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To Rug or Not to Rug

Updated: Mar 14

Winter rugs are very reasonably priced these days. So reasonable, in fact, that we have decided not to compete in that market. Other people are already doing it better. Goodwoods, for example, is one of the best value-for-money suppliers. We bought lined-canvas combos for our horses this winter at very reasonable prices, and their new summer combo rugs are already in stock at $35. It wasn't so long ago you could not get them second-hand at that price. Our partners Impressa Equine also have a range of rugs which are more expensive than Goodwoods, but tend to be a more reliable fit. One rug that does fit might be more useful then two that don't.

Horses are generally well adapted to conditions far harsher than the Hunter Valley NSW. Some things to consider when rugging a horse:

A horse will generally benefit from a rug if they are:

  1. Old. Older horses can lose condition quickly in winter time. A rug can help them keep condition because they are not expending as much energy maintaining body heat.

  2. Washed. Hosing a horse will wash away natural oils. A rug will help provide a layer of protection.

  3. In regular work. Horses that sweat a lot will change temperature dramatically, and may get sick if you turn them out damp.

  4. In a paddock with little or no forage. Horses regulate their temperature by fermenting forage in their hindgut. If they have their feed in meals, and have empty guts for a long period of time, they may have trouble maintaining their temperature.

  5. Have no access to shelter.

Studies have repeatedly shown that a field shelter (at least a 3-sides,) can reduce heat loss by around 20% because it allows a horses coat to stay dry and reduces heat loss from wind chill.

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A horse will generally not benefit from a rug if:

  1. They are overweight. Horses are very good at thermoregulating. If they are not losing a lot of condition over winter, it's often a good way to shed extra pounds before spring, when they will likely to add weight.

  2. You can't take the rug off. Temperatures fluctuate, particularly in Australia. If your daytime temperature is over 20 degrees, it might be better to leave a horse unrugged than have it sweating and in discomfort.

  3. Further - if your horse has access to good shelter and is a healthy weight, and you can't take the rug off on hotter day, maybe more hay would be a better alternative to a rug.

  4. You don't take the rug off. Horses can change shape over time. Ill-fitting rugs can quickly cause large welts and sores, particularly on the shoulder and wither. If you do rug your horse, take it off frequently so that you can check the condition of your horse underneath.

Three more tips:

  1. Always fasten your clips from back to front. Do the back D-rings first, then the surcingle and then the front clips. This way if your horse startles, or runs away, the rug will fall off the back and the horse will likely step out of the rug, rather than tying the front first, and the rug swinging across the front of the horse and the horse trampling it and damaging the rug and possibly itself.

  2. In winter, horses can damage fences and themselves by barging through an electric fence, because they don't feel it. If your horse does this, try wrapping a small band of electric tape around the front buckle of the rug, this way they will still feel the zap when they contact the fence.

  3. Most rugs have D-rings that attach to the back of rugs. If your horse habitually poos on their rug clip, or they tend to kick, try swapping the strap around so that the clip is attached to the D-ring at the flank, rather than the tail-end.

There is a great deal of choice out there in rugs. We are lucky to have several rugs of different weights for each of our horses, and we change them according to the forecast. If you can only budget for one rug, canvas rugs are breathable, conform to the horse's shape, are waterproof with adequate weathering, and tend to last years and years.

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