Should I rug my horse in winter?

Many horse owners often ask themselves, should I rug my horse in winter. Rugs are primarily used to shield horses from varying weather conditions and climates.  

There are several main reasons why we rug our horses in winter: 

  1. To keep them warm.  
  2. To keep them dry and to keep them clean. If they get wet and cold, they lose more heat and as a result use more energy to keep warm. 
  3. To be able to clip them, which reduces the risk of over-heating during training or competition. 

Not all horses need rugging, a full winter coat is well designed to protect the horse from the cold. Late summer and early autumn are the time for your horse to naturally develop its winter coat and adapt its natural heating systems. The coat gets heavy in the winter for a reason, and it stands on end and acts as a layer of insulation when it gets cold to keep the body warm. 

When considering rugging horses, it is important to consider three weather factors:  

  1. Wind 
  2. Wet 
  3. Cold

These factors need to be taken into consideration along with the horse’s individual needs. As with people, young and old horses are less likely to cope well with the cold. Young horses are smaller and often have less body fat and will lose heat more rapidly. Older horses have a reduced ability to control their body temperature, may have lower body fat, may have health problems, reduced digestive efficiency and be less active which can all contribute to them being more at risk in cold weather.

Horses that are recovering from illness also have a hard time trying to keep warm while using their energy to try to heal or get over their ailment at the same time. Horses that have been kept under lights, either for breeding purposes or to keep their coats shinier and thinner, also will need extra consideration. These are all horses that, even if they are not clipped, do not fit the normal mould when it comes to considering rugging through winter.    

Providing your horse with a well fitted and suitable rug is vital for its comfort if you decide to rug your horse. The right rug choice will help to regulate your horse’s body temperature and maintain a healthy condition. Two terms to be familiar when it becomes to rugs are denier and fill. The higher the denier, the sturdier the fabric. Fill is the batting inside the rug. The fill weight indicates how heavy or warm the rug is. Lightweight rugs generally are around 100 grams to 200 grams, medium weights are often around 200 grams, and heavyweights can be 350 grams or more. When checking the warmth under a rug place your hand under the rug behind the withers or feel around the horse’s kidneys. A horse’s kidneys are on either side of their back, behind where a saddle would be placed. If it feels cold, then you may want to consider a thicker rug. If it feels damp, then you may want to consider removing the rug as its likely your horse is too warm. Remember if the horse is too heavily rugged then less energy is lost and will be deposited as fat leading to weight gain. 



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