It's summer, that time when turn-out can seem more like a torture chamber for your horse with all the flies bothering him. How can you keep your horse comfortable? Live Gude of Pro Equine Grooms has some tips about selecting summer outerwear for your equine.
There are many factors to consider when selecting a fly sheet for your horse. When the weather gets warm, we want our horses to stay comfortable and cool, yet still be protected from the sun and bugs. As a bonus, a nice fly sheet will also help your horse stay clean! Choosing the right fly sheet for our horse depends on a few factors: color, fabrics, extras, and fit.
For colors and fabrics, I suggest that you use your climate as a gauge. Some summers are sweltering, so dictate that you opt for thinner fabrics. Some fly sheets are as thin as tissue paper and lets a breeze zip through, others are heavy duty and designed for the horse that’s tough on his clothes. For milder climates, you can get away with a thicker fabric if need be. Light colors are great for reflecting the sun’s heat, which benefits any horse that spends part of his day outside. If your horse lives in a stall during the day, you can opt for any of the brightly patterned or colored varieties available.
Fly sheets are also available with several extras. Belly guards are great for horses that are very ticklish on their bellies. High-necked versions offer a precise fit, and can prevent hair loss on the withers and mane. Neck attachments cover withers to poll, which is great for sun and bug control. Tail covers help to control bugs on the back end of your horse, which may reduce the likelihood of tail rubbing as a response to irritation caused by bugs. If you have a horse that is allergic to midges (the no-see-um bugs that are responsible for sweet itch), look for extras that include elasticized leg openings. All fly sheets need to have elasticized leg straps. Otherwise, you can end up with a tangled mess and a panicked horse.
Once you have determined your color, thickness, and bonus items for your fly sheet, you can tackle the fitting of your fly sheet. Before you even head to the store, you can measure your horse for blanket/sheet size. Use a tape measure (the soft and flexible sewing kind, not the stiff construction kind) and a friend to measure your horse from center of his chest, across his shoulder, barrel and rump to the center of his tail. This number in inches will tell you a starting point for fly sheet and blanket size.
I like to try a few different brands on each horse as each manufacturer will have a different cut to their sheets. Here’s how I like to fit sheets and blankets. Start at the chest closure. The sides should overlap a few inches. Now unfold the blanket to make sure it covers the top of the tail. You want the rump covered, but not so much that the blanket is baggy and loose, otherwise your leg straps will dangle too much and create a tripping hazard. Not enough coverage can make your friend’s rump a target for bugs and jokes from his pasture mates.
Now that you can see if the fly sheet is the correct length, reaching to just below his elbows and stifled, you can button up the belly strap(s) and leg straps. Once that’s all said and done, it’s time to see if the fit allows your horse to move freely. This is determined by the gussets in the shoulder area. These vary in design, and can be placed as high as the withers or low and close to the chest closure. The design of the gussets partnered with your horse’s shoulder conformation will determine how comfortable the fly sheet will be for him. One way to tell? Take him for a walk and see if he can step out!
Caring for your fly sheet is quick and easy. Some types do just fine in the washing machine. More delicate fabrics are easily cleaned by hosing off in the wash rack, or you can soak them in a muck tub of cool water for a few minutes. Air drying in a patch of shade is fast and easy for all styles of fly sheets.
Do you have any grooming questions or mysteries you'd like answered? Email them to us, and Liv will address them next month!