There are different types of rugs and blankets for horses and ponies. These are designed for specific uses and occasions but there are 2 main types which I am going to cover in this blog; the stable rug and the turnout rug. These rugs are used during the winter months usually to keep a horse warm and dry. Rugs are generally used for horses that are clipped but are also useful for older horses which may feel the cold more than their younger friends!
In the Autumn horses and ponies grow thick winter coats, this works with the grease and oils that their skin produces to insulate them against cold, wet and windy conditions. Generally, native ponies are able to live out throughout without rugs. Fidget seems to be an exception as he produces very little grease in his coat and if he gets wet he becomes cold very quickly and shivers violently. He therefore wears a thin turnout rug just to keep him dry.
Fidget in his rain sheet.
Many horses are clipped (see my earlier blog) and they will need rugs to keep them warm and protected. The enormous range of rugs available now can be overwhelming but they are generally lightweight and easy to clean.
These are the waterproof rugs worn when a horse or pony is out in the field to protect them from wind and rain and the cold. These rugs are available in different designs, colours and with different types of straps, tail flaps and some come with removable or fixed neck covers too. They are made from synthetic, waterproof material and lined with , wool, cotton or fleece. I prefer the ones which also have a thin synthetic lining which the hairs don't stick too! The more expensive ones usually have stronger outer fabric that is intended to be less likely to rip and tear. The rugs are also available in different thicknesses so that you can have one appropriate for the time of year and the weather conditions. I tend to have 3 or 4 thicknesses of rugs which see us through from early Autumn, through the colder months of November and December to the even colder and sometimes snowy January and February.
The better the fit of the rug the better protection it will give and the more likely it is to be secure. Rugs tend to have one or two buckles at the front ...
cross over surcingles .....
and leg straps ....
Some rugs have fillet strings instead of leg straps. These are often lengths of plaited material that are fixed to two points on the back of the rug, the string then goes under the tail.
The key thing is that the rug stays in place if a horse rolls or is playing. Rugs should be checked regularly for broken straps, tears or any other damage. Chesney and Basil often play in the field and unfortunately this often ends with a rug being damaged...
Obviously as the Turnout rugs are waterproof they need special cleaning and mending as they will also need reproofing once washed. If possible it is a good idea to have two Turnout rugs as once they become wet they take a while to dry and it is better not to leave a horse or pony in a rug that has become wet or damp underneath.
Stable rugs are (obviously) to be worn in the stable or barn. Much like the turnout rugs they are available in different designs, colours and with different types of straps. You can also get them with neck covers. I also prefer the stable rugs with the synthetic lining which the hair does not stick to.
These rugs are a bit like duvet's and are again available in different thicknesses so that you can keep your clipped horse or pony warm from autumn through to spring. The buckles and straps are usually similar to the turnout rugs but generally stable rugs do not have leg straps. Most horses move less in the stable and so the rug is less likely to move or slip. This is a point often forgotten because people rug their horses for the cold and wet when in the field but think that as a horse is undercover they will be warm. It is true that they are generally out of the bad weather once inside but they are also able to move less to keep warm. When in the field horses are able to move around to keep warm, this is not possible in a stable. Keep this in mind when choosing how to rug your stabled horse.
Having the right size of rug is important for the horses comfort, warmth and protection. A small rug can rub and restrict movement, a large or long rug could become tangled in a horses legs. I have found that different makes of rug fit different types of horses better. Not only is the length important but the depth, neck size, surcingle and strap length and the width across the hindquarters. Unfortunately this is something that you find with trial and error. However, I have found that if you try a rug on over a thin clean sheet then generally you can exchange them if they don't fit!
Rug lengths tend to come in 3" increments. Usually from 4 foot 6 inches to 7 foot and sometimes 7 foot 3 inches - which is Chesney's length. To ensure that you buy the correct length you can measure your horse from the middle of their chest to the point of the buttock. If your horse does not fit into an exact sizing then buy the next size up, it is better to be slightly larger than small. You can also measure the depth you need by measuring from the spine to the preferred length below his belly. Although, most rugs do not list the depth on their packaging you may be able to measure it at the shop.
Fitting a rug
There are a few key points to remember when checking the fit of a rug!
- Length - does it cover the horse from the front of its chest to the top of his tail. If you need to pull the two edges at the front to meet then the rug is too short.
- Depth - this should cover the barrel to protect from the weather but not be so long that the horse may trip over.
- The neck must fit in front of the withers, if the neck hole is too big and it slips down onto or behind the withers it will rub.
- There must be room for the horse to move his shoulders, the front should not be tight and restrict his movement.
Putting on a rugPut rugs on gently and carefully as some horses can be upset or frightened by them, this goes back to their ancestry (see one of my earliest blogs).
- Put a headcollar on and tie up the horse
- Ensure that the leg straps are done up so that they do not fly through the air and hit you or the horse, you can also tie up the surcingle straps
- Fold the rug from front to back and lay it across your arm
- Approach the horses shoulder ensuring he is aware of your approach
- Gently place the rug over the horses front, up and over the withers, slightly further forward than it will be when finished
- Slowly and gently unfold the rug and place it down and over the hindquarters
- Fasten the front buckles
- Slide the rug back so that it is in the correct position, by sliding it back you are ensuring that the hair is lying in the correct direction
- Fasten the surcingles, ensure you cross them over under the horses belly but that they are not twisted. So the front one on the off side should be fastened to the back clip on the near side. These should not be too tight to rub but equally must be short enough that the horse cannot get his leg caught when rolling
- Fasten the leg straps or pull the tail through the fillet string. Ensure that the leg straps are looped through each other (see picture above) to ensure they do not rub the inside of the horses thighs
- Check from both sides that the rug is sitting in the right place with no folds.
Removing a rug
This should again be done gently and carefully and is done in a slightly different order to when you put a rug on.
- Unfasten the front straps
- Unfasten the leg straps and re-attach them outside of the horses legs to ensure they do not swing and hurt you or the horse, or release the tail from the fillet string
- Unfasten the surcingles
- Gently fold the rug back, holding it at the withers and folding back to the tail
- Gently slide/lift the rug off the hindquarters
Caring for rugs
- Keep them clean and dry to prevent rubs, skin infections or skin conditions
- If you wash them yourself be careful with your choice of washing powder as some can cause adverse reactions
- Store them in a cool and dry, well ventilated environment
- NEVER put a horse in a dirty, ill fitting, wet or damp rug
Chesney, Basil and Fidget each have their own collection of rugs for different occasions and weather conditions. I posted a vlog about Basil's rug collection earlier this week and will be vlogging about Chesney's in a couple of weeks.
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Until next time!