Equine behaviourist and therapist based in Co.Kerry Ireland | LIMA science based horsemanship

Management 101 : Rugging 5 Top Tips

There are 5 main factors that I consider before I rug my horses and I thought it may be helpful to share them as tips here. I have also included some research for anyone interested in furthing their knowledge and understanding of the horse’s body.

1) Temperature

Consider the temperature when deciding whether to rug your horse, if turned out also please consider the weather. Wind and rain have a great impact if there is little or no shelter.

This is a guide I recommend, where it has it’s limitations and imperfections it is still a good indicator for general purpose.

2) Coat/Clip

If your horse is clipped they will most likely need a rug during cooler temperatures. Also consider the pattern of your clip – a trace clip would not require as much rugging as a hunter and a padded anti rub guard may be handy for extra warmth to the specific area.

3) Breed

Native horses and ponies generally tend to develop a much thicker and warmer winter coat. If you are not clipping do take this in to account more so than if you are rugging a warmblood. Horses from cooler climates are able to deal with cooler temperatures. However, this is not a ‘one size fits all’ and should be a consideration, check to see how your horse’s coat is developing at the end of summer.

4) History/Medical

Horses who are usually rugged may have a lower tolerance to cold temperatures and extreme weather. However, this can change with a slow transition if you are interested in supporting your horse in natural living.

If your horse has any medical issues please also consider these, you may wish to consult with your vet. E.G. Cushings/Liver disease etc can all affect what rugs and turnout horses require.

5) Diet

Horses with a constant supply of food meeting their minimum calorie intake are much better at regulating their own temperature. This is because they can generate enough heat internally to keep warm. Ensure your horse always has access to quality haylage and clean water. A balanced diet is vitally important to all aspects of a horses well-being.

The Science Bit

The skin is the largest organ in the body – it keeps the outside away from the insides! It is the interface between the body and the environment.

  • Protects the body from external injury
  • Prevents excess loss of water, electrolytes and other macromolecules
  • Regulates body temperature
  • Controls blood pressure
  • Allows the body to secrete and excrete via sebaceous and sweat glands
  • Sensory perception
  • Protects the body from solar damage through pigmentation
  • Stores water, electrolytes, fat, proteins,vitamins and other elements
  • Acts as a health indicator
  • Prevents disease

Credit: Equine Dermatology by Paula Williams BSc (Hons) BVSc MRCVS 

A horse with ‘fluffy’ hair is demonstrating that their body is able to look after itself in the cold weather. This is called piloerection. Each hair has a corresponding muscle that is able to lift the hair or lay flat depending on what function the hair needs to play.

It’s worth mentioning that horses that have been rugged continuously since birth may well not have had the opportunity to develop the muscles under their hairs required.

Additionally, if rugged in the Autmn, the winter coat may not develop as thick or long. The winter coat does not come through based on the temperature alone, but a combination of factors including daylight hourse, weather conditions and temperature.

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