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?