When should you rug a horse? With winter setting in, most people immediately start without really giving it any thought. There are some times when you do, without a doubt, need to rug a horse. And there are times when it is not only unnecessary, but causes your horse real distress.
Let’s look at some scenarios in more detail.
Horses are plains animals. This means they have evolved to cope with the elements with very little protection other than the shelter of a tree of two. When you consider the weather some horses evolved to survive in, such as the Shetland pony or the Arabian horse, you have a good idea that they can and do manage very well under extreme conditions.
Of course, their origin has a lot to do with how they manage. A Shetland pony would probably find it hard to adapt to desert conditions. And an Arabian would need extra protection in arctic conditions.
So knowing when your horse’s ancestors come from gives you an idea of how much protection they may need. But bear in mind, that they will have aclimatised by being born in your locality.
Many people rug a horse, by putting a rug on at the outset of winter and leaving it on throughout the winter, regardless of the weather. If they went out to look on a fine day, they would likely be confronted with an excessively sweating horse, dying to have a roll in the dirt to satisfy the itch that this entails.
Call it passive cruelty if you like. Whichever way you look at it, it’s showing great laziness.
Horse rug companies go to great lengths to tell you their rugs allow the horse’s skin to breathe. It’s all poppy cock. Go and look for yourself. It’s simply good sales talk.
When people work all day, it is often a difficult decision to make – take the rug off in the early (and cold) morning or leave it on all day? Depending on the conditions and the horse, I think most horses prefer to be a bit chilly for a couple of hours or so, rather than to sweat.
If you clip your horse, then they must be given greater protection. If you have a sick horse, then they may also need extra protection.
However, the type of protection is not best had from rugging your horse. Allowing a horse freedom in a paddock with free access to a building which is weather proof on three sides, is much more comfortable for most horses. They can shelter from the sun, wind and driving rain. Just make sure the open side is on the opposite side from the prevailing winds. For example, if your strong (and cold) winds, which carry the most moisture, comes from the west or south west, then the field shelter should have its opening on the northern side.
A good way to check how your horse is faring in cold weather is the temperature of their ears and their chest. If these (dry) areas are warm, so is your horse. First thing in the morning is the coldest time, so is a good time to assess their coping mechanisms.
I suggest that you rug a horse only when absolutely necessary and only for the shortest time necessary. Don’t do it because everyone else is doing so. Assess your horse’s individual needs and the environment they live in. Providing inner heat through good food is a much better way to ensure your horse copes with any extremes of weather.
And if your horse is unwell, homeopathy may be able to provide the best solution.