVELY soft, stretchy work, especially to the right. Huge difference in length of stride and the way he used his body. I worked him for another 10-15 minutes, and then put him away in his wool dress sheet – he was the teensiest bit warm, and I wanted him to cool out but not get cold quickly, especially since the temperature has plummeted 40 degrees in the last 2 days.

I’m still learning and feeling my way through how to handle and manage him with blankets and the winter coat. When I got to the barn he was wearing his quilted stable blanket with turnout sheet over it, though it was about 35. I felt under the blanket and he felt cozy – not too warm at all. Good!

After a little while of putting away tack, I put his blanket and sheet back on and out he went. I scattered two flakes of hay all over his dry lot so he’d move around a bit, and he was happy as a clam when I left.

PS – Don’t forget to vote in the Marguerite Henry Readalong poll! So far, King of the Wind is handily in the lead; add your vote for that to ensure its victory or pick another book.

PPS – Giveaway alert! Check out Equestrian at Hart for a Spreadshirt custom t-shirt giveaway.