It is important to know when and how much to assist your horse with a rug that can help them repel pests, withstand inclement weather conditions, or just maintain a well-groomed condition.
Although in most cases it is advantageous to rug your horse, it is likewise important to not over-rug if it is not needed so knowing when to rug your horse is essential. To do so may cause a series of unfortunate events such as causing your horse to sweat, thereby resulting in irritation and rubbing, and also preventing much-needed sunlight from reaching the horse's skin. Your horse needs Vitamin D just like you do and this will inhibit this natural process that the sunlight provides. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to reduced bone strength, so exposing your equine friend to the sun sans a rug should be sufficient in minimising this risk.
Understanding the Natural Temperature of the Horse
Mother Nature has done a pretty efficient job of providing every species of animal with its own adaptations, impressively allowing them to adjust to their specific habitat. This applies to domesticated animals as well as those in the wild; certainly your horses are no exception.
Horses have an impressive body temperature regulation system known as thermoregulation. Research indicates that the horse can actually cool or heat itself using its own body as long as the temperature of its habitat (in this case, its pasture, stall or box) is between 0 degrees Celsius and 25 degrees Celsius. Ideally, a horse's natural temperature regulates itself to an approximate temperature of 38 degrees Celsius. It is when the outside temperature exceeds these parameters that your horses can certainly benefit from being rugged.
The Horse's Self-Sufficient "HVAC System"
As mentioned above, the horse is quite self-sufficient between 0 to 25 degrees Celsius. When the outside temperature drops below 0 degrees Celsius, there are several ways that the horse does to minimise heatloss:
- Horses will position their backside toward the oncoming bad weather. They will also cluster/group together to generate/share more natural heat.
- Although thick hedges and tree lines provide much shelter from unfavorable weather conditions, a field shelter or other manmade shelter is an important blocker to persistent wind and rain.
- The horse's coat is a very efficient thermal barrier that entraps heat within the body. Don't panic over a horse covered in ice/snow crust; the upright hairs are doing their job and holding heat within.
- Regardless of the weather, the horse is a perpetual grazer and forager. This helps keep the horse warm in the colder weather as energy is created and expelled in the grazing and digesting process, acting as an in-built heating system by creating heat as the fiber is broken down in the digestive system.
- Likewise, the horse burns more energy in this heat-conservation process, thereby dropping some of those summer pounds each year. This cycle of gaining weight in the summer months and losing it over winter is natural.
Special Circumstances That Warrant Rugging Your Horse
There are times when specific horses would certainly benefit from being rugged during those colder winter months. Here are some examples:
- When your horse is significantly underweight or is health-challenged. The thinner horse will naturally increase its metabolic rate in an effort to maintain warmth, which results in more weight loss.
- When your breed of horse has a naturally thinner coat, such as the Thoroughbred or the Arabian.
- When your horse is fully clipped or shaven, it no longer has that natural weather resistance built into its winter coat.
- If your horse is aged or chronically ill, those conditions can lend to exacerbated arthritis or weight loss that inhibits its ability to warm itself.
What Rug to Put on My Horse?
Once you have decided to rug your horse, the next step is to decide which rug to use. There is a wide variety of horse rugs on the market.
As with anything else, light colours are more conducive to hot summer heat and sunlight whereas dark colours will draw more heat when it is cold outside. Heat from the sun is not the only factor that the colours of the horse rug affects, interestingly a study showed that the lighter the rug, the fewer bugs it will attract.
Elements to consider when choosing a horse rug include your horse's breed, size, temperament/energy level, your region's climate, and its habitat dynamics (accommodations such as stall time vs. pasture time).
Definitely consider these circumstances when you are deciding what type of horse rug to use:
- Your horse's age, weight condition, and its overall health and ability to warm itself;
- The time of year you will be rugging your equine;
- The level of work your horse must provide;
- Whether or not your horse has access to a stall or stable;
- Your horse's feeding regime and its foraging opportunity;
- The intensity and humidity of the cold weather;
- Whether or not your horse is clipped.
Types and Purposes of Horse Rugs Available
Horse rugs are not solely for helping a horse maintain heat in its body. There are various other purposes for using horse rugs.
Here are some examples of those options:
- Horse Cooler Rug: These are known as a Fly Rug in the northern hemisphere. Believe it or not, some horse rugs help your horse stay cool when the weather is extremely warm or humid. A good suggestion for this type of rug is the Allrounder Fly Rug.
- Horse Rugs are also very useful year-round to help keep pale horses from sun-burning in the summer and dark horses from fading in the same intense sunlight. Obviously, it is more wise to choose lighter colours for summer and darker for winter.
- Horse Neck Covers are available separately.
- A very practical combo turnout rug is a very popular choice for many horse owners because it's the perfect go-to rug to use when it's not quite cold enough outside for a thick winter rug but also when it's not quite warm enough for a summer fly rug.
Storing Those Horse Rugs
Once you've made your horse rug decision, you will obviously want to take appropriate care of your wise purchase. It's a grand idea to take proper care of any investment, and your horse rugs are certainly no exception to that rule.
If you would like some great ideas for storing your horse rugs, they are easily accessible and easily implemented.
The Wrap Up
Overall horse rugs are great to protect your horse and make them more comfortable in different weather conditions. The improtant thing is to know what is right for you based on your local climate, the breed and any other factors that play a part in the comfort of your horse.