What weight rug should my horse wear?

This is a question I see on a weekly basis on social media, even more often when the season is changing. It seems bloggers and company blogs are jumping on this hot topic to generate traffic to their website. Now while I am not against people using current topics for their own gain, some of these guides I have read I have found shocking!

One guide told me that once Scottie is clipped, he should be in a 300-400g rug throughout the winter. Now if this was fully clipped I could maybe justify this. But with a blanket clip or less and with the very mild winters we have had recently, Scottie would boil alive in this weight of rug! With a recent Horse & Hound article highlighting the welfare issues involved in over rugging horses, it is really shocking to still see this one size fits all approach to rug weights!

I also think we have a bit of a culture now of thinking because of how we have bred our horses for performance, that they aren’t capable of keeping themselves warm any more. But this simply isn’t the case. Take Scottie as an example, he is a very warm thoroughbred. He spends most of the year naked, only in a fly rug or rainsheet until he is clipped and even then, in the 3 winters I have had him, he has never been in more than a 250g and has always been really toasty. I also think that us worrying about horses losing weight over winter is to blame. But research and vets say that letting our horses drop a little weight over winter is a good sign.

I would love to write a post which would tell you exactly what weight rug your horse needs to wear and when, but without knowing your horse this is simply impossible. Even within a rug weight category such as lightweight, the weight range can vary massively. Also, many people are unsure on what makes a lightweight, middleweight and heavyweight rug, so simply saying it’s middleweight weather means very little to some people. If you are one of these people you can read my personal guide here.

Since I can’t give you the perfect answer to what your horse should be wearing, I have instead created a guide of how I would go about choosing what weight rug to put on a horse. The are lots of factors I would consider before selecting a rug for a horse, but arguably the most important is, are they a good doer or not? In my mind, a Good Doer is one who needs to lose a few pounds, doesn’t get cold or simply keeps the weight on very well. Whereas, a Poor Doer is a horse who really feels the cold or needs help putting weight on. If they are somewhere in between I’ve just put them as average weight.

Some questions I would also ask myself are:

  • is the horse the type to move around a lot in the field?
    Will they warm themselves up playing in the field or will they get chilly standing still in the corner.
  • is the weather likely to get much warmer/colder in the next few hours?
    If its predicted to change, can you come up and change rugs or will they need to stay in it for a while
  • does the horse get silly when cold?
    some horses can become naughty in cold weather to keep themselves warm. This can be potentially dangerous and a slightly warmer rug can prevent this
  • does the horse get sweaty or lumpy when slightly too warm?
    Similar to above, some horses get lumpy when they get too hot or can sweat up easily. Neither of these things are good and choosing a lighter rug can prevent them.
  • are they protected from the elements?
    If the weather is particularly nasty, do they have shelter from the wind and/or rain
  • how long are they going to be in this rug for
    The longer they are in a big rug, the more likely they are to get too hot. If they are going to be in this rug over night, I would consider putting a lighter one on
  • are they hot or cold now?
    How warm the horse is before changing rugs is a good indicator of what the horse needs, especially if the conditions are going to be the same/similar

Below you can find a table of how I personally would go about rugging a horse based on how much of a good doer they are and whether or not they are clipped. Since there are so many different types of clip, this table assumes a clipped horse has a minimum of a blanket clip. Smaller clips, such as trace, are categorized as unclipped.

rugs

Key

  • NA means that I wouldn’t want a rug of any kind on unless there was a medical reason why.
  • Red text means that I wouldn’t be too happy putting any type of rug on, but understand that some horses need fly/sun protection.
  • Blue text means that this is weather dependent. A horrible day might need a heavier rug and a really sunny day might need a lighter one.

Obviously we don’t all have enough rugs to go up in 50g weights, and you don’t need to go out and buy new ones. Think about what rugs you have closest to this weight and choose which one you think your horse will prefer. Some horses like being warmer whereas other benefit from being that bit cooler. So much of rugging comes down to you knowing your own horse.

This is just to give you a rough guide as to how I would approach rugging different horses baring in mind how dangerous over rugging can be. Some horses will need heavier rugs and some might not need rugging at all. But I hope that if any of you have been struggling with all the conflicted advice that this has helped.

 

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