To Rug Or Not To Rug?

There are posts all over social media about over rugging horses as it’s that time of year when it’s pretty chilly at night, but lovely and warm during the day.

I’m holding out while we have fine weather this week, and leaving Phoenix naked. Sure I’m sure she’s a bit chilly in the very middle of the night, but she’s got plenty of fur, and is after all a tough native. But the rest of the time she’s plenty warm enough. She can move around her field to keep warm, or shelter by the hedgeline. With the baby to manage, it is easier to not have to worry about her being too hot in the day with a rug on if I can’t get there early enough.

Here’s a guide which has been doing the rounds recently, and I think will surprise many owners with the rugging advice.

My Mum and I had a discussion about what are light weights or zero fill rugs and their individual merits.

Rain sheets, with no filling, are in our opinion only useful for warm, wet summer days when convenience is important. Such as a competition or it’s raining and you need your horse to be dry to ride. If you were to use them in the autumn, when the horses have grown a thick coat you are just flattening the hairs, which prevents the horse raising the coat and trapping a layer of air next to the skin to act as an insulator and keep them warm. This is called the pilomotor reflex, and is the same reason we get goosebumps when we’re cold.

At least a lightweight rug compensates for flattening the coat by providing warmth via the filling. It’s worth considering when thinking about what rug to put on your horse, as they will probably be better off naked than with a zero fill rug on chilly autumn days.

When looking to the guide for help it’s worth remembering the following points:

  • Older horses or ones with arthritis will need thicker rugs as they feel the cold more.
  • Horses that tend to drop off weight suddenly will benefit from having their rug on a little earlier than their friend who holds their weight.
  • If your horse has previously been rugged up to the nines they will need to acclimatise to your more minimalist rug approach, so you may need to rug more than you thought for the first couple of autumns.
  • Some horses just feel the cold more than others.
  • The guide refers to fully clipped, or hunter clipped horses, when they state “clipped”, so if your horse is only partially clipped you may not need to rug up as much as the guide says. It may be more of a case of using a rug with a neck rather than a heavier fill of rug.
  • Depending on your horse’s breed, they may grow a much denser coat than others, so may need less rugging than a finer coated counterpart.

All in all, we as horse owners need to ensure we aren’t over rugging horses to ensure they are less at risk of colic due to being too hot, the obese and laminitic ones lose weight over the winter so they’re less at risk in the spring and their hormone levels reset themselves.

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