Season changes: A guide to rugging your horse according to the weather

Rugging your horse can be complex when the weather is changeable, but here Katie Allen-Clarke
from Horse & Country shows you how to rug your horse correctly. Keep your equine friend cosy this
year with the right rugs and other measures.
Deciding whether (and how) to rug your horse throughout the colder months can be a little
confusing, as you might be unsure about when you’re supposed to start rugging, or which rugs are
suitable for which temperatures and conditions. Here, we’ll go through some measures you can take
to ensure that your horse is kept happy and cosy throughout the harsher weather, including correct
When to rug your horse
Most horses don’t need rugging until temperatures outside fall to 5-10 degrees Celsius, which means
you’ll likely only be rugging during the depths of winter. Rugging your horse too much can be
damaging, as it can reduce your horse’s ability to respond to the weather conditions. Over-rugging
might seem fairly harmless, but playing with your horse’s ability to regulate their own temperature
can mean they gain weight, leading to health issues like laminitis. Horses also require their skin to be
exposed to the sunlight enough to absorb the vitamin D they need. Whenever you choose to put
your horse’s rug on, you should ensure that it is well-fitting and breathable.
However, some horses will need rugging earlier, as they are more sensitive to the cold: this includes
Arab and thoroughbred horses, and those that are stabled for the majority of the time and therefore
aren’t used to cooler temperatures. The same goes for older horses, those suffering from illness,
fully clipped horses, and horses that are underweight — all these make our four-legged friends more
sensitive to the cold, so you’ll need to rug them before temperatures drop too much.

Things to look for in your horse’s rug
Once you’ve decided that you’re going to rug your horses — and when to put their rug on — it’s
important to choose the right rug for them. Here, we’ll go through some measures you can take to
make your horse as comfortable as possible during the colder seasons.
You might typically associate the word ‘denier’ with pairs of tights, but funnily enough, this word is
also used to describe how strong the outer layer of a horse rug is. The higher the denier, the
stronger this outer layer will be. A higher denier rug is particularly useful for horses who tend to rip
their rugs; or, you might find that your horse needs a high denier rug because there are trees or
shrubs around their field that might damage it.
The fill of a horse rug means the rug’s weight, and can be categorised as follows:
 Light weight: 0g, 50g, 100g.
 Medium weight: 150g, 200g, 250g.
 Heavy weight: 300g or more.
It’s important to use the right weight of rug for your horse. A rug that’s too light won’t keep them
warm enough, but one that’s too heavy will press down on their coat too much and obstruct the
horse’s ability to insulate themselves against the cold. So, go for a rug that is just warm enough for
the conditions. Take into account your horse’s age, work level, clipping, and access to shelter. If your
horse is older, fully clipped, or without access to shelter or a stable, they will need a heavier rug, but
most horses will prefer something lighter as the UK winters might seem cold to us, but are fairly mild
to horses
How to fit your horse’s rug
As well as taking into account the weight and denier of your horse’s rug, you should take the time to
make sure it is fitted on them properly. This is important because ill-fitting rugs can create soreness
and irritation for your horse as the rug rubs their skin.
Get the right rug size
Rugs in the UK are usually measured horizontally from the centre of the horse’s chest to the end of
the rump, and the measurements are taken in feet and inches. Use a bendable, soft tape measure
that will go accurately around your horse’s curves.
Rug sizes are often rounded to the nearest three-inch increment, but you can allow an extra three
inches for well-built horses as they might need a little extra room to move. It’s worth noting that
rugs made by European manufacturers are measured instead from the withers, horizontally across
the back to the top of the tail, and these measurements are taken in centimetres. Different brands
of course will vary slightly, however standardised these sizes are supposed to be, so read the sizing
guide for your desired brand and compare it to your measurements before buying.
Put the rug on correctly
When you first try a new rug on your horse, it’s worth trying it on over a thin stable sheet, to avoid
getting it dirty. This will make it easier to exchange the rug if you need to get a different size. Now,
look at how the rug fits. The front of the rug should sit around three inches in front of the withers,
reducing the probability of pressure sores occurring. You should also be able to easily fit your whole
hand down the front of the rug, as if not then it might restrict your horse’s movement. It should also

cover the top of your four-legged friend’s tail and the seam for the tail flap should sit directly above
the start of the tail; if the rug stretches in this area, it might not fit properly.
Next, check that all the rug’s straps are the correct length and secure the rug without restricting your
horse. The hind leg straps should cross into a figure of eight underneath your horse’s stomach, and
there should be a good hand-width between each strap and the horse’s leg to ensure their walking
and running won’t be limited. Belly straps should also have a hand-width between the straps and the
horse’s stomach; they shouldn’t be any longer though, as this can risk tripping your horse up.
Take other measures to keep your horse warm
While horses cope well with the cold, it’s worth taking other measures to keep them cosy as well as
having the correct rug. The cold itself is usually less of an issue for horses than wet or windy
weather, so providing them with shelter even when they are turned out can help keep them
warmer. If the shelter in your field needs some repairs, don’t waste any time reinforcing it. You can
also ensure that your horses stay comfortable by adding some insulation to the shelter’s floor,
meaning they don’t have to stand on the ground itself, or on concrete.
Walk your horse after exercise to ensure that they cool down gradually too, as their temperature
dropping too quickly can give horses a chill. Lastly, review your stable and paddock areas to ensure
that they can be kept safe and comfortable during the colder weather. This might include regularly
breaking ice forming on water troughs, but it also means checking that you’ll always be able to get to
your horse in snowy, icy conditions.
Use these tips to ensure that you pick the right rug for your horse, and take any other measures
needed to keep them warm and cosy during the winter months. While it can initially seem
complex to find your horse’s winter routine, once you assess their needs you might find it easier
than you think.

Katie Allen-Clarke from Horse & Country (

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published