Rugs Through The Ages

Probably the biggest change in the equine world in the last forty years – since the publication of my history book I blogged about last week – are rugs.

Today you can have a rug for any occasion – in the stable, in the field, to cool them down, to dry them off, to keep flies off, to travel – in three inch increments from miniature Shetland to ginormous Clydesdale and in every weight and denier you can imagine.

I won’t bore you with what’s currently on the market, you have Google for that, but let’s reminisce on the rugs of old.

In the old days there was one rug for each job, and if more warmth was required then an ordinary blanket was layered underneath. Of course few horses were clipped so many relied on their winter coats to keep warm.

Firstly, they had the renowned jute rugs. These were basically hessian rectangles which were put on stabled horses at night. You could also get them lined with wool for extra warmth. Jute rugs had a buckle at the chest, a fillet string under the tail, and were secured by a separate surcingle. There were only three size options; pony, cob and horse and the rugs were contoured for the withers and hindquarters.

In the daytime, you had the option of a wool rug – think of the traditional Newmarket rug – and was similar in cut to the jute rug with a separate surcingle, or cotton rug, called a summer sheet. This was more commonly seen at more affluent yards on freshly groomed horses.

Next up are waterproof rugs, aka New Zealand rugs. Akin to a canvas tent after a washout camping weekend, they were flared at the bottom to allow a greater range of movement. These were fastened by a leather buckle at the chest, two leather leg straps instead of a fillet string, and a surcingle which passed through a slit in the rug by the girth to prevent the rug gathering and restricting the forelegs.

Although these rugs were padded at the wither to stop chafing there must have been a high incidence of rug rubs and fistulous withers because the materials were coarse and the sizes limited to three basic ones.

Nowadays, rugs come in three inch increments, and have benefitted from technological advances in materials and manufacturing and design techniques. There are various styles to suit all shapes and sizes of equine and rugs come in all thicknesses to accommodate all aspects of the UK weather and all hardiness of horses.

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