Tuesday, July 9, 2013

How to kit your horse out for the year

I may as well start with the summer as that is what we are apparently currently in?! As anyone in England has experienced in the last few years you can need all sorts of rugs to cover you for the summer season!

Again, everybody does things very differently, and please feel free to add your views and comments. Every horse is different, even within our yard (e.g in winter) we have a number of fully clipped out German Warmblood event horses, and even they have completely different rugging systems dependent on their individual needs. Obviously different breeds vary, as well as their routines, (whether they live in or out) and whether or not they are good doers or spend the winter clipped or furry.



Squirrel and Acco enjoying a good scratch after
all those rugs have come off!
During the summer, if it ever gets hot enough, it’s nice if the horses can spend plenty of time without rugs.

Fly rugs

However, if they are out a lot, it is likely that they will need a fly sheet and mask. Most fly sheets are pale in colour or white to help keep them cool, and although they are made out of breathable material, some are shower proof. Saying this if there are repeated downpours, the horse will get very cold as the fly rug will hold in the moisture more than their coat would naturally. So, if you are leaving your horse out overnight or if you’re away all day, just keep an eye on the forecast before leaving them out with a fly rug on.

They are essential to stop midges, horseflies and other insects biting or irritating them, which can cause them to gallop round to try and avoid the fly bites. Obviously galloping round in the middle of summer, with hard ground and hot weather likely, brings it’s own complications.

Fly masks are another highly recommended product, keeping flies out of their eyes and ears, and some of the slightly more expensive fly masks go down as far as their nose, preventing sunburn and fly irritation. This makes horses so much more comfortable, plus can reduce the risk of eye infection, or problems related to them rubbing their eyes. 

Has anyone ever had problems putting their horses’ bridle on in the summer because they become really sensitive around the ears? It’s probably because of the midges. Itch stop cream is great for keeping midges out of the ears and keeping irritation at a minimum.

Squirrel all ready to face the flies!
(Minus fly mask for photo)
There are many different features of fly rug and fly mask to suit all kinds of budget. I’ve had my weatherbeeta fly rugs and Roma fly masks for 6 years and despite a few rips they look as good as new. There are no faults with weatherbeeta, but if I was to buy again, I would buy premier equine fly rugs, and probably their masks as well; they do a  lot of research and have pretty advanced technology. The fly masks are huge around the eyes, but have two chin straps, meaning you don’t need to squash the horses’ eyes, causing rubbing, to keep them on. They also go down over the nose.

Fly rugs are handy because they are breathable, you can turn a horse out wearing one that you’ve just washed off; putting a wet horse out in scorching sun can cause it’s skin to burn, particularly thin coated or sensitive horses.


The other benefit of fly rugs is keeping coat colour and shine. Unfortunately for horses who need to look nice all year round, they spend a lot of time wearing rugs. Black horses go lighter or orange if exposed to sunlight, so to keep a dark coat very dark, fly rugs are great to keep the sunlight off without the horse getting too hot. Sadly to keep a fine, shiny coat, they need to be kept slightly too hot all the time (although not so they are sweating.)  It depends on what you compete in and your preferences.
Jungle enjoying the September sunshine...
His spring dapples have gone but he stays shiny

My black stallion stayed pretty black when exposed in sunlight apart from getting yellow dapples on his tummy, which we really liked so we just left him in the sun. However, poor Tiny has to be rugged up nose to tail all the time when she’s in the sun to keep her coat really black. Squirrel gets blonde highlights and goes almost palomino in spring and deep chestnut in winter, so we leave him without rugs (but with fly mask) whenever it’s hot and sunny.

Waterproof Rugs

It is vital to have a lightweight and medium weight turnout rug, as summer can throw all sorts of strange weather. Sometimes it can rain so persistently that you can find yourself with a soaked through lightweight turnout rug and nothing else to put on while that’s drying. Even in the middle of summer, the last few years have been so cold and wet, that overnight my horses’ have worn their winter heavyweights with necks, and not been too hot.

Former ride Rigo prepares for another wet summer!


Tiny drying after her pre-Badminton bath
Quite often it’s nice to think that you won’t need any rugs during the day, but quite often a fleece or lightweight stable rug ends up being needed.

It can be useful to have a sweat rug, for those days that aren’t that cold, but just something to cover their backs when it’s not that warm either.

Overnight, quite often just a fleece or lightweight stable rug will do, but again the weather can be so changeable, often a heavier stable rug can be required, particularly if trying to keep the horses a bit too warm to keep their coats nice.



Again turnout, weather and coat dependent – my horses tend to be pretty heavily rugged up, plus they go out for long periods of time every day (with hay), so need to be kept warm.

