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Q. I'm going to need to buy a winter blanket for my horse soon. I live in Maryland, and my horse really gets cold in the winter. It does snow. I don't think I'll be clipping my horse's coat, and he doesn't grow much of one, anyway. My barn isn't heated, and I will be turning him out during the winter.

My instructor told me to buy the heaviest blanket. Are the Rambo's the best to get for my horse, and are the heavy weight ones the warmest? What does it mean when it says 10 oz.? Is that the weight? I've never had to buy one before. Can you please give me information on them and the best one I should get for my horse?

A. There is such a wide selection of blankets, liners, and sheets on the market today ... it's mind-boggling. I'm afraid I'm not personally acquainted with the Rambo blankets, so I'll just offer some guidelines. The shopping will be up to you.

First, let me tell you that I live in northern Minnesota where it sometimes hits -40°F in the winter, though it usually doesn't get much below -15°F (which is plenty cold enough, thank you very much!). I have several thin-coated horses, but I never blanket unless I have a horse who's losing weight, ill/injured, or is visibly trembling from the cold. I have been known to go years without ever having to blanket a horse. In any event, I never blanket until well into the winter so all my horses grow as thick and long a winter coat as possible. I also never clip a coat, and my horses are turned out almost every day all winter. My barn is also completely unheated. My guess is that your horse would be just fine without being blanketed at all, but if he's a hard keeper and tends to lose weight in cold weather, here are some guidelines for you.

Heavier does not necessarily mean warmer. In fact, heavier weight blankets may also be more likely to rub hair off your horse's shoulders. Not only will a medium or lighter weight blanket with a separate blanket liner tend to be warmer, it will be much easier to keep clean (since you'll only need to launder the liner), and it will be less likely to rub bare spots on your horse's coat. Some folks even use a third layer - a top sheet - over the lightweight blanket and liner to keep the top of the blanket clean and add another layer of warmth. This sort of system makes it easy to remove and replace layers as the weather warms and cools. A cutback blanket/sheet and liner will help protect the mane from being rubbed off near the withers.

If you're going to be turning your horse out with the blanket on, you'll want a blanket designed to stay put without shifting or rolling out of position. The contoured blankets tend to stay in place better than those that are square-cut, and leg straps add stability to any blanket's position on the horse's back. If your horse turns out to be a real blanket escape artist, you may end up having to buy a roller to place over the blanket to keep it correctly positioned. If this blanket will be exposed to rain, snow, or sleet, or if your horse will be unsupervised while turned out in his blanket, you'll need to buy something weather-resistant. Read the labels carefully. Many weather-resistant materials will lose their water repellency if dry-cleaned, and all will eventually become water-logged if exposed to prolonged, drenching rains.

If your horse will allow you to pull a blanket on over his head, a closed front will tend to be warmer than one with buckles or velcro attachments in the front. If you do decide to buy a single, heavier blanket, get one that can be easily laundered in a large washing machine (remember those big turnout rugs may lose their water repellency when dry-cleaned). Otherwise, you're going to be stuck scrubbing your blanket by hand and hanging it over a fence to dry anytime it gets soiled.

It would be handy to know your horse's blanketing history. If he's known to be very hard on blankets (my thoroughbred gelding was a beast on blankets - loved to shred the things), you may not want to invest a bundle in a top of the line blanket that he'll tear apart in a week. If, on the other hand, he's a gentleman about such things, it's worth investing the extra bucks on a very well made blanket with tough, strong material that will stand up to routine tearing (snagging it on a gate latch, tree branch, etc.).

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