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