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To rug or not to rug

- Posted by in Pet Discussion
To rug or not to rug

When it comes to rugs and whether or not to rug in winter, there are two schools of thought. One is in favour of rugging against the elements – particularly rain – while the other believes horses are hardy enough to withstand even the harshest conditions.

But surely it depends on many different factors, including the age and health of the horse, the work it does, and your own personal preferences?

To help you decide about rugging this winter, we’ve compiled a list of reasons in favour of rugging and against rugging, although there is no right answer in this particular debate.

Reasons to rug your horse:

  • While it’s true that horses have evolved for thousands of years to grow thick winter coats to help them survive the coldest seasons, everything about how we keep horses today is unnatural, and in many circumstances it is now necessary to rug a horse, just as it is to clip a horse. Wild horses would have moved about more and been able to find their own shelters and windshields compared to the small fields with sometimes little or no shelter that horses are often kept in today.
  • Particularly old and underweight horses find it harder to regulate their body temperatures as they move around and forage less, so will benefit from having a rug to keep them warm on the coldest days. In winter, horses burn up to 30% more calories keeping warm, which is why poor-doers need extra protection.
  • You can clip your horse! If you don't clip your horse then he is likely to get hot and sweaty when you ride or exercise him, meaning that he may catch a chill if he is not dried off properly.
  • If you want to ride regularly during the winter, a rug can help to keep your horse clean, saving you hours spent grooming before riding, which when time is in short supply can be a huge advantage!
  • Rugs are now a lot more technical than they ever used to be and the materials they use can help in a variety of ways, with rugs that can help dry a wet horse, or fly rugs that can help prevent sunburn - you name it there is probably a rug for it!
  • On a cold winter’s morning when there is frost on the ground and an icy chill in the air, putting a rug on your horse before turning him out can give you a real sense of satisfaction, especially if he is going into a field where there is little shelter or forage to keep him warm.

Reasons not to rug your horse:

  • Horses are much better at conserving body heat in extreme cold than they are at dissipating it in warmer climates. When the coat has been left to grow ahead of winter, it traps a layer of heat close to the body, creating an insulating effect. This is actually a more effective defence than most winter rugs. Therefore if you don't need to clip your horse then he may be fine with no rug at all and just a long coat; even a thoroughbred will grow a long coat if left without a rug.
  • If you do rug your horse, you need to ensure it is thick enough to compensate for this natural effect, as thin rugs flatten the hair and can make a horse colder than it would be without one.
  • A well-fed, unclipped horse with shelters available to it can survive in temperatures as low as -40 degrees Celsius, provided there is no wind or rain.
  • It is not uncommon for rugged horses to encounter problems, especially when a rug is ill-fitting or is too thin/thick for the weather. Pressure sores and rubbing are often seen on the withers, shoulders and hips where a rug doesn't fit properly and slips down, causing a number of other problems as it twists around the horse's legs.

If your horse isn't clipped and you aren't too worried about him growing a long thick coat then it is perfectly fine not to rug your horse. Nowadays many of us choose to rug our horses, which is also perfectly fine, and rug design has come such a long way over the years that you can find a rug to suit every horse and every situation. If you do rug your horse, it is vital that it fits and is a suitable thickness for the time of year. If you need any advice on choosing an appropriate rug, please get in touch and we will do our best to advise you.

If you have any questions or comments you would like us to read, please post them below or email me directly: [email protected]

Written by: Hannah Dyball


17th Oct 2017

11year old thoroughbred . Do I rug in wet weather when temperature 15 or is he best no rug as has tree and field shelter ??
If u say to rug what weight as a rain sheet no warmth and read too thin a coat on is worse than no coat ??
Thank you sylvie

21st Dec 2018
Customer Since: July 2014
From: Aberdeenshire, United Kingdom

I have a TB(10yrs), Welsh cob(26yrs) and a Shetland(late 20's early 30's ish). The TB is ridden and only gets a rug on when wet and windy i normally put her in a 50g as i find she sweats morn in a no fill. They all get hard feed and hay. The other 2 only get rugged if really bad weather or minus conditions with is normally 50g or 100g depending on how cold it is. the TB gets 100g or 200g depending on how cold it is. They have field shelters which i put hay in to encourage them to go in. I really try not to over rug as it isn't good for them. I was always told made sure your horse is fatter going into winter and they should be ribby (not skinny tho) coming out or winter. Hormone levels can be effected if we over rug and this can lead to laminitis coming into the spring. My TB is happier being out she hates being in.
It is personal preference and what you are comfortable doing my girls are happy and healthy and enjoy being hairy mud covered monsters over winter :)

21st Dec 2018
Customer Since: December 2015
From: Staffordshire, United Kingdom

I have a Shetland(29yrs) who has been diagnosed with Cushings,so I always check that he's warm enough under the outer long coat,in Winter,&so far,he's doing great! He does feel it when v hot in Spring/Summer,until he's totally moulted into a short coat. I've clipped him in the past,&he's been kept totally at grass(too porky,&gets Sweetitch)&varying degrees of stabling,to suit his needs. Tried NZ,when clipped,&fly rugs in Summer-hates both! Kept in if hot in the day,then out very late at night,this year,&now reversed&in overnight& remarkably spritely! Fed well.
My other is a Laminitis prone Arab. He hates the wind&rain,but loves snow&he too feels the heat(!),but wears a fly rug. I use a turnout only if weather really horrid,as a weight control method(lightly ridden,at 19yr old)&that means that he can have a bit extra fibre to eat,&keep him happy!
I think you really have to treat them as individuals. If they were out with no shelter,then an extensive wardrobe may be necessary to cope with our varying weather,&to keep clean for work,etc. I think breeding stock are best rugless...less hassle&more natural...likewise thickset Cobs,etc. Know your horse is my motto! I would change my routine at the drop of a hat. In fact, I did! My last horse was clipped,rugged,&in 12hours overnight,out 12hours in the day,for most of his life! Whatever they wear,make sure they fit&are safely attached! Happy gg, happy owner!

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