Rugs – Yay or Neigh?

Overrugging is one of the most common equine welfare problems we encounter in the UK.

As the nights are drawing in sooner, getting to the yard in the dark is pretty miserable! This time of year, we often begin to consider changing management even though we may not be yet thinking winter is here. We find ourselves putting on extra layers when heading to the yard – do our horses want extra layers too?

With everyone at the yard feeling cooler, its common to think the horses are feeling that way too, and its tempting to start putting rugs on overnight. However, with fluctuating temperatures we often do harm in rugging, causing horses to overheat and feel pretty uncomfortable! As the weather changes and its not yet too chilly its the perfect time to use the weather to our benefit, getting some pounds off those horses that may be carrying a little extra round their middles (beach season is over after all). Horses have evolved to allow some weight loss over the cooler months, and its important we don’t prevent this in horses that do need to lose it. Body condition scoring is a really useful way to monitor condition, see this handy guide from Baileys.

Many of us will be trying to put off clipping just another couple of weeks, and as such our horses are in a pretty good position to manage their own temperatures. Horses have evolved to look after their own temperature in the wild, with an in-built mechanism known as thermoregulation. Horses won’t expend  much energy looking after their temperature as long as the outside temperature is between 5 and 20 degrees celsius. There are a few ways they manage this, but one of the most useful organs horses have is the caecum, this is part of the horse’s bowel used for digesting plant matter (our equivalent is the appendix, useless!). The bacteria digest plant matter using fermentation, a process which generates a lot of heat, right inside the horse’s abdomen – perfect when its cold outside!

Peer pressure is arguably a big influencer when deciding whether to rug your horse, bear in mind all horses are individual. It might be appropriate to have a rug on an older lean thoroughbred, whilst not appropriate for an overweight native pony. If in doubt stop and think – does my horse really need a rug?

I have borrowed this handy chart from our friends at Edinburgh University Equine Hospital. Remember every horse is an individual and has their own needs. Also worth bearing in mind the type of clip will influence the need for a rug – a horse with a blanket clip is less in need than one with a full/hunter clip!

Temperature Clipped Stabled Horse Unclipped Stabled Horse Clipped Turned out Unclipped Turned out
10 to 15 degrees Light weight or zero fill (100g) Nothing or zero fill Nothing or Light weight (100g) or zero fill Nothing
5 to 10 degrees Light weight to medium weight rug (150-250g) Light weight (150g) Light weight plus neck cover (150g) Nothing or light weight

(100g)

Zero to four degrees Medium weight to heavy weight rug (250-300g) Medium weight (200g) Medium weight with neck cover

(200g)

Lightweight or medium weight (150-250g)
Zero to minus 5 degrees Heavy weight rug with neck (300-400g) Medium weight with neck or liner (200-300g) Heavy weight with neck cover +/- liner

(300-400g + liner)

Light or medium weight with neck cover (150-300g)
 Less than minus 5 degrees Heavy weight with liner/ under rug and neck

(500g)

Heavy weight + neck

(300-400g)

Heavy weight  with liner and neck + hood

(300-500g + lliner)

Heavy weight and neck (300-400g)

*The rug weights are only an estimate.

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