Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Blankets and Rugs

Rugs are a huge market for horses. The magazines and horse retailers have more types and makes of these than anything else, just look in some catalogues that do internet sales, rugs and blankets take up almost a quarter of the book. Such a vast array they surely can find what you need? There are light rugs, heavy rugs, 420 denier nylon outers, different ounces of polyester filling, stable rugs, paddock rugs, jute rugs, turnout rugs, high neck extensions, summer turnouts, winter turnouts, mac's, coolers, fleece coolers, light and heavy summer sheets, towling rugs, anti-sweat rugs, cotton sheets, exercise sheets, lycra hoods, lycra neck covers etc. Is your mind spinning when you just look at them?  Do you know what's good for your horse, what will be right for him?

There are so many people out there trying to sell you something and relying on your human nature of wanting to do the best for your horse that you end up buying things you probably don't need. I mean the catalogues sell them so surely we must need them, right?

The thing is that horses evolved to take care of themselves more efficiently and better than humans could ever realise. Their blood systems and coats change dramatically for Winter to be able to cope with the drop in temperature.

Firstly try to let your horse be outside all day, every day, if you can. His coat will start to thicken up and the oils of his coat will begin to work to keep his coat waterproof, for this reason do not over groom him. His mane and tail should be left naturally long to help keep his neck and quarters warm, feathers should be left to keep water off the heels and in general he should be left alone to be a horse.

What we can do is give him good quality forage (hay or haylage) to keep him in good condition, give him some sort of shelter in case he wants to use it (trees are usually better than a man made shelter), plenty of ice free water, succulents for treats now and then and not to be worked too hard so that we don't have to clip him and therefore have to rug him up in the first place. I know this isn't possible for everyone, some people compete, others keep their horses fit all year but generally, most horse owners could help their horses be more natural throughout the year.

Rugs can weaken our horses immune system and make them susceptible to colds and chills. Each individual hair is a muscle and they work by rising (starey) to capture heat between the skin and outside and lower when hot to let hot air escape. If your horse gets acclimatised to the cold gradually their systems adjust with the changing weather, they enjoy the wind in their hair and rain just runs off their coats. If you put a rug on them, when you take it off to go riding or to groom, they feel the cold twice as much, as they are now used to being warm. After a while the thick coats that would have grown to keep them cosy will start to fall out in an artificial moult and then you HAVE to rug them because you've ruined the coats natural climate control and they'll freeze.

Healthy horses left to their own devices often have no problems dealing with the cold, it's the wet and freezing cold that they have trouble with so this is when rugging to stop chills is good. What we need to do is take rugging on a daily basis, don't over rug and let the horse be a horse for as long as possible in the Winter and rug when necessary, sometimes maybe just at night. But don't put human thoughts onto the horse, cold for a horse that is healthy with a good Winter coat is not a problem.

I've so often seen horses rugged up when it's mild, supposedly to stop them getting muddy so they can be ridden, just human convenience. We clip them so we can ride them out heavily and then have to rug them. Can't we just let them have some Winter time off and maybe ride them at a slower pace so they don't sweat?

My theory is to allow the horse to be as natural as possible but don't allow it to suffer, either by being too cold or wet OR too hot, both are uncomfortable ;)