In the middle of winter on a very cold/snowy day when my horses are fully clipped, Tiny, who I would consider to be a ‘hot horse’, would wear a fleece, thick stable rug with neck, thick stable rug and heavyweight turn out rug with neck.

Tiny thinks the snow is the best fun ever!

Leo, who really struggles with the cold, would wear 2 fleeces, a lightweight stable rug, a heavyweight stable rug with neck, a heavyweight stable rug without neck and a heavyweight turnout rug with neck.


Last winter he got very cold and ended up also wearing his bandages in the field. This is not really advisable as a horse can panic if a bandage starts to unravel, and obviously this is really dangerous if it starts to gallop round the field with half an unrolled bandage following it. So, if you are going to do this, make sure you’re on the yard and can see the field that horse is in the whole time that it’s out with bandages on, make sure the Velcro is well taped, and make sure you know the horses’ character, and consider whether or not to leave a headcollar on in case you may need to catch it quickly.

All my horses’ are used to being turned out in individual paddocks, but led out in a group of 3 or 4 (again only advisable with well-behaved horses who you know and they don’t kick), so they are used to having to wait while I put the other one in the field, meaning they learn how to deal with treading on their ropes and not panicking etc, so I know Leo is unlikely to react to a loose bandage.

I turn them out like this for a number of reasons; obviously with co-operative horses this is extremely time saving if you have a long walk to your fields, but don’t want to turn horses out together; but also I think if you can teach them to get used to being loose with a rope,

1st - if you fall off their first reaction is just to graze and they are very easy to catch (tried and tested), and
2nd - if for any reason they get loose at a competition or if you fall of while riding, and they tread on their rein, they are used to the feeling of just moving their feet to remove the pressure, rather than just panicking and pulling their head up, either breaking a very expensive rein, or if it doesn’t break, dealing with what can be a very nasty injury, which can be as bad as a broken jaw.

Not everyone agrees with this theory but I have most of my horses from a young age and know their characters well.

Anyway, back to rugs!

Obviously regularly check the temperature and feel under your horse’s rugs regularly and work between the amount of summer and winter rugs depending on the weather, type of horse and type of clip.

With a non clipped, roughed off horse, no rug or just a medium weight turnout should do for the whole winter, particularly with native breeds. Saying that, it is advisable to have more than one rug if the horse wears one all the time just in case it gets soaked through and needs to be changed. Squirrel had the winter off and despite being a dressage poof who’s used to living in, he survived a hard winter in a field very fat and fluffy with just a medium weight with neck.

Squirrel and Pig enjoy the snow at home
Clipped or not clipped, if it’s snowing and the horse is kept warm all the time, I really like to turn them out for a bit with no rugs on to have a nice roll and play in the snow. Obviously don’t do this with a horse that’s difficult to catch as it could get very cold! I’d leave them for a maximum of 5/10 minutes just to have a roll and a play. They love this when they spend their whole time with rugs on.


Everybody does this differently too; personally I keep the same rugs on in the stable as they have on in the field (but they come off once to be ridden and a second time for their groom in the afternoon/evening.) It’s not advisable to leave the same set of rugs on all the time in the field or the stable and even if they are not in work or not being groomed they should be taken off and put back on at least once a day to prevent rubbing and irritation.

The reason mine live with the same rugs on is because:

·         This way a turnout rug that is wet on the outside  is dried out (if you take it off but have nowhere to dry it out, the moisture can seep through to the inside and you can end up with a damp cold rug to put on your horse.) This means you don’t need a second heavyweight turnout rug if the horse comes in every night as it will always be dry by the time you turn it back out again.

·         It saves lots of time in the morning; the horses can just be fed and turned out.

·         I always think that overnight out of the wind in the stable is usually roughly the same temperature as during the day out in the wind in the field, so as there is no necessity to change the number of rugs/warmth level, why change the turnout rug, which is only the top rug anyway to a different top rug; adding more unnecessary work and costing more money as each horse would then need an extra stable rug.

If it gets really cold, an old-fashioned whitney blanket can provide a lot of warmth, as can ‘thermatex ears’, which are good for regulating temperature.

Rambo have invented a ‘combo’ rug, which is a turnout rug with a detachable neck, and also a detachable lining, which means the rug can be made warmer or colder as and when necessary without the horse wearing two or three separate rugs.

A few things to consider

Gets quite cold at Boomerang sometimes!
Look at your horse's weight - if it's fat it won't need so many layers to provide warmth, plus being a little bit cold will help it to lose weight. If it's skinny, then keep it as warm as possible without overheating it so that as little energy as possible can be wasted on keeping warm.

