Blanket rubs aren’t exactly a medical emergency but they are more than just cosmetic. Wither rubs may cause pain when a saddle is on, as can rubs high along the shoulder. It may resemble a shaved area but the skin is actually traumatized, like a brush burn. Unattended rubs can easily progress to open skin or cellulitis. Repeated episodes may permanently destroy the pigment producing cells.
One turnout session with exuberant play can be enough to cause a rub.
Rubs are most likely to occur around the edges of the blanket, especially if it slips back, and areas that are pulled too snug when the horse moves. Obviously a poorly fitted blanket is most likely to do this. Withers and shoulders should be completely covered and remain so when the horse moves or gets up and down. Always get and follow detailed instructions for sizing the blanket you are interested in, preferably direct from the manufacturer. Also do some research to see what styles are best for your breed’s body type. The blanket size (length) is only part of the equation.
Features which reduce the risk of rubs include smooth (nylon) linings, adjustable or stretchable neck closures, wrap around chest closures rather than straps with buckles, and wide gussets over the points of the shoulders. You can also purchase stretchable, one piece, over the head, Lycra shoulder guard “slinkies” which further reduce friction and protect the skin from potentially irritating blanket materials.
Cleanliness is very important. Mixtures of sweat, melted snow, dirt and sloughed skin cells tucked in under a warm blanket cause skin irritation and damage the coat. Skin under a blanket should be checked daily. Regular grooming removes irritants and stimulates blood flow. If you are going to give yourself a high end but very useful gift this year, make it a horse vacuum. Further help the skin stay clean by having several stable sheets or shoulder guards for use under the blanket and changing them often.
If your horse does develop a rub, a shoulder guard becomes a near necessity and you should attempt to leave the blanket off for at least 1 hour a day or replace the heavy blanket with a loose light stable sheet. Cleanse gently if there is any obvious dirt, ooze or open skin then cover with a light salve that easily softens and sinks in a bit when rubbed on the body. Salves are ideal for superficial skin issues in winter as they protect against excessive moisture loss with the cold, very dry air. Herbal ingredients can have some real advantages.
Tea Tree Oil is a very effective antimicrobial with both antifungal and antibacterial action. Lavender oil is a gentle way to encourage good circulation for skin repair and hair growth. Herbals such as Aloe, Comfrey, Plantain and Calendula are soothing, analgesic and provide a good healing environment with their emollient effects. Apply once or twice a day and gently massage in.
A little extra time invested in preventing rubs and rapid treatment if they do develop will have your horse entering spring with a smooth and healthy coat.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD