Winter Rugging

When the colder months settle into full swing, despite some sunny days, your horse is probably beginning to feel the cooler nights.

Rugging during the autumn can be a bit of minefield due to changeable weather, but as the winter sets in and the weather stays consistently cooler, the process usually becomes more straightforward.

When it comes to a horse that is stabled at night, some horse owners may think this reduces the need for the horse to be well-rugged up, whereas in fact the truth is actually the complete opposite! This is because if your horse or pony is going to be standing still in the stable, rather than being able to move around to keep warm, they are actually more likely to feel the cold than a horse turned out which can move around to increase body temperature.

This leads us to a critical point that it is essential to become become familiar with; the signs of whether a horse or pony is too hot or too cold.

Signs the horse is cold and needs further rugs

  • Raising of the hair-coat. The horse can trap a layer of air within its coat by raising the hairs, in a process is called Piloerection. This can lead the horse to look fluffy. This natural mechanism is a highly effective way to help to keep our horses warm, but indicates that your horse or pony may appreciate a warmer rug to help assist him maintaining an ambient body temperature.
  • The horse can also generate heat by tensing its muscles, but if the period of feeling cold is prolonged, the horse will begin to shiver to keep warm. This is not ideal, as this will lead to muscular tension and discomfort, so if your horse is found shivering, it is a clear sign that he definitely needs some more support and warmer or more layered rugs.
  • Weight loss. If your equine loses weight in the winter, it is worth assessing whether he may need a thicker rug. The horse can break down its energy stores, for example fat, in order to produce warmth. If your horse or pony has lost weight recently, feeling the cold might be the culprit. Obviously, an assessment of forage intake and diet should also be considered.
  • Eating more. The horse digests the forage in their diet in the hindgut, and the fermentation process of the foragage breakdown actually generates heat. This therefore means it is wise to provide your horse ample forage throughout the winter, as this is totally natural way for them to keep warm.

Remember that while it is detrimental for your horse to feel too cold, it is also essential they don’t become too hot, so if your horse is sweating, it is essential to reduce the amount of rugs.

Layering rugs safely

During the winter, many of us layer our rugs, which is a fantastic way to increase our horse’s temperature. When putting several rugs on your horse, make sure all the straps are fitted to the correct length and that none of them are worn or broken. Under rugs should be secured to limit the risk of them slipping resulting in at best a ruined rug, but at worst an injured horse.

For a stabled horse, it may be wise to stick to rugs with fillet strings only, and reserve leg straps for when the horse is turned out.

Looking after your rugs

Winter rugs are expensive, which means replacing them can really make a hole in your budget. When purchasing, choose a good quality rug with a high denier, as well as an ample fill, to help prevent the fabric being easily ripped by playful equines. When not in use, ensure your winter rugs are folded or hung up when not in use and spared the risk of being trodden on, caught or ripped. It is wise to have your winter rugs professionally cleaned, repaired and waterproofed at least once per year to increase their longevity and ensure they are effectively protecting your horse or pony from the elements.


It is wise to have your winter rugs professionally cleaned, repaired and waterproofed at least once per year.