Take your barn/stable into consideration, as well as your clip and type of rugs. For example, my current yard at Boomerang is quite drafty, so although I strongly believe this is fantastic for the horses' health, we need to keep them well rugged. However, they are brilliantly cool in the summer. 

Last winter, Squirrel was in a very warm stable, which although well ventilated, was not drafty. Combined with his trace clip and the warmth that a heavyweight Rambo stable rug provides, he spent most of a cold winter just in that stable rug. 

Play around with different rugs directly on the skin - I like to have a fleece directly on their skin, but sometimes a well designed stable rug will be warmer. 

Squirrel in his warm stable wearing just one rug

Exercise Sheets

I always like to have two types of exercise sheet in my yard, one removable waterproof exercise sheet and one under-the-saddle fleecy one, either a material like Bijou make, or a newmarket fleece. (If you have more than one horse I would recommend a few of each for hacking days in the torrential rain, and so they can be washed regularly). 

The waterproof one can be thin or fleece lined. Personally I don't see the point in just a waterproof sheet, as if it's not cold enough to use a fleece, it probably isn't cold enough to worry about the horse getting wet. 

The fleece is great for the drier cold days or for the absolutely freezing days when you can put the fleece under the waterproof exercise sheet. 
Acco has a play in the snow
(Not reccomended, we did this for picture purpose only!)

I don't put a fillet string on the fleece exercise sheet; as it is not removable; you can pull it up/forward and sit on it if it gets too hot if there is no fillet string stopping you from doing that. It is unlikely you would use this fleece on it's own on a wet and windy day so therefore it is unlikely to blow up and frighten the horse.

I would however ensure there is a fillet string on the waterproof sheet. The removable sheet can be taken off if it gets too hot to need it, plus if you are on a very windy hack miles from home, at least it won't blow right up all over the place and potentially cause an accident. 

Competing and Travelling - winter and summer

After spending ages bathing and plaiting them, make sure you have something to cover it with! I always bandage down over socks, if they are short socks, as long as the bandage isn't too tight round the tendon, you can bandage just the area of the sock, so for example from the middle over the cannon bone down over the hoof.

I would also strongly recommend a 'horse hoodie' to keep the plaits clean and straight. Not all horses like these and it can make them rub, but for the majority they are life savers! Also, stains can make their way through these, so just to be sure (and if it's not too hot) a turnout rug with a neck is a must-have as well or instead as a cheaper alternative.

Sometimes these hoods can get quite tight round the eyes, but just tie the middle bit closer together with string and it won't rub the eyes.

Squirrel all bathed and ready to go -
above and below

For travelling, again horse (temperament and temperature) and weather dependent - Leo in winter would travel in 2 fleeces and a stable rug, Tiny (in winter) in a thin sheet - this is just because they cope with temperature differently, but also Leo is really laid back mentally and although Tiny stands on the lorry impeccably, she is very excited about what's coming next so she gets too hot with too many rugs.

Squirrel, JP and King at Twesledown
Most of the time, a sheet or thin fleece will do, occasionally 2 if it's cold, and in the summer, often no rug is fine. Horses have to work quite hard to stand travelling and there is lots of body warmth in a small space so they should wear less than they would in the stable but it is important to still keep their muscles warm. 

Take extra rugs in case it rains while you are waiting around outside, or in case you break down or are waiting (stationary) at the show for a long time. We had an incident once which meant the horse had to stay at the competition overnight and it was snowing, but luckily I had brought all his night rugs and bandages.


Summer RugsField

·         Fly Rug
·         Fly Mask
·         Lightweight turnout
·        Medium weight turnout


·         Fleece/Sheet
·         Sweat rug
·         Light weight stable rug
·         Medium weight stable rug

Winter RugsFieldFluffy horses living out

·         Medium weight turnout rug/maybe with detachable neck
·         Heavyweight stable rug/with detachable neck

Clipped horses being turned out

·         Fleece
·         Lightweight stable rug
·         Medium weight stable rug
·         Heavyweight stable rug with neck
·         Heavyweight stable rug
·         Medium weight turnout rug with detachable neck
·         Heavyweight turnout rug with neck
·         Not all these are needed at the same time but are useful under rugs and cheaper than buying loads of separate turnout rugs. Depends on the type of horse and type of clip.

Stable (clipped horses)

·         Fleece
·         Lightweight stable rug
·         Medium weight stable rug/with or without neck
·         Heavyweight stable rug with neck
·         Heavyweight stable rug

·         Turnout rugs are fine in the stable if you need extra rugs but don’t want to buy any more stable rugs

No comments:

Post a Comment