The first frosts signal the approach of winter, and to horse owners, that means mud, frozen water troughs and horse rugs.
When to start rugging your horse and which thickness or weight of rug to choose is a common question. And although many horse owners have their own opinion and will give you differing answers, there are some basic principles that will help you to make up your own mind about when to start rugging your horse and which weight of turnout rug or stable rug to use.
In the UK, over-rugging (too many rugs or overly thick rugs for the temperature) is a greater problem that under-rugging (insufficient rugs or thickness of rugs for the temperature). A horse that is over-rugged may overheat, causing them to sweat and then become too cold, or suffer heatstroke and potentially colic.
Don’t forget that although we may experience low temperatures during the night, temperatures can quickly rise during a sunny day and dark rugs will absorb all the heat from the sun.
Horse owners love rugs and they love making their horse look cosy. Come March or April, the novelty definitely begins to wear off, but before you rush to throw on that lovely new heavyweight turnout, take a look at some considerations below.
Horses, like people, are designed to keep their body temperature within a small constant range. However, horses are significantly better at it. Horses have a much lower thermoneutral zone (the temperature range where they do not have to expend energy to keep warm) than humans (Horses 5-25 degrees whilst for Humans it’s 20-35 degrees) so although you may feel chilly, your horse maybe perfectly toasty and warm.
Horses also have a caecum which produces lots of heat to help maintain body temperature. The human equivalent of the caecum is the appendix, which produces no heat.
And don’t forget their coats. An unclipped horse may be absolutely fine without a rug, whilst a clipped horse will require a heavyweight rug for the same conditions.
Each horse is different and so it is important to consider the health and weight or condition of your horse.
If your horse is below optimum weight and condition or in poor health, then he/she will be less able to regulate their body temperature effectively and will be more prone to losing condition.
Conversely, an overweight horse will benefit from burning off some of its calorific stores to maintain its body temperature, to gradually lose some weight and reduce his/her laminitis risk in advance of spring.
To assess your own horse’s weight and condition. It’s important to keep checking under your horse’s rug over winter to ensure that they are not losing condition.
Quick Rug Guide / Chart
Below is a quick rug guide to help you decide the appropriate choice of rug for your horse, based on temperature for a generally healthy stabled clipped horse or a stabled unclipped horse in optimum body condition. In general, if your horse is turned out, then go up a level in rug thickness/weight and if your horse is overweight or underweight, then also take that into account. Where you are in any doubt, then seek veterinary advice.
|Temperature||Stabled & Clipped||Stabled & Unclipped|
|15C or warmer||Zero fill||Nothing|
|10C to 15C||Lightweight (100g) or zero fill||Nothing or zero fill|
|5C to 10C||Medium weight (250g)||Lightweight (150g)|
|Zero to 4C||Heavyweight (300g)||Medium weight (200g)|
|Zero to -10C||Heavyweight (300g to 400g)||Medium weight (200g to 300g)|
|-10C or colder||Heavyweight (300g to 500g)||Medium or heavyweight (300g to 400g)|