The Effects of Rugging

Most horse owners have a burgeoning wardrobe of horse rugs. Fly rugs, coolers, heavyweights, summer sheets - the range is vast! And haven’t things have come a long way from the days when we horse owners simply reached for a (smelly) Jute stable rug, or a (heavy) New Zealand canvas turnout rug?

But let’s get back to basics - what is the purpose of rugging your horse or pony? According to manufacturer Weatherbeeta, rugs are primarily used to shield horses from varying weather conditions and climates; the right rug choice will help to regulate the horse’s body temperature and assist in maintaining a healthy body condition.

Turnout rugs are probably the most popular types of rugs for horses and ponies. Using a turnout rug will help protect your horse or pony from harsh weather conditions such as the cold, rain, wind and snow, keeping them warm and dry. The animal’s living and grazing conditions, its clipping routine, weight, age and exercise level are all factors to be considered when choosing a turnout rug.

Stable rugs are used for horses that are clipped and living indoors in a stable - stable rugs provide warmth to a horse that is unable to move around freely to generate its own body heat during colder months.

There are also horse rugs for specific tasks, like fly rugs that help prevent horses from becoming irritated by flies and midges in the summer months; summer sheets that help prevent coat fade and also keep the working horse clean; and cooler rugs that aid cooling after exercise.

With the primary use of rugs being to keep the horse dry and warm, it is worth remembering that equines feel the cold completely differently to us. In general, if the temperature is between 5-25 degrees Celsius, the horse or pony can comfortably maintain their body temperature without feeling hot or cold.

It is also imperative to provide sufficient forage, as this is the horse’s ‘internal central heating system’ - by providing constant access to forage (eg. haylage or hay) in wet or colder weather, the horse can warm itself internally and regulate its own temperature. This means we don’t need to excessively rug the horse or pony!

It is also worth noting that rugs are ‘artificial’ forms of protection, designed to help with the process of domestication that we have placed on our equines. Many of us keep our horses in confined areas, and offer limited turn out in winter or the wetter months, which isn’t necessarily what the horse would want if it had the choice! It is therefore important to realise that rugging should be kept to a minimum, e.g. we should not be over-rugging our horses for the sake of it. It is preferable to allow more turn-out, with adequate shelter and ad-lib forage, than to reach for a heavier rug and confinement in a stable.