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Exercise sheets or exercise rugs are used to keep the horse warm for the duration of his exercise session, or just at the warm up stage, when the temperatures are cooler. They tend to come in two styles - a wrap-around style which is used underneath the saddle area up to the withers, or a quarter sheet style, which covers the quarters.
Cut away styled exercise sheets reduce sweating, but keep the back and quarter muscles warm. They also enable the rider to maintain a close leg contact, and these styles are less likely to ‘ride up’.
Material - we like rugs that are soft and warm - fleece styles are usually well priced, and they are usually easy to care for and dry quickly. You will also see Wool and Nylon versions and various linings and coatings that offer different benefits, such as Teflon for water-resistance.
You can get wicking exercise rugs, which are a real boon - they tend to have knitted fabric that interlocks with the coat, to remove moisture.
Look out for bright colours that are clearly visible when you’re hacking - high visibility options are also ideal, or those with hi-vis binding, reflective strips or tail flaps. Reflective exercise sheets are an excellent way to ensure your horse is visible to traffic.
Some exercise sheets fit under the saddle, and some behind, just covering the quarters - work out which suits you best. In some cases, an ‘under the saddle’ style can be worn over the saddle if you sit on it! (One that goes behind the saddle is easier to remove if you’re using it for warm up purposes.)
You can get waterproof / breathable exercise sheets, so if you only choose one, these styles are more versatile.
You do get what you pay for - more expensive exercise sheets may have stronger seams and fastenings.
It’s true - some exercise sheets ‘rustle’! Most horses will get used to the noise but if you have a sensitive or anxious horse, a thinner, softer rug may be preferable.
Some exercise sheets may be made from Rip-stop, which is interwoven with rip-stop reinforcement threads in a ‘cross hatch’ pattern. This makes the fabric much more resilient to damage, as it will not tear easily, as the threads run in two directions! Ideal for hacking through areas with overhanging branches!
Remember that thinner, lightweight exercise sheets may catch in the wind - a potential spooking issue. Make sure you have a good filet string that keeps it safe.
Bear in mind that most horses that will be wearing an exercise rug will be clipped, so choose one that suits the equine’s clip. Eg. if you have a hunter clip that leaves the quarters bare, you may favour a thicker rug. Exercise sheets that have thick linings for very cold days are best suited to thin skinned equines or those fully clipped out.
Remember that sizing of exercise rugs differs to ‘normal’ rugs.