As we sit in the depths of winter, preparing for the arrival of spring and the interchangeable wet and windy weather, many horse owners are left wondering, ‘which horse rug should I put on my horse?’
While it really needn’t be, rugging horses and keeping your horse at a comfortable body temperature can seem like a hassle. Which type of rug is best? Which rug will protect your horse from a winter chill? When is a rug needed and why do you need to rug your horse in the first place?
With so much confusion, we wanted to help make rugging your horse easier with a handy horse rugging guide. So, sit back and settle in, it’s rugging time!
It’s easy to assume that if you want to wear a coat while you’re outside, then your horse would like to have a rug on, too. But that’s not quite accurate.
According to Horse and Hound, horses have a much wider thermoneutral zone than humans do. Research has shown this means a fit and healthy unclipped horse typically feels cold only when the weather creates temperatures below 0°C and they feel hot when it reaches 25°C. Humans have a much narrower thermoneutral zone of between 25–30°C. So, when we think it’s cold outside, horses still feel quite comfortable.
The key thing to remember is that it’s much easier for a horse to warm up than cool down and this is where the danger with rugging confusion lies. A horse that can’t lower its body heat sufficiently will potentially get heat stress.
In addition, if an overweight horse is over-rugged it will prevent them from losing weight which can put them at risk of laminitis. Horses in the wild have survived for centuries by gaining weight during the summer months and losing weight during the winter, by over-rugging you risk messing with their natural hormone levels which could lead to major health problems.
Using a turnout rug will protect your horse from harsh weather conditions such as the cold, rain, wind and snow, keeping your horse’s coat warm and dry. There are various levels of turnout rug, each providing varying layers of protection and additional warmth. The warmest type is a heavyweight turnout rug, which often includes features like neck covers and leg straps. Before purchasing a turnout rug, you should consider your horse’s living and grazing conditions, your clipping routine, weight, age and exercise level.
Horses that are clipped and living indoors (or under a heated shelter) may find it difficult to move around freely to generate their own body heat during the colder months. Stable rugs are ideal in these kinds of situations.
Lightweight stable rugs can also be used to help keep horses clean.
Horses that are turned out in warmer weather will benefit from summer sheets with UV protection. With a high cotton content, they are naturally breathable to keep your horse cool in the sun and they also help to prevent coat fading, keeping your horse’s coat clean and dust-free.
Cooler rugs should be used after exercise when the horse’s body temperature has increased. Using cooler rugs helps regulate the horse’s temperature and prevents it from dropping too rapidly whilst they’re cooling down.
Fly rugs, also known as mesh rugs, will help prevent horses from becoming irritated by flies and midges in the summer months when they are spending more time outdoors. Fly rugs allow horses to relax and enjoy their grazing. Certain fly rugs can also prevent rubbing and the risk of sweet itch, which is a disease that affects your horse’s skin.
A great way of knowing when you should or shouldn’t rug your horse is based on the external temperature (environment), rather than a horse’s body temperature. For example:
|Temperature||Stabled/Clipped||Stabled/Unclipped||Turned out/Unclipped||Turned out/Clipped|
|Above 15°C||No rug or a lightweight no-fill rug||No rug||No rug||No rug|
|10–15°C||Lightweight stable rug or no-fill rug (50g-150g)||no rug or a lightweight no-fill rug||No rug or a zero fill or lightweight turnout rug (50/100g) (weather dependant)||No rug|
|5–10°C||Middleweight stable rug (around 200g)||A lightweight no-fill rug||No rug or a no/lightweight fill rug (50/100g)||Lightweight turnout rug (100/150g), plus a neck cover|
|0–4°C||Heavyweight stable rug (around 300g)||A lightweight stable rug (50g-150g) or middleweight rug (around 200g)||No rug or a light to medium weight turnout rug (150-200g)||Medium weight turnout rug (200g), plus a neck cover|
|-10–0°C||Heavyweight rug (300-400g) with a neck cover||Middleweight rug (200g), possibly with a liner||Light/medium weight turnout rug (150-300g) with neck cover||Heavyweight turnout rug (300-400g), plus a neck cover and a liner|
|Below -10°C||Heavy weight rug (300-500g) with neck cover, plus liner||Middle or heavyweight rug (300-500g), with neck cover||Heavyweight turnout rug (300-500g) with a neck cover||Heavyweight turnout rug (300-500g), plus a liner and/or an under blanket and hood|
It is necessary when buying and using your horse rugs to bear the following points in mind.
Rugs are usually sized in three-inch increments. The measurement refers to the distance from the centre of the chest of the horse, around the body of the horse to the rear of the quarters where you expect the rug to finish. As horses of any given size vary so much in girth and build, it is essential to take these measurements before purchasing a new rug.
Check the sizing and fitting instructions when buying a new brand of rug – as with your own clothing, various brands may fit differently, so use common sense.
For further information about rugging and advice on keeping your horse at an ambient temperature all year round, please get in touch. We’d be more than happy to help.
We have a large selection of rugs, from sweet itch rugs, stable rugs and coolers to rugs suitable for much colder weather – no matter what you need, we can help you decide and keep your horse comfortable.