The Rugging Conundrum

Is anyone else having a dilemma with rugs? Putting a rug on and then spending the rest of the day or night concerned that it was the wrong choice …

Apparently you`re not alone! I read an article in a magazine earlier this week about choosing rugs and changing them.

It is frustrating, I know that I`m starting the day in a coat and gloves but within an hour I`m coatless, and if I ride it`s almost t-shirt weather. Yet if I dare to start teaching without my coat I know I`ll be an ice cube after an hour. This time of year throws all sorts of weather and temperatures at us, and it is easy to obsess over it.

But do we make our lives more complicated than necessary?

Yes, we need to make sure that we put a suitable rug on so that the horses don`t boil or freeze, but horses can regulate themselves to a degree and modern rugs are breathable which means it is easier to keep a constant temperature under the rug, so we don`t need to change rugs as soon as the wind stops. 

Each day is different in terms of the weather, and knowing your horse helps so that you know what weather he is comfortable with and if he feels the cold or not, but it is very easy to be swayed by the rugs that our neighbour are putting on. But remember, they may have an elderly Thoroughbred, whereas you have a young, overweight cob – so stick to your guns!

The other problem we all have is changing the rugs night and day. Do we put a heavier rug on at night or not?
This is my theory: in the stable horses are out of the elements – rain and wind – but the external temperature is usually lower. I tend to feel that these factors balance each other out. However, horses cannot move around to warm up so it could be harder to generate heat. But then on the other end of stick if you have a row of stables together, or deep straw beds, or an internal barn, then these can create a warmer environment which could counterbalance the fact horses can`t move around to warm up. I think rugging decisions for the night need to take into account the position of the stable (on the end, or in the middle of the barn) as much as the weather forecast. Otis once had a stable that was below a flat. It was so warm at night as they had the heating on! When we were cold at work we used to huddle inside to get warm.

Continuing my theory. During the day in the field, the temperature is warmer but the horses are exposed to the elements. The horses are able to move around to keep warm and can utilise natural shelters, which to me helps rebalance things.

To me, all these factors balance themselves out which means that I don`t think we should worry about changing the weight of the rug night and day unless the weather is changing significantly – i.e. the first frost is due. Horses who live out, that have been turned away or whatever, will wear the same rug day and night, which means that they have to adjust their body temperature accordingly. A quick feel uner the rug should tell us if they are comfortable.

Back to this article that I read. The author made a valid point that if you bring your horse in in very cold weather then changing their day rug to a stable rug may not be conducive as you are removing a warm rug and replacing it with a cold one, so the horse needs to warm that rug up so uses up valuable energy – it`s like us taking off our coat and putting one on that`s been hanging up in the cold porch.
Anyway, I think us horse owners can make matters too complicated with regards to rugging; we can check to see if our horse is warm or cool, and then adapt according to the weather forecast (putting the neck on, for example), but keeping the same baseline level of rug should keep our peace of mind and we should remember that our horses can move around in the field to shelter or keep warm, and that a full row of stables is actually surprisingly warm. Additionally, modern rugs are breathable so horses should be able to thermoregulate more easily.

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