You will often need to remove (and later replace) a blanket in order to massage a horse, including during the practicum. Please make sure that you follow these guidelines for the horse’s safety and comfort:
- When putting on the blanket, place the blanket a bit forward of the wither to start, connect the buckles in front first, belly next, hind legs last. Slide the blanket back into the proper place after buckling chest straps. This keeps the hairs going in a comfortable direction for the horse.
- When taking off, reverse the steps. (Start with undoing hind leg straps, moving forward, undoing the chest straps last.)
- Hind leg straps, if present, may be arranged in several ways (crossing, looping or separate- we can demonstrate during practicum), so it is generally best to notice how they were done as you undo them, and leave them the same way when you replace the blanket later.
There is a very logical reason for maintaining the order of these steps: if a horse startles and begins moving when the blanket is half on/off, the horse is less likely to become scared and get into a fight or flight reaction with the blanket attached around its neck than entangled around its hind legs.
In cold weather or if a horse’s coat has been clipped, you may want to keep a blanket or wool cooler over the horse during the massage to help them stay relaxed and enjoy the massage, rather than end up tense from cold. A properly fitting blanket that keeps the horse appropriately warm without sweating is certainly good for a horse who needs it, and generally tolerable even for a horse who doesn’t. Unfortunately, oftentimes blankets either don’t fit well, are too warm for the current weather/need, don’t breath well enough to prevent dampness from sweat, have bedding stuck inside that irritates the horse’s skin, or all of the above. In these situations, some horses come to resent having their blankets taken on and off, and may even threaten or bite the person attempting to do so, especially in the chest area. Be aware of this for your safety.
Make sure any bedding is thoroughly brushed off the inside of the blanket before placing it on the horse. Also, since blankets will tend to slide back and tighten around the chest as the horse moves around, leave a little slack in the chest area, if possible, to leave the horse’s shoulders free of pressure.
At the end of the massage, if the horse is too warm for the blankets that they were wearing, then do not place the blankets back on the horse but rather let someone know that the horse will have to be blanketed later when it is fully cooled down. A horse that is too warm is more likely to experience health concerns than one that is too cold. Be sure that someone is aware of your decision before you leave though.