Rugging, what is too much and what is not enough?
Rugging, like feeding is a sensitive issue because every horse is different and there are so many products on the market that it is often hard to know what to choose.
Let me just say that you can’t judge if your horse is hot or cold by your own feeling of being hot or cold. This is probably one of the biggest mistakes horse owners make. I often hear people say, “Oh my gosh I just went outside, and it is so cold, I need to put an extra rug on my horse.”
Firstly, consider if your horse is in a large paddock where he/she can freely move around or if your horse in a small yard where there is less ability to move around. Also, consider your horse's natural coat as this is their first layer of protection. If your horse is clipped then they generally need more coverage.
- When horses are able to move around they can keep themselves warm.
- When they are in a small yard that is not possible and they may need an extra rug.
- If your horse is in a stable, check the temperature of the stable not the temperature outside.
- Does your horse have access to a shelter shed and does the shelter shed give protection from the rain and the wind?
- Does your horse stand in water or can they get to a dry spot? Standing in water always lowers the body temperature and makes horses colder.
- During summer remember that it often gets very hot and humid after the rain and this is where horses can easily become very hot, very quickly if they are over rugged.
Consider the material of your horse rug:
- A horse rug shouldn’t be a fashion statement.
- Choose rugs with natural fibres like cotton, canvas or breathable waterproof rugs.
- Be aware of pretty looking rugs that are ‘plasticky’ and hot!
Above 15°C most horses in Australia do not need a rug. However, we also have high humidity in our northern areas leading to large numbers of biting insects. Many owners prefer to have a mesh or insect rug on their horse even in warmer temperatures to help with bites and 'itch'. These light weight mesh rugs allow for airflow and quick drying in summer storms while allowing the horse to graze in peace away from the majority of biting insects.
Cotton or cotton/mesh turnout rugs are also popular in dryer climates in Australia to provide UV protection, prevent coat fading and protect horses from insects. They are not ideal in humid and moist climates as they take longer to dry if they get wet from the rain and can lead to skin irritation.
'Show' or 'Stable' rugs is a term used to describe light weight cotton or fleece rugs used specifically to keep a horse clean and warm in cooler months in preparation for a show or competition. They are generally worn in the stable and when transporting. They are not usually known for their durability so not typically left on when the horse is turned out. They may be used however, under a more durable turnout rug for an extra layer of warmth.
A horse can also increase their body temperature by eating. So if you get caught out by a drop in temperature, and don't have an extra rug, you can provide extra hay for your horse in the stable or turn them out to move around and graze.
Less is always better as long as your horse can move around and regulate their own temperature.