Winter is coming and the long nights and cold weather is on its way, it’s only natural to want to keep your babies (horse) warm and rug them. The trouble is it’s very easy to over rug your horse, and this can sometimes be more dangerous for them than not rugging at all. Many horses and ponies are hardy enough to live without a rug all year round.

Horses and ponies are very good at regulating their temperature via Thermoregulation, where the horse can regulate it’s temperature via anatomical, physiological and behavioural mechanisms. Horses find it a lot easier to keep warm, than cool down and this is where the danger lays when over rugging your horse. If a horse can’t cool itself down probably it can potentially get heat stress and lose their appetite and therefore lose weight.  This is where some issues start, as you think they are too cold and losing weight and rug more, but this could be making the issues worse.

A horse will keep itself warm by developing it’s winter coat, this will depend on the horse but with all horses the hair will grow thicker and longer. The hair is covered in natural grease, which works as a water repellent and stop the skin getting wet. Over grooming will remove some of these oils thus affect the horses coat’s ability to repel water, and obviously over clipping will take away the horses natural body warmer. Additionally the hair has the ability to raise trapping warm air between the hair and skin, we do this as well, but as a horses coat is a lot thicker and denser it is far far more effective.

Horses and ponies also keep themselves warm via generating heat via general muscle movement but also by running about and playing in the fields. A horses most natural state is to graze, which can be up to 19 hours a day. Breaking down hay and grass etc generates heat in the gut, this is important function in keeping your horse warm, so always make sure there is plenty of forage for your horse and pony.

Horses and Rugs

Now I’m not saying don’t ever rug your horse, but horses have adapted and survived in the wild for thousands of years. Rugging your horse and pony too soon can affect their ability to self-regulate their temperature, therefore when it gets really cold your horse cannot control it’s temperature properly.

Over rugging may also cause the horse to heat up under the rug but not in other exposed areas, thus affecting the horses natural ability to regulate temperature. Horses and ponies naturally burn fat to generate heat but some trends are to over feed a horse during winter to give them fat reserves, the risk to this is that the horse can then carry too much weight into spring and increase its chance of laminitis.

As said I’m not saying don’t rug your horse. Lighter breed horses and ponies and older horses will benefit from a little helping hand of a rug. Also clipped horses will benefit from an extra layer, plus horses that have a limited mobility that are stabled. But don’t rug too soon or too heavy as this doesn’t help your horse in the long term and be mindful of the above. One way to assess your horse or ponies temperature is to feel under their shoulder and get an idea of their core temperature. If they are already rugged get your hand under the rug behind the wither, if it feels damp they are too hot and sweating, on the other side if it feels chilly they may need another layer.

Horses are well adapted to deal with the cold, as long as basic management is in place. So always think before rugging.