To Rug or Not to Rug:  A Modern Dilemma

To Rug or Not to Rug: A Modern Dilemma

Well, I have been slowly dispensing with a winter turnout rug for Bea, my non-sweet itch girl. Over the last few years I’ve been putting her rug on later and later and taking it off earlier and earlier so this winter I thought I’d try to do without.  I only weakened and put one on recently when she was beginning to stand at the gate of her field a lot when the grass got very tired and poached. 

She’s quite a lucky girl as, at the local livery we use, she has a little yard of her own at night with a stable that she can pop in and out of and there’s a light on all night because she has poor eyesight.  I tend to get to her around 2pm to groom, ride and pop her away for the night on a clean bed of straw. She doesn’t have shelter when she’s turned out in her field during the day so I feel I have to compromise if the weather is really foul, and put a rug on. I always put a medium fill on even though she’s unclipped because the rug flattens the hair and destroys its thermo-regulating properties.  A thin raincoat would be worse than no rug.

Of course this means that I have to be careful not to use the rug if the weather is mild as she’d overheat and that would be worse than being a bit cold because a horse can’t get themselves cool in a rug whereas she can be more active or eat more hay to warm herself up if she needs to.

Quite often I bring her over to our village for a few days to be with our ponies. We rent a dry 10 acre field for 6 months of the year with high hedges for shelter so she runs naked with the ponies and she loves making up for the grass shortage at the livery yard.  Trouble is - riding is poor around us so I have to take her back to the yard if I want to ride.

I’ve been thinking about why I rugged her at all in the past when she wasn’t clipped out?  I think it’s down to a variety of reasons:

  • Firstly, it’s just what people do these days – partly out of habit, partly because everybody else does it so you feel guilty if your horse seems to be getting poorer treatment than theirs;
  • Secondly, I think I put myself in the horse’s place in really cold or wet weather – a sort of misplaced anthropomorphism really as horses are designed to withstand temperatures down to -15 degrees Celsius and are fine with rain as long as they have some shelter from the a strong wind and plenty of forage to eat;
  • Thirdly, it’s hard to ignore all the marketing messages about rugs and all the chat on social media;
  • Fourthly, the rug covers up a good part of her body that I therefore don’t need to groom as vigorously so it saves time when riding;
  • Fifthly, and worst of all, I think I enjoy buying things for my horse and a brand new rug is an exciting thing to buy. 

I’ve now made a promise to myself only to rug her for the right reasons – that is, if the weather is simultaneously cold, 24 hours or so of near constant rain and windy, and she can’t shelter. 

So what might the benefits be, you may well ask.  Well my thinking is:

  • It will be good for both of us – more vigorous grooming is good exercise for me and removes build up of sweat, grease, dead skin and matted hair that can be a breeding ground for skin infections;
  • I won’t be so worried about it becoming unfastened and blowing up to scare her or hobble her;
  • I’ll save money which I can spend on other nice things for her;
  • I won’t have to worry about her overheating if the sun comes out;
  • She’ll be able to behave more naturally – rolling, grooming herself and mutually grooming with her friends
  • I admit to feeling pleasure when I see her out on the field looking like a natural horse, naked and yes - covered in mud most days!

(P.S.  My favourite book on horses is ‘The Nature Of Horses’ by Stephen Budiansky – it explores what horses are really about and has really helped me to understand why they behave in certain ways and to find ways of enhancing my own horses’ lives. I reach for it on my bookshelf more often than any of the others.)

 Bea and her friend Blondie enjoying the lovely Spring weather today.


© 2017, Kath Shaw


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