The decision of when and how to rug your horse is a personal one. There are many benefits to keeping some horses rugged, especially if your horse thrives of full turnout.
Rugs options for horses
For more details on the difference between these rugs, check out our helpful guide on types of horse rugs and their features.
In each of the above categories, you can find are a myriad of shapes, styles, colours and designs.
Some rugs have built-in neck covers, others have shoulder gussets and tail flaps. There are rugs that utilize surcingles or belly straps, while others have only chest and leg straps. The choice is endless, but not all rugs are suitable for every horse so read on to understand why to rug your horse, and how to choose the right rug for his lifestyle.
Why rug your horse?
Common reasons to rug a horse include:
- Transportation: When horses travel long distances in a trailer or lorry they can catch a chill easily. Horses need to move around to warm their bodies naturally, so rugging can help keep them cosy while they are restricted from doing this.
- Showing: Upon arrival at a show or competition in a different area or climate, a rug can help regulate your horse's temperature and keep him warm.
- Cooling down: Sweat rugs or cooler rugs help wick away any moisture that your horse has on their coat following a bath or sweaty exercise and help him dry out before being put out to pasture or boxed.
- UV protection: If your horse has pale skin that is at risk of sunburn (like some appaloosa and paint horses), a lightweight summer rug can protect the horse from UV rays. These rugs can also be used to prevent sun bleaching for show horses.
- Bug protection: Insects, especially midges and horseflies can be a pain (literally) for horses during the summer months. Rugging a horse during the summer means he can be turned out to enjoy free time with his buddies protected from biting insects and not stay isolated by himself in a box.
Weather protection. A rug can help a horse maintain its condition during rain and cold. This can be especially helpful for poor keepers or elderly/unwell horses.
- Clipped horses: If your horse is in full work over winter and clipped, a rug is necessary as his natural insulation has been lost.
Examples of different rugs
The best fly rugs are both lightweight and breathable but provide protection against insects and reflect the sun to keep your horse cool. Fly rugs are great to pop on during hot weather when the sun is strongest to prevent UV damage to your horse's skin and coat.
Lightweight canvas Rugs
A lightweight Horse Rug is the perfect option for moody summer weather. Lightweight canvas rugs were designed for use in New Zealand (where the weather is notoriously changeable) and are now available in the UK. These hardwearing rugs are a great option for when it's not cold enough to warrant a heavy rug, but not dry enough to use a summer sheet. They keep competition horses looking smart (and make grooming easy during a wet summer) but also keep your horse comfortable when the temperatures are humid but warm.
good old kiwi New Zealand Rug is a popular traditional model from good-old NZ. Canvas rugs, which are often just called New Zealand rugs outside of their homeland, are popular with New Zealanders because they were designed to last. New Zealand horses rarely (if ever) are kept in a stall, which means even top-level competition, polo and racing horses need turnout rugs. Constructed using 18oz Ripstop Canvas, the outer layer of these rugs provides strength and breathability, while the inner layer is usually made of wool, a natural fibre that breathes and soaks up bad odours. If your horse sweats for whatever reason with a wool lined rug, the moisture will be pulled away, keeping the horse's skin dry (unlike synthetic fillers which remain damp and heavy against the horse's skin). Breathable canvas that has been treated with wax to make it waterproof allows moisture to dissipate away rather than trap it against the coat. If you want to know more, check out the best fly rugs for your horse.
To Rug or Not to Rug
A critical component to keep in mind when considering whether to rug your horse is that most horses are able to regulate their internal body temperature and keep themselves warm without our help.
If over rugged, horses will sweat, and their surface blood vessels will dilate to encourage heat dissipation. If you chuck a rug on that is too heavy, your horse’s health and wellbeing can be affected. If they sweat under a rug that is not made of breathable material, it will trap the moisture on top of the coat, and when their sweat starts to cool, they are at risk of catching a chill.
Heat stress can also cause electrolyte imbalances. For this reason, as long as the outside temperature is between 5°C and 25°C, you should remember your horse is probably comfortable without a rug. An over-rugged horse on the other hand has no escape from the heat.
Fit matters too
When you buy yourself new clothes, you try them on first to make sure they fit. It is the same when buying a rug for your horse. A good fit will ensure your horse is comfortable and happy no matter what he gets up to (rolling, galloping, playing etc). Knowing how to measure your horse for a rug is an essential part of deciding which rug to buy - because if the rug you invest in is too tight, or too big, your horse will not be comfortable.