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Rugging horses


To rug or not to rug - that is the question! 


At the end of summer the days get shorter and colder, and we start to consider providing extra comfort and warmth to our horses.


Rugging requires considerable time and devotion to your horse as they must be fully checked on a daily basis in terms of their fit, the rug's condition and whether they are appropriate for the current weather conditions. This is particularly necessary in NSW south coast where the climate can changes so unexpectedly!


Healthy horses with good body condition, or those that identify as ‘easy-keepers’, have incredible tolerance for low temperatures.

Rugs should be removed and aired if the day warms up to prevent the horse over heating.  Regardless of the temperature, the rug should be fully removed every few days to check the horse has no rub marks or skin irritations.  

So how do you tell if your horse requires rugging?

  • If your horse does not have access to shelter (stall, run-in shed etc) to stay out of the rain and be protected from cold wind, a rug or rain sheet may be appropriate.  Horses are better able to cope with cold weather if they are dry.

  • If a horse shivers in winter, a rug and additional forage might be appropriate. Extra forage will keep fermentation in the hind gut active which in turn generates internal heat production.

  • If your horse has a less than ideal body condition score going into winter, a heavier rug may be appropriate. However, some heavier rugs may rub bony areas e.g. the points of shoulder, withers and hips so be mindful if you see hair rubbing out you may need a lighter rug or another alternative to rugging should be sort e.g. providing a stable or shelter.

  • Older horses may also struggle in the winter to maintain their body condition and a nice warm rug may be beneficial.

  • Any horses that have had their body clipped will definitely need protection.

  • If the nights are cold and the days are sunny and warm you will need to remove the rug early in the morning.


Rugged horses.jpg

How to ensure your rugs fit:

  • A well fitting rug won't move, rub or restrict movement.  A good wide gusset up to the shoulder (as above) will alow the horses front legs to move freely. 

  • A well fitting rug will sit a few cementers in front of the wither so that it is not putting pressure on the sensitive wither area.

  • When fastened, the surcingles (belly straps) should be a hand's width from the horse's belly. ie you can put your hand sideways between the straps and the horse. 

  • The back straps should be crosses over and done up with a hands width between them and the horse's back legs. 

Signs your horse is too warm?

  • If you notice wet patches behind the ears, often this is a frequent area to sweat from as well as along the neck. You can also put your hand in between the rug and skin and if it feels too warm your horse is too warm! It is time to remove the rug or use a cooler rug. Horses sweat when they are a bit too warm but also a lack of sweating can also be a sign of overheating, so also look at other signs.

  • Heavy breathing. If your horse has not exerted itself and you notice heavy breathing they could be over-heating.

  • Listlessness and lethargy or lowering the head.

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