Be Sure To Check (and Fix) This Common Horse Blanket Issue
Even after a lifetime managing horses and more than half a lifetime writing about their health, I still sometimes make mistakes and must learn from them. It’s tempting to keep gaffes private—I’m hard enough on myself. But I’m going to tell you about a blunder I made that could have resulted in an injured horse, in hopes of helping you avoid making the same mistake.
One early fall morning a few years ago, I drove out to the farm where I boarded at the time to prepare for an off-farm trail ride. It was still dark when I arrived, and I opened the barn doors to nickers from squinting, blinking horses as they adjusted to the overhead lights.
Typically, you’d see three horses’ faces pop out into the aisle, because a few of us had stall gates and guards, while the rest of the boarders used the full sliding doors. My horse Happy—who likes to watch what’s happening in the barn—is one of those faces, and he was already standing at his stall gate, ears pricked and eager to see me (or at least the bits of carrot in my pocket). But as I approached his stall, I realized something wasn’t quite right. His posture was unusual; he was restrained or restricted in some way, standing almost chest-out with his head and neck raised and arched like a Disney horse.
In a flash I realized what had happened: I had forgotten to switch around the front fasteners on a new sheet I had put on him the night before (he had a trace clip at the time and, so, needed a sheet or medium blanket when the temperature dipped). The sheet came—as many do—with the open part of the quick clips facing outward, rather than toward the horse’s chest. Both spring-loaded front clips had worked exactly as they had been designed—so you can readily fasten the clips to the metal rings on the sheet—only they had latched to metal grid of the stall gate when he leaned against it.
On Happy’s previous sheet I had unlaced the clips from the straps and turned them around to prevent this exact scenario. But this time I had forgotten and, judging by the large pile of manure behind him, Happy had been stuck for at least a few hours. A wave of guilt washed over me.
I didn’t stop to take a photo (as can be tempting when you work in equine media) or try to open his stall gate, lest he panic and struggle. Instead, I calmly approached him, speaking in a soothing voice, offered him a treat as I unclipped him. He stood patiently and was free in a few seconds.
We both took deep sighs of relief, and I surveyed his body and the stall. He didn’t have a scratch or bump on him. He was wearing standing wraps, so that might have helped. I could see where he had struggled some; one of the front straps, attached to the clip, was torn away from the sheet and the bedding beneath him was disturbed. But Happy had consumed most of the water in one of his buckets, so it had probably only been a few hours since he’d gotten stuck. The epic pile of poo could’ve been simply anxiety—kind of like how some horses empty their bowels thoroughly even on a short trailer ride.
Anyhow, I jogged Happy in hand with my trainer watching, and he was sound. We marveled at how lucky I’d been, and she set to unlacing the fasteners from the straps and turning them around for me; I was so caught off guard by the situation that I hadn’t remedied the problem yet.
The rest of the day was uneventful. We loaded up and left the farm and had a fabulous ride at Shaker Village, in nearby Harrodsburg, Kentucky.
Later that day I opened up about this situation to my Facebook friends, and many of them expressed surprise and admitted they hadn’t thought about this danger before. So, take it from me: Examine the clips on the front of your sheet and be sure they cannot latch onto anything besides the rings to which they were designed to fasten. If they’re facing the wrong way, unlace the fasteners from the chest straps and flip them around to face the horse. If the sheet or blanket design doesn’t allow this, get someone with a heavy-duty sewing machine to help you disassemble and reassemble the strap so the hook/open part of the clip faces the horse’s chest.
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