Rug Wear

WordPress won’t let me reblog a post more than once … so I’m going to direct you to one of my earliest posts, which I think is important to bear in mind.

Whilst rug designs have come on in leaps and bound, so there is far less of a problem of badly fitting rugs causing rubs, horses are wearing rugs much, much more.

They used to wear rugs in the winter, then go without from spring through to autumn. Nowadays, horses wear rugs of varying weights autumn through to spring, then wear fly rugs or rain sheets throughout the summer.

Which of course is absolutely fine, and often a necessity for convenience, or to protect horses who are particularly irritated by flies. But wearing rugs constantly, however well fitting, can cause patches of hair or mane to disappear and the skin to become sore.

I recently noticed that one of the horses that I ride had the slightest pink patch on his withers, so we immediately removed his lightweight rug, and have left him naked for a week, despite rain forecast and despite flies coming out of the woodwork. I was really pleased today to see that his wither looks completely normal again, and hopefully a few more days with no pressure on that area and he’ll be fine.

And now, you can go and peruse my original post about fistulous withers !

Rugs Through The Ages

Probably the biggest change in the equine world in the last forty years – since the publication of my history book I blogged about last week – are rugs.

Today you can have a rug for any occasion – in the stable, in the field, to cool them down, to dry them off, to keep flies off, to travel – in three inch increments from miniature Shetland to ginormous Clydesdale and in every weight and denier you can imagine.

I won’t bore you with what’s currently on the market, you have Google for that, but let’s reminisce on the rugs of old.

In the old days there was one rug for each job, and if more warmth was required then an ordinary blanket was layered underneath. Of course few horses were clipped so many relied on their winter coats to keep warm.

Firstly, they had the renowned jute rugs. These were basically hessian rectangles which were put on stabled horses at night. You could also get them lined with wool for extra warmth. Jute rugs had a buckle at the chest, a fillet string under the tail, and were secured by a separate surcingle. There were only three size options; pony, cob and horse and the rugs were contoured for the withers and hindquarters.

In the daytime, you had the option of a wool rug – think of the traditional Newmarket rug – and was similar in cut to the jute rug with a separate surcingle, or cotton rug, called a summer sheet. This was more commonly seen at more affluent yards on freshly groomed horses.

Next up are waterproof rugs, aka New Zealand rugs. Akin to a canvas tent after a washout camping weekend, they were flared at the bottom to allow a greater range of movement. These were fastened by a leather buckle at the chest, two leather leg straps instead of a fillet string, and a surcingle which passed through a slit in the rug by the girth to prevent the rug gathering and restricting the forelegs.

Although these rugs were padded at the wither to stop chafing there must have been a high incidence of rug rubs and fistulous withers because the materials were coarse and the sizes limited to three basic ones.

Nowadays, rugs come in three inch increments, and have benefitted from technological advances in materials and manufacturing and design techniques. There are various styles to suit all shapes and sizes of equine and rugs come in all thicknesses to accommodate all aspects of the UK weather and all hardiness of horses.

Yard Storage

Is spring finally here? Until tomorrow it seems anyway. The last couple of days have been sunny and warm. The mud in the field has dried so that it’s like being in quicksand and you have to pull your foot up slowly, toes curled up, so that your welly is sucked out of the mud and you aren’t left with a soggy sock.

Anyway, yesterday one of the liveries was having a spring clean. All her rugs were out as she was putting lightweight rugs onto her horses and taking the thicker ones to be repaired and cleaned.

This prompted me that I’ve had a blog subject on my to-do list but never gotten around to doing it. And that is, storage of all your horsey gaff.

Most people don’t have a large garage or garden shed (a vacant one at least) in which to store their numerous rugs, spare boots, travelling equipment, body protectors etc, so they need some space at least at the yard. What options are available?

Most yards allow you to have a small storage box outside your stable, which is useful for everyday bits and bobs – grooming kits, riding hat, boots and whip for example. One stable Otis had had a corner cupboard which was incredibly useful and didn’t impinge on stable space either.

Then it’s a matter of storing rugs, feed, bedding, and the other less frequently used but still essential equine equipment. One yard I go to has a row of garden sheds. Each livery owner has their own shed. Obviously this takes up a lot of room, so would only be an option for bigger yards. However, in terms of security, it’s nice to know that your gear is under lock and key so won’t go walkabouts. I have to say it’s luxurious to have this much storage space.

Another yard I visit is an old farm which has been converted into a DIY livery yard. One building is used for storage. I think it must’ve housed pigs but it’s got a central walkway and low walled stone pens on each side, which is perfect for putting storage boxes in. Two or three liveries share each pen, which means each person’s stuff is kept fairly separate yet it’s all easily accessible. The only downside is that unless you can lock your storage box, things could be borrowed. But I like to think livery owners have all the paraphernalia they need so don’t need to borrow from others.

I’ve also seen large metal lorry containers put to good use. One yard has it as their tack room, and another has divided a container into lockers. Each wooden cupboard has two shelves and a door. I think this is a really good space saving solution, but it’s only really for essential every day items. With hindsight, with which everything can be improved, I think I would have larger lockers. Liveries can individually provide locks for their cupboard, but the container itself is pretty secure.

On a similar vein, I’ve seen part of a barn divided up like stalls, with wooden partitions, and each livery has their own area. This is more spacious than the container lockers but the security isn’t as good.

