When & How To Rug Up Your Horse For Winter
Winter is definitely on its way with the nights drawing in and mornings getting chillier, and if we are starting to feel the cold so are our horses
The weather is, as we all know, very unpredictable which means having to use several types of rugs from lightweight through to heavyweight turnouts and stable rugs
Several factors, his age, breed and fitness level govern knowing which is the appropriate type of rug to use, he may also be clipped. If you have a naturally hairy cob that is happier living outdoors then his requirements will obviously differ from the rug needs of a thoroughbred that is used to living indoors
This year in particular saw the need for horses to be wearing turnouts in the middle of the summer, heavy rain with wind was the normal weather for most of June and July
The difficulty is knowing when exactly a horse needs to be rugged, if you rug too early the horse can become too warm generating an increased pulse and respiration which could lead to an anxious and unhappy animal. It also prevents the horse’s coat from naturally thickening up, which is nature’s way for keeping them warm
So maintaining the right body temperature for a horse is vital, if your horse is cold he will look unhappy and probably have cold ears with his tail firmly down and of course he will be shivering, these are indicators that rugging may be necessary
There are thousands of rugs to choose from and in an ideal world the horse owner would have an array of rugs suitable for every weather condition, a more affordable solution is to use a medium weight rug that can be used with a layer underneath for when the weather is very cold. Additionally, detachable neck covers can be worn or removed according to the temperature and climate
Choose rugs that have soft fleece or some type of padding in the shoulder and wither area, this will help to reduce sores, also available are breathable lycra vests that work like a sock over the neck and chest area, they reduce the friction between the rug and the horses’ skin
Whatever rug you put on your horse it’s critical to his well being that it allows freedom of movement and does not rub or slip…ensure that
· The rug fits properly at the withers and the neck
· The two front straps are strong enough to hold the weight of the rug together and prevent it slipping
· These straps should fasten neatly without pulling
· Cross surcingles (belly straps) are recommended to avoid pressure to the spine
· Remove the rug on a regular basis to check for rubbing or pressure sores
· All rugs should be cleaned and dried regularly
· Outdoor rugs need to be waterproof so re-proofing may be necessary after cleaning them, check by pouring a drop on water onto the fabric
Guides to rug sizes are just a general indication, always measure your horse first, and that hairy cob will need a larger rug than a lighter boned horse of the same height, as he will weigh more. If you are unsure about any aspect of horse rugging then seek advice from experienced horse owners
The Damage That A Poorly Fitting Rug Can Cause
Do not under-estimate the damage that a poorly fitting rug can cause, one sad tale is about a lovely little pony called ‘Bobby’, a much loved, but sadly neglected, family pony that didn’t get the attention and care he deserved and needed in the winter months
He was turned out in October 2010 with a poorly fitting turnout which was also far too heavy for him, no-one thought to take the rug off during the long winter months to check for sores and by spring the following year the abscesses and sores that had developed were so serious that the decision to put him to sleep was made
A completely unnecessary waste of a pony’s life and just imagine the pain and discomfort that poor little pony was in, and should a tough little breed like a Shetland be rugged anyway?
Should Horses Even Be Rugged?
Lets play ‘Devils Advocate’, should our horses even be rugged?
The market for horse and pony rugs is enormous, the millions spent advertising and marketing rugs and blankets must mean that they are completely necessary, but are they? Or are we all brainwashed in to believing that our horses must be rugged for their health and welfare? Or even worse, are they rugged to keep them clean to save us work?
You can buy lightweight, mediumweight and heavyweight turnouts, some with standard necks some with fixed necks, stable rugs, fleeces, coolers, sweats, show rugs, day rugs, travel rugs, summer sheets, neck covers, lycra hoods, rainsheets, anti fly sheets, sweet- itch rugs, sun-block sheets, all come in an array of materials each with a specific purpose which the manufacturers would have us believe are ALL necessary.
Whereas a lot of these rugs are exactly the same and fulfil several purposes but if your horse could talk and you asked him which rug he would like, what do you think his response would be?
Horses managed for thousands of years without rugs and blankets, they can cope, given the opportunity, with changing weather conditions much better than we credit them with. Left outside as the winter approaches, a horse’s coat will thicken up, the natural oil and grease in his coat works to protect him from the rain. A long mane and tail naturally affords him extra protection. Why did nature give a horse feathers? They help keep the water off his heels…
What nature didn’t allow for was the human interference where we hog and trim mane and tails, remove whiskers and feathers, clip the coats, groom excessively stripping away natural barriers like mud and oil all in the name of sport or just pure convenience for ourselves. So having stripped him of all his natural ability to acclimatise gradually to colder and wetter weather conditions we have now made that horse susceptible to the cold and weakened his immune system increasing the chances of him getting ill. In order to prevent this we put a rug on, when you go riding or groom him you take the rug off which must leave him feeling very cold as he has grown used to the protection of the rug and his natural protection like a thicker coat has moulted away, a catch 22 situation
If a horse is working hard during the colder months he is often clipped to prevent excessive sweating thus increasing the need for rugs, maybe it would be kinder to slow down his activity levels and allow him some time off?
It’s a nostalgic romantic notion that our horses can still live as they did in the wild, most modern horses do not have hundreds of acres to roam with nature providing shelter, food and water but if you can give your horse good quality hay/haylage, some shelter and access to clean water while keeping him outside he will be a much happier boy. Horses are not designed to live in small wooden boxes commonly known as stables; this is why they develop stress related stable vices…
Maybe this is a totally unrealistic concept for a lot of today’s horses that are used for professional sport like horse racing but how many ordinary horse owners have given it much thought and considered the alternative to over rugging?
What do you think? Feel free to add your comments below
Do you have any ideas, tips or suggestions on any aspect of horse rugs? Please share them via the comments box below 🙂