Winter Weather | But Should Horses 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?
Hey Handsome Do You Need A Rug?
So Do Horses Need Rugs?
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 we go riding or groom him we 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?