How to Choose Blankets, Sheets and Rugs for Your Horse

Icelandic horse wearing blanket
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When choosing a blanket for your horse, you're faced with many different choices. There are blankets for cooling horses out and ones for warming them up. Some have therapeutic properties, while others keep dust off the horse's coat. Some people believe a horse should never be blanketed, while others have a complete wardrobe of rain sheets, turn out rugs, summer and winter stable blankets, and coolers.

If you feel your horse needs a blanket, you'll need to determine just what type you need. A turn-out rug isn’t suitable if your horse is working hard and sweating and a rain sheet in cold weather may keep your horse cold. Choosing carefully is important. Here's a rundown of the various types of blankets available.

  • 01 of 08

    Stable Blankets

    A racehorse in a stable

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    Stable blankets or night blankets as they're sometimes called are designed to be worn when the horse is kept in a stall. They can be insulated for warmth, or made of a lightweight fabric to keep the horse's coat clean. They are of a much lighter fabric than turnout blankets because they aren't expected to get the same wear and tear that a turnout blanket does. They may or may not have leg straps to prevent shifting.

  • 02 of 08

    Turn-Out Rugs

    Horses eating hay

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    Turn-out rugs or blankets are made of durable, waterproof but breathable fabric, lined with quilting for warmth. They have sturdy belly, chest and leg straps. Many rugs are designed to sit high up on the neck and often have pleats and gussets at the shoulder and haunch to allow ease of movement. It's important to choose a turnout blanket that breathes because a horse can sweat under a completely vapor-proof blanket. 

  • 03 of 08


    A horse drawn cart with the horses in coolers

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    Coolers and anti-sweat sheets come in different designs. They may be fitted like a stable blanket, or they may simply be a large square of fabric with a few ties on either side. Coolers are meant to absorb sweat while preventing the horse from becoming chilled from any breezes that may be blowing.

    Square coolers are draped over the horse as its standing, and these tend to slide off easily if the horse moves around too much. Fitted coolers may have standard straps and fastenings so they can be left on a horse in a stall safely. All will be made of fabric that is breathable and wicks away moisture. Summer coolers may be made of a mesh or thin fabric and less warm then ones intended for cold weather use.

  • 04 of 08

    Rain Sheets

    A white horse on a farm with a blanket

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    A rain sheet is made of waterproof fabric and may be lined with a thin cotton-like lining. The purpose of the rain sheet is to keep the horse dry in wet weather. It's very important to buy a rain sheet made of breathable fabric. In warm weather, horses can quickly become overheated and sweat in a rain sheet. The horse can then become chilled, and the humid environment beneath the blanket might cause skin irritations. Use non-breathable fabric rain sheets only for very short periods of time, such as between classes at a horse show. 

    Putting a rain sheet on in cold weather may not be a good idea. While it will block the wind, it will also mat down the hair, preventing the piloerection of the coat that keeps a horse naturally warm, without having any insulating properties of its own.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Fly Sheets

    Pony with equine allergy wearing Sweet Itch blanket

    David Handley / Getty Images

    Fly sheets can be simple mesh blankets that look like a cooler made of gauzy fabric, or they may be more form-fitting, with gussets, leg and belly coverings. The purpose of these blankets is to keep biting insects off of your horse. Many offer UV protection to prevent the horse's coat from getting bleached and dry.

    Fly sheets that are very open weave may not be effective, and you will see horses kick and swish at flies with as much vigor as the horses standing next to them not wearing blankets. Horses wearing a fly sheet in the hot sun may be warmer than those that are not. So use your discretion about when and where your horse wears a fly sheet. ​Fly sheets need to be sturdy and well fitted. They tend to rip and shift easily.

  • 06 of 08

    Therapeutic Blankets

    Horse in a stall at a stable

    Maskot / Getty Images

    Therapeutic blankets can be made of special nano-fabrics that are purported to warm and soothe muscles, have magnets attached to them, or other technology that is supposed to heal and relax your horse. These blankets can be very costly. Follow the manufacturer's directions for use and care for the best results.

  • 07 of 08

    Under Rugs

    A racehorse in a stable with layered blankets

    urbancow / Getty Images

    These are insulating blankets that can be worn under a stable or turn out rug as a liner for extra warmth. Traditionally, they were made of wool (in colorful plaid designs), but now they can be quilted or fleece fabrics. They may have belly and chest straps, or they may only have fasteners to attach it to the outer blanket.

  • 08 of 08

    Half Sheets, Quarter Sheets and Rump Rugs

    A rear view of horses wearing quarter sheets

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    Half sheets, quarter sheets, and rump rugs are meant to be used while the horse is being ridden. They keep the horse's large muscles warm and covered during cold weather. If your horse wears a winter turnout rug, a rump rug is a good idea to prevent chills as you warm up to ride. There are several different designs, some meant for high visibility.

    Some only cover the horse's haunches, some cover the horse from the shoulders back, with the saddle sitting on top of it, or some will cover the horse from chest to haunches, and the rider. Be careful with the style that covers horse and rider. If the horse isn't used to wearing one, it can cause big problems. If the rider falls off, there is a potential for the blanket to become entangled so the rider can't fall free of the horse. Rump rugs and a quarter or half sheets may be covered in the wind and waterproof fabrics, wool or quilted fabrics.