As temperatures drop, equestrians and grooms know that rugging their horses is an inside track to keeping them warm. This doesn’t stop them from worrying, though; constantly racking their brains about whether they should rug a wet horse or not.
Don’t worry! We feel your pain – we’ve all been there before.
We’re here to tell you all there is to know about the topic: the do’s and don’ts of horse rugging, and everything in between.
So saddle up and get ready to dive into this soggy saga – we promise you’ll be in for the time of your life! (Unless you’re a cold, wet horse, that is.)
Should You Rug A Horse That Is Already Wet?
One brilliant thing about horses is their natural ability to keep warm. They have survived centuries without the need for our man-made rugs. This comes down to a horse’s ability to thermoregulate or modulate their body temperature; as their double coats stand up to trap air when it’s cold and lay flat when it’s hot.
Over the years, humans have kept horses in more confined environments, such as ranches or yards, and their ability to seek shelter (as they would have in the wild) has been diminished. With so many rugging adverts out there, you’d think you were irresponsible if you didn’t rug your horse!
The question remains: should you rug a horse that is already wet? The answer is: maybe! But let me explain. If your horse is used to living out and has grown a thick coat, I wouldn’t worry too much about rugging it. As long as they have enough food, these marvellous equines can generate body heat to keep themselves warm. Remember what we said about thermoregulation?
However, if it is raining or snowing and your horse is drenched and shivering from the cold, then I would suggest throwing on a rug. A turnout rug or combo rug may be a good option to use.
The moisture-wicking properties of rugs help remove excess water from horses’ coats, allowing them to dry off quicker. You could also try the old-fashioned technique of “thatching.” This is when you use straw to cover the horse’s back and place the rug on top. The combination of the straw and rug helps absorb as much water as possible.
There’s no need to rug a horse that is damp after exercise, as their bodies need time to cool off naturally by allowing sweat to evaporate.
When it comes to bathing and washing and you want your horse to dry off quicker, I’d recommend using a wicking rug to remove excess water. Once the weather has cleared and your horse is dry enough, remove the rug to prevent overheating.
One golden rule to remember is: never rug a wet horse for the night! As the temperatures drop, the rug retains the excess water. If you leave a rug on overnight, your poor four-legged pal will not only be freezing, but could start to develop hyperthermia!
Overall, my best advice would be to pay attention to the actual weather (including the chill factor) and not how you feel. While there are obvious times when a rug is needed, there are other times when your horse will cope just fine.
Note: Wicking is a type of meshed-wool fibre that wicks or pushes away dampness through small openings in the fabric. This helps to prevent moisture build-up between the rug and the horse’s skin.
Rugging Horses: The Benefits
An easy way to remember why it’s important to rug your horse in wet weather is to use the three Ps.
Think of a rug as a type of cosy coat or blanket for your horse. Two important things to bear in mind are: never rug a horse while on the hoof, and get the correct size garment! Take time to ensure rugs are fitted properly, or you may be in for trouble further down the road.
Rugs can serve as a protective barrier against harsh weather conditions, dust, and insects. These cosy coats provide an extra layer of insulation and help stop the irritation of flies.
Wet horses are more prone to hypothermia if their body temperatures drop rapidly! Rugging is a great way to reduce heat loss, lessen the risk of cold-related ailments and boost their overall well-being.
Additionally, wet horses are more prone to developing skin conditions such as rain scald or rain rot. This infectious skin disease is caused by the Dermatophilus Congolensis bacteria, which usually remains dormant on the horse’s skin. If horses are left out in wet weather for too long, this bacteria “comes alive,” so to speak, causing inflammation and clusters of scabs and bumps.
Mud fever, or Pastern Dermatitis, is another ailment indirectly associated with lengthy periods of wetness. It causes the horse’s skin to become very soft. Triggered by prolonged exposure to moisture and mud, it can be a side-effect of the rain rot bacteria.
If you suspect that your horse has rain scald, it’s best to have a veterinarian check it out!
