When blanketing our horses during cold winter months, we have the best intention of keeping him warm and protected from the elements. But the design and fit of many blankets can potentially harm your horse and – in extreme cases – cause major structural problems. A first sign that the edge of your blanket is cutting into the crest and the nuchal ligament of the horse, is the so called ‘blanket-dip’, an indentation right in front of the withers.

Indentation in horse's crest from winter blanket
Horse's crest indented by ill fitting winter blanket

A first sign that something is not quite right, is usually a slight indentation right in front of the withers, often coupled with hairloss, coldness to touch (lack of circulation) and possibly stiffness and soreness in the horse. It’s hard to put two and two together. We blanket our horse to keep him warm and protected from the elements and often don’t think that such a relatively light piece of equipment such as a blanket can do damage to our horse.

But indeed, most blankets – even though available in many different sizes – are still not customized enough to fit every horse. The blanket pulls down on the front edge and causes the so called ‘blanket-dip’.

What this means to the horse’s anatomy:

The blanket edge presses on the fatty tissue of the crest and the underlying nuchal ligament. The nuchal ligament starts at the poll and attaches at the withers, making it an elementary component of equine biomechanics. This ligament – together with the supraspinous ligament – serves as the ‘string’ in the ‘suspension bridge’ of the horse’s back.

nuchal ligament
nuchal ligament, image borrowed from http://www.scienceofmotion.com/documents/home.html

Dr. Gerd Heuschmann: “When the horse stretches his neck forward, the nuchal ligament is put in traction, pulling on the
withers’ spinous processes, causing them to rise. This effect extends all along the horse’s back – the traction is transmitted to the tendon-like supraspinous ligament, which, as a direct continuation of the nuchal ligament, connects all of the back’s
spinous processes.” And: “..it’s mainly the nuchal ligament that helps the horse lift his back by stretching it forward.”

Impeding or even damaging this important ligament can lead to anything from minor discomfort and restriction to major loss of soundness, requiring lengthy rehabilitation. Stiffness, choppy strides, disjointed movement can be first pointers that something is causing damage or restriction to this ligament.

If you are blanketing your horse, investigate carefully whether the blanket is restricting the nuchal ligament. If you find a dip, coldness to touch or loss of hair, you will want to make changes. Having a knowledgeable tailor make custom changes to your blanket or buying a blanket that has a different design, such as the “Rambo Wug” or “Rhino Wug” by Horseware Ireland may be a good idea, if your horse cannot go without blanket.