How to make sure your horse is cosy and comfortable this winter
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Make sure your horse is cosy and comfortable this Christmas, says Alison Bridge of Horse&Rider magazine, which is based in Grayshott
While it’s lovely to be snuggled up indoors during the festive season, most of us horsey folk aren’t happy unless we know our animals are equally snug, whether they’re in the stable or out in the field.
Most horses in Surrey live a part-time stabled life – out in the field during the day, in at night. Freezing wind with rain or snow is probably the most uncomfortable weather for horses, but it can get very chilly just standing in a stable when the temperatures are low.
Native ponies and horses grow amazingly thick coats that protect them from the worst of the weather. Some breeds, like little Shetlands, even have double coats, with thick hair underneath for insulation and longer hairs on top to channel rain away – nature’s layering system!
But most of us like to ride our horses in winter, so we clip their coats to keep them cool during exercise. Other horses may grow thinner coats, are older or less capable of coping with the cold. All of these will need rugs – if you aren’t a horse person, a horse rug is like a very large equivalent of a dog coat.
My horse Harry is clipped and lives outdoors all the time, wrapped up warm in a selection of padded rugs and neck covers to suit the temperature. I love seeing him when I first put them on, either new or dry-cleaned – he looks like a schoolboy in extra-large new clothes at the beginning of term.
Rugs can form a substantial part of a horse owner’s winter expenditure. While they are designed to withstand typically equine casual treatment – rolling in mud so they get absolutely filthy, getting them caught in brambles or on fence posts, biting their friends’ rugs and so on – some horses are rudely unappreciative and methodically wreck their lovely winter clothes. So for all horses, it’s worth making sure that their rugs fit well and are comfortable.
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Snug as a bug
To work out what size your horse needs, enlist a friend to help you measure where the rug will fit, from the front attachment in the middle of his chest to the end of his hindquarters.
Be aware that rug brands, like clothing brands, fit differently – some are a roomy Marks & Spencer fit, others a rather more slender Karen Millen cut. So consider your horse’s shape when choosing his rugs and speak to friends with similar horses to find out what brands are best suited. And when you buy a rug, ask the shop if you can bring it back if it doesn’t fit, then try it on him over the top of an old sheet or similar covering so it stays clean and exchangeable.
Rugs come in several different weights – it’s a bit like deciding on a duvet. If you just need a rain sheet or an unpadded turnout rug for mild weather, look for rugs with no filler. Then moving up the warmth scale, lightweight rugs for cool days have 100g of filling, middleweight rugs for chilly days have 200g, and heavyweight rugs for cold days and fully clipped horses have 300g of filling plus.
It can be very tempting to over-rug your horse but while some horses feel the cold more than others, over-rugging can make them uncomfortable. The best way to tell if your horse is the right temperature is to feel the base of his ears – they should be the same temperature as your body.
It’s also really important to keep your horse clean under his rug as he has it on for a long time – imagine keeping your waterproof outdoor coat on for hours or even days! Try mixing a little baby oil and lavender oil in some hot water, then wipe your horse with it, using an old flannel. This will lift the dirt and help keep his skin and coat supple, reducing rug rubs.
For more unmissable rugging tips, see Horse&Rider’s December issue or visit horseandrideruk.com. Careful choice and use will keep your horse comfortable, and make your rugs last longer.
A very merry – and cosy – Christmas to you and your horses!
Horse&Rider is the UK’s best selling monthly equestrian magazine (see horseandrideruk.com). For a special £10 discount on Horse&Rider subscriptions for Surrey Life readers, call 0844 499 1766 and quote SLHRS.