Before you jump to conclusions – by “promoting” we’re not referring to horses being used as marketing tools! In rainy, windy, and cold weather, horses can experience muscle stiffness, and using turnout rugs can make a big difference! The extra warmth aids in muscle relaxation; promoting suppleness, boosting recovery and preventing cramps and sprains.
When NOT To Rug A Horse
There will come a time when you wonder if you should or shouldn’t rug your horse’s body. A healthy horse feels temperatures differently to a human, so never rug a horse based on how you feel!
Remember, horses are mammals, and maintain a body temperature of approximately 38 degrees Celsius through a mechanism called thermoregulation – we touched on this earlier.
Often the decision of whether to rug or not basically comes down to common sense: figuring out when a horse needs an extra layer or two – or no layers at all!
Here are a few things that affect horses’ body temperatures:
- Turning out horses – Regularly turning out horses (taking them outside) helps themadjust to different temperatures, even if it’s just for half an hour at a time.
- Stabling horses – The confines of a stable stops the horse from moving around which can stop them generating heat.
- Clipping – A fully clipped horse has had the natural layer of its coat removed, which impacts its core body temperature; a downside when having a wet coat.
- Bathing and washing – Bathing a horse removes some of the natural oils in its coat, which can impact skin health and interfere with its sweating mechanism.
- Rationing – Rationing refers to reducing or restricting grazing habits. One of the most significant ways horses generate heat and regulate their temperature is through constant grazing! Horses are bulk eaters, so rationing their food intake can have an effect on how they keep themselves warm.
- Exercise – Horses need ample time to warm up and cool down before and after riding, as vigorous activity impacts their core body temperatures.
It’s important to know when not to rug a horse:
- Never rug a wet or damp horse for the night – This keeps the dampness on their skin for long hours.
- Never rug a sweaty horse – Allow their bodies to cool down naturally. Rugging a sweaty steed could potentially result in overheating.
- Never rug a sweating, unclipped horse – Similar to our previous point; being unclipped, they have naturally longer coats (which is like a blanket in itself).
- Never use a rug based on the temperature of horses’ ears or legs, or how you feel – Horses feel the temperature in a different way to humans.
How To Tell If A Horse Is Cold
- Check to see if their coats are standing up. Think of it when you get goosebumps from the cold.
- Tuck your hand into the horse’s rug and feel behind the wither (the spot between its shoulder blades). If it’s a bit cold, consider adding another layer. If it’s damp, this shows signs of sweating and it’s best to remove the rug.
- Shivering is an obvious indicator that your horse is cold.
- Pay attention to weather forecasts while keeping an eye on your trusty steed. Not only is cold weather an obvious factor, but windy weather and wind chill should also be considered. If there is predicted snow, hail, or sleet; it’s best to layer up!
- Consider keeping a thermometer in the stable. This will be able to help you make a better decision about rugging.
Is it okay to rug a horse in summer?
Absolutely! Not only is summer the hottest time of the year, but is also prime time for pesky bugs. While paying attention to the weather (and insect!) forecast, you might want to opt for lighter-weight rugs, such as turnout sheets, summer sheets, or fly rugs. These are all useful rugs to have in any tack room!
Should I rug my horse in the rain?
The nice thing about horses is that they’re almost designed to have a wet coat! But – that doesn’t give you an excuse not to rug them when it’s raining! However, for light showers, you don’t need to worry too much.
Depending on the time of year (harsh cold winters or pleasantly warm summers), we advise using a rug for your own horse on cold rainy days. A turnout sheet, with its lightweight and uninsulated design, is perfect for summer rains. A combo rug might be beneficial to use for winter rains, as you can adjust the garment’s various layers.
What do horses do when they’re too hot?
Old and young horses can display different features when they are too hot. Some tell-tale signs are: panting, excessive sweating, and sluggishness. Some horses may become disinterested in their surroundings or their gums might turn red as a result of dehydration.