It’s hard to find the right balance of space and security for liveries, without becoming the equine equivalent of the Big Yellow Self Storage Company, especially when some people have far more rugs or tack than others. And for some people it is their only storage for horsey things because either they don’t have space in the garage, or their partner doesn’t want equestrian things taking over house space. I’m lucky in that my husband doesn’t really go into the garage … so he has no idea how much equine stuff is there. Not that he’d mind, of course.

I want to know, what storage solutions other yards have and how you, my readers rate each experience you’ve had.

The Rugging Conundrum

Is anyone else having a dilemma with rugs? Putting a rug on and then spending the rest of the day or night concerned that it was the wrong choice …

Apparently you`re not alone! I read an article in a magazine earlier this week about choosing rugs and changing them.

It is frustrating, I know that I`m starting the day in a coat and gloves but within an hour I`m coatless, and if I ride it`s almost t-shirt weather. Yet if I dare to start teaching without my coat I know I`ll be an ice cube after an hour. This time of year throws all sorts of weather and temperatures at us, and it is easy to obsess over it.

But do we make our lives more complicated than necessary?

Yes, we need to make sure that we put a suitable rug on so that the horses don`t boil or freeze, but horses can regulate themselves to a degree and modern rugs are breathable which means it is easier to keep a constant temperature under the rug, so we don`t need to change rugs as soon as the wind stops. 

Each day is different in terms of the weather, and knowing your horse helps so that you know what weather he is comfortable with and if he feels the cold or not, but it is very easy to be swayed by the rugs that our neighbour are putting on. But remember, they may have an elderly Thoroughbred, whereas you have a young, overweight cob – so stick to your guns!

The other problem we all have is changing the rugs night and day. Do we put a heavier rug on at night or not?
This is my theory: in the stable horses are out of the elements – rain and wind – but the external temperature is usually lower. I tend to feel that these factors balance each other out. However, horses cannot move around to warm up so it could be harder to generate heat. But then on the other end of stick if you have a row of stables together, or deep straw beds, or an internal barn, then these can create a warmer environment which could counterbalance the fact horses can`t move around to warm up. I think rugging decisions for the night need to take into account the position of the stable (on the end, or in the middle of the barn) as much as the weather forecast. Otis once had a stable that was below a flat. It was so warm at night as they had the heating on! When we were cold at work we used to huddle inside to get warm.

Continuing my theory. During the day in the field, the temperature is warmer but the horses are exposed to the elements. The horses are able to move around to keep warm and can utilise natural shelters, which to me helps rebalance things.

To me, all these factors balance themselves out which means that I don`t think we should worry about changing the weight of the rug night and day unless the weather is changing significantly – i.e. the first frost is due. Horses who live out, that have been turned away or whatever, will wear the same rug day and night, which means that they have to adjust their body temperature accordingly. A quick feel uner the rug should tell us if they are comfortable.

Back to this article that I read. The author made a valid point that if you bring your horse in in very cold weather then changing their day rug to a stable rug may not be conducive as you are removing a warm rug and replacing it with a cold one, so the horse needs to warm that rug up so uses up valuable energy – it`s like us taking off our coat and putting one on that`s been hanging up in the cold porch.
Anyway, I think us horse owners can make matters too complicated with regards to rugging; we can check to see if our horse is warm or cool, and then adapt according to the weather forecast (putting the neck on, for example), but keeping the same baseline level of rug should keep our peace of mind and we should remember that our horses can move around in the field to shelter or keep warm, and that a full row of stables is actually surprisingly warm. Additionally, modern rugs are breathable so horses should be able to thermoregulate more easily.

A Bit of Imagination 

This post is going to involve you using a bit of imagination. 

We were sat eating breakfast/brunch/elevenses/lunch (depending on what time you got up) around the kitchen table after having done the yard. As we drank tea and ate the bacon and runny-egg sandwiches conversation turned to the weather. And more importantly, how it was forever changing it’s mind.

For example, it’s sunny during the day so the horses need lighter rugs on, yet some days are worthy of a fly rug and others you need to cover poll to tail to prevent a wind chill. This obviously provides a problem for those with more than one horse.

My friend was complaining how she’d taken rugs off her two mares and within half an hour it was pouring with rain and she was running to the field to put them back on. Her sister meanwhile, bemoaned the fact it took so long to de rug and rug up those in her herd. Granted, you could say she was being selfish by having ten under her care, but I could see her point. It is time consuming.

Otis trots over to have his rug put back on in the evening, whilst Llani runs away from the rug carrying monster (I.e. Me) and wastes so much of my time he has just gone down to a lightweight and he will have to trot round to keep warm at night. Anyway, it’s a pain in the bum, this wardrobe changing malarkey.

Then one of us (not me because I have an appalling amount of inspirational imagination) suggested automatic rugs. Rugs that take themselves over to the horse, drape over and fasten the buckles.

Imagine the special effects in Bedknobs and Broomsticks (the floating nightie) and you’re almost there.

These rugs could be remote controlled and utilised in this frustrating change of season, but also on the yard when grooming and tacking up.

You can just imagine saying to the horse “ok I’ll take the tack back, you get dressed”… You would save so much time!

So in fits of giggles we let our imaginations run wild, and then another thought popped into our heads – think of the spookiest horse you know, and imagine their rug floating across the field … Then picture the carnage as the rug chases this horse around the paddock before mimicking a lion and pouncing onto their back.

It kept us amused for a few minutes!

But on a more serious note, what yard cheats would you have? A robot mucker outer for starters!