Telling your storiesfrom the stables to the fields

25 September,2017

To Rug – Or Not….

What the hell happened to summer? One minute we were whinging about the flies and the hard ground and the heat and then – suddenly it’s over and we are hiking up the central heating and digging out our thermal onsies.

What though to do about the horse and his rugs? Should you be rugging up now? Is it too soon? No one wants their horses to be cold – nor do they want them to lose weight at this time of the year – once lost it is hard to get back – just when we need horses to be in good condition.

Why do we rug horses?

Lots of reasons but here are a few:-

Keeps the horse cleaner – easier when you want to ride.
The coat of a rugged horse will lay flatter, so the horse will look smooth and shiny.
If your horse is clipped he will need rugs as a replacement for the coat of hair.
Rugs can provide some substitute for a lack of shelter in bad weather.
Rugging can protect horses from biting insects during the spring, summer and autumn.

Helps keep condition on horses if weather is cold

On the downside:-

Rugging requires more work. Habitually rugged horses need much more frequent grooming than their unrugged counterparts. Rugs need to be taken on and off regularly to check for rubs and to check that the horse is maintaining his condition. This can be time consuming. 
Can cause injuries particularly with badly fitted rugs.
Horses can suffer terribly from being over-heated. Heat stress can also kill.

How to minimise rug injuries and other related health problems:

Do not over-rug, particularly in warm weather –  natural fibres breathe and synthetic ones don’t so horses can’t sweat to cool themselves off.

Leaking rugs can cause rain scald so have rugs repaired before the start of the season.
Correctly fit your horse for rugs to avoid pressure sores and rubs.
Always clip leg-strap fasteners in toward the horse to reduce the chances of getting hooked on wire fences. 
Check rugged horse regularly to straighten rugs and check if any straps have come undone.
Don’t over rug while transporting a horse. Even if well ventilated, trailers and lorries can become very warm. Horses should be checked regularly to make sure they are not too hot particularly if they were loaded before cooling down properly after a competition.
Don’t use neck rugs and hoods on your horse unless really necessary and preferably not with a horse who is left unattended in a field for any length of time. When these slip horrific injuries can be the result.

Imagine if at the first hint of a chill in the air you had to put on a heavy coat and keep it on.

Think how hot and miserable you would be when the sun came out or if you ran around a bit? Life would be miserable and is for many horses. They are rugged up in a morning before their owners go to work and then when the sun comes out and the day warms up, there’s no-one around to remove the rug. The horse can’t absorb much vitamin D or have a good roll, itch or run around.

For owners who compete rugging is a must. As it is for most of us who don’t possess acres and acres of sheltered land that would give the horse a more natural lifestyle. Unfortunately, we can’t keep the horse in a life nature intended. The horse is our sport, our way of relaxing at the end of a long day, or week. So, unfortunately, he has to fit in with us and our lifestyle. The trick is to get the balance right. Not to over rug, so that the horse is stressed and uncomfortable, but not to have him cold and wet so that we can’t ride when we do get precious time off.

When you put your hand under a rug on a horse standing still it should not feel toasty warm. This is a misconception. It should feel more on the coolish side. A horse’s body temperature should be maintained at 38 degrees.  The warm temperature you are normally used to feeling under a rug is too hot for a healthy horse. With a traditional rug on the only way this temperature can be maintained is if he stands still all day which obviously is not healthy as the horse needs to move for his digestive system to work.  So by rugging, we are doing what we think is right, not what your horse actually needs.

Don’t over-rugging – which can cause heat stress
Don’t use ill-fitting or damaged rugs
Try not to leave a horse unsupervised for long stretches without checking that his rug is in position.
And do remove rugs regularly to check for rubs and loss of condition.

Try to wait for as long as possible before starting to rug. On a nice sunny autumn day, horses who are not too thinned skin can certainly be turned out without autumn rugs on. At night however, they might just need a rug on to keep them warm.  A horse that is stabled at night will feel the cold a lot more because they can’t get warm by moving around as much as they would when turned out.

This year because of the warm weather horses may start growing their winter coats a little later than they usually do. When you do start to rug up always make sure all the straps are fitted to the correct length and that none of them are worn or broken. Belly straps should not be too low and tail straps have to be comfortable for the horse. If your rug has leg straps, make sure they are at the correct length so your horse doesn’t get their legs caught up in them.

If you do have to use a surcingle then make sure you don’t put it on too tight, you don’t want to make the horse uncomfortable by cutting off their circulation which could end up in a disaster and cause any sores.

If you haven’t already it’s time to get the winter rugs repaired and re-proofed. If rugs are too badly trashed it is just not worth getting a winter rug repaired. However, if the rug just has a few tears in it or a belly strap needs fixing, then it could be worth sending or taking the rug to someone who can repair it and then make sure it is waterproofed again too.

Winter rugs are expensive, which means replacing them can really make a hole in your budget. With this said, there are some great waterproofing products on the market that work very well indeed. If you can afford to have your winter rugs professionally waterproofed when they need it then this is something that is definitely worth thinking about.

Could a horse manage without a rug?

Yes, if we can provide shelter from the elements – mostly the wind and hot sun. If the field has a good tree, or hedge cover, or a wooden field shelter the horse will use these when they need to.

Encourage movement which will keep the horse warm by placing hay in various parts of the paddock rather than in one pile.




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