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Is a horse better off with or without a rug in the winter: the eternal and annually recurring discussion

A topic where the horse community is often diametrically opposed: rugs in winter. Often you are pro rugs or you are anti rugs. Rugs come in different variants and thicknesses. In this blog we want to tell you more about whether rugs are necessary in the winter months and what you should pay attention to. So that you can decide for yourself what is best for your horse in which circumstances.

Horses are less cold than humans

As soon as the shortest day has passed (June 21), the ponies / horses start to prepare their coat for the winter period. Especially the austere breeds start shedding almost immediately after the shortest day, warmblood breeds are often a bit later. Ponies and horses are able to produce a well insulating and waterproof winter coat. The ideal outside temperature for horses is between -5 and 10/15 degrees Celsius, which is their comfort temperature. What is seen as cold/fresh for humans is a very pleasant temperature for horses. Horses can therefore withstand the cold and rain better than we expect. But as a horse owner, we tend to humanize our horses and wrap them warm because we are cold. This humanization is logical, but unnecessary for the horses.

When a rug?

In principle, every horse can do without a blanket/rug in the winter, but there are situations that make it better to choose a rug. Older horses, horses with muscle problems, shaved horses or horses that are intensively trained can sometimes better wear a rug. Rugs ensure that horses need to use less energy to stay warm, especially for older horses or horses that lose weight easily, this is a great advantage. But horses with muscle problems also benefit if the muscles stay warmer.

Horses that are shorn no longer have natural protection and therefore need a replacement of their own coat. A rug is a must for these horses.

The majority of the horses could therefore survive the winter without a blanket, but there are exceptions. Therefore, always keep looking at your horse and choose what suits your horse.

What is the right blanket for my horse?

Rug stress is very recognizable among horse owners, because which rug is good? There is no answer to this, because it differs per horse and owner. Each horse has a different build and each rug brand has a different fit. Where one horse fits a blanket that costs only 50 euros, the other horse will only fit a blanket that costs 300 euros. But here are a few tips to choose the right rug for your horse:

  • Don’t buy the rug too big! A common mistake is that rugt are bought too wide. Rugs that are too loose will drop backwards as they move, causing them to pull on the shoulders and withers. This creates chafing spots. Many owners think because of the chafing spots that the rug is too tight, but the opposite is true. Good point to remember: the tail flap of the rug should start at the base of the horse’s tail. If the tail flap starts further, the rug is too long and will pull back or hang crooked.
  • Provide sufficient shoulder freedom: Especially for the broadly built horses it is difficult to find well-fitting rugs. A size larger is often chosen, but then you get the problem of pulling on the withers. Therefore, try different brands of blankets and see which brand best suits the build of your horse. Shoulder splits can help give just a little more room on the chest. Rugs with the well-known V-closure also often provide more space in the front than blankets with a straight closure.
  • Choose the quality that suits the housing of your horse: is your horse outside 24/7? Then choose a good quality rug with great breathability. The more expensive rugs are terrible for your wallet, but you can also enjoy them for years. These more expensive rugs can handle a larger amount of rainwater than the often cheaper brands. The breathability of the more expensive brands is also often better, which prevents condensation under it. Is your horse in a playful herd or is your horse low in rank? Then choose a rug made of baliistic nylon, for example, this material is many times stronger so that it breaks less quickly when a horse pulls it.
  • Choose the right thickness: Choose the thickness of the rug that suits your horse and your housing situation. Horses standing still in the stable are more cold than horses that can move freely 24/7. An unshaven horse needs a thinner blanket than a shaven horse. Nowadays many rugs have a liner system so that blanket thicknesses can be easily changed without having to purchase several rugs immediately. Sometimes a rain rug is more than enough in the winter. Don’t pack your horse too thick either, packing too warm will cause more health problems than leaving a horse colder. Keep reminding yourself that a horse is a horse and not a human, if we are cold, the horse is probably still comfortable.

Not sure whether you are going to put a rug on your horse this winter?

Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether or not you are going to put on a rug in the winter. Then make a list for yourself about why you will put on a rug. If the answer to the questions below is mainly no, then choose not to use a blanket. You can always put the rug on during the season, the other way around is a lot more difficult.

  1. Does your horse lose weight easily in the winter?
  2. Is your horse elderly?
  3. Does your horse have a reduced resistance or muscle problems?
  4. Is your horse shaved?
  5. Is your horse being trained intensively?

Are the answers to these 5 questions (almost) all no? Then your horse may be able to stand without a rug in the winter.

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