Rugging horses; it is just so time consuming, putting on their big heavy winter rugs at night and then pulling them off in the morning. But we do it, because we love them and we would hate for them to get cold, even though we probably really don’t need to do it.
The majority of horses, including wild horses and pets, live their lives in paddocks with no shelters and no rugs during the cold winter months and they are able to keep themselves warm. Horses are naturally well equipped to deal with freezing temperatures and have the ability to regulate heat transfer and loss to ensure their body temperature is kept in a suitable range. The most obvious protector from the elements is the horse’s coat, most significantly their winter coat. The horse’s winter coat usually starts to grow during mid to late Autumn when the days begin to shorten and the night temperatures start to drop. The winter coat is longer and coarser than the summer coat. The horse can “fluff” their coat up, causing the hairs to stick up which traps air next to their body and acts like an insulating layer. The only time this doesn’t work is when the coat gets wet and the hair is unable to stand up. This is when the horse relies on the natural oils in their coat to protect the skin from getting wet. The extra oils that accumulate in the coat and on the skin also provide additional insulation from the harsh elements. During the winter months it is best to not bathe your horse, especially if they live outdoors with no rug, as bathing them will strip the natural oils from the coat that have built up to protect them. It is also best to limit brushing as this can move the oils away from the skin.
There are some horses that do need to be rugged, especially those that have had their coats clipped. A lot of show and performance horses are rugged to try and prevent that thick winter coat from growing through. We just rug our race horses, a few of the old timers and horses that are sick or struggling to gain weight. By rugging them they expend less energy trying to keep warm and are often able to rest more comfortably, recover from illness or use the extra unused calories to put on weight and/or perform better.
Horses are amazing animals and before domestication they were designed to live comfortably outdoors in all weather conditions. Even today their bodies are naturally designed to withstand the freezing cold temperatures, however that does not mean we can’t help them stay more comfortable by supplying shelters and rugs. So at least for the next few months we will continue to throw those heavy rugs around to keep our equine friends nice and cosy.
Until next time,