Guide To Horse Rugs

These days there’s a thousand and one (okay not literally) different types of rugs and blankets for horses but are they all needed or can you have just a few? When I bought my first horse buying a rug was pretty easy, I had a jute rug, a summer rug and an anti-sweat rug! I have to confess that back then I wasn’t exactly sure what was what so if I’d had more choice then I would have found it even more concussing. This is why I thought I’d write this article about rugs to try and help if you’re in the market for a new rug.

Does my horse really need a rug?

You don’t necessarily always need to rug your horse. When you do is largely dependant on the temperature and whether or not your horse is clipped and if he’s stabled or turned out. I’ve tried to explain it in more detail in the table below but as a general rule unclipped horses don’t need a rug a rug if the weather is 50 (or 10C) or higher and all horses need a rug if it’s colder than 14 (-10C). In between those temperatures your horse will need a range of different rugs depending on if he’s stabled or turned out and whether his coat has been clipped.

Temperature (F/C)Clipped & stabledClipped & turned outUnclipped & stabledUnclipped & stabled
Above 60 / 15Zero fill
50 to 60 / 10 to 15Light weight – zero to 100g fillNo rug or zero fillNo rug unless wet & windy then zero to 100g fill
40 to 50 / 5 to 10Medium weight – approx. 250gLight weight – approx 150gNo rug or light weight – approx 150gLight weight with neck cover – approx 150g
30 to 40 / 0 to 4Heavy weight – approx. 300gMedium weight – approx. 200gNo rug or light to medium weight – approx 150g to 250gMedium weight with neck cover – approx. 200g
30 to 15 / 0 to -10Heavy weight, with neck cover – 300g to 400gMedium weight with liner – approx. 200g to 300gLight or medium weight with neck cover – 150g to 300gHeavy weight, with neck cover and liner – 300g to 400g
Colder than 15 / -10Heavy weight, with neck cover and liner – approx 500gHeavy weight, with neck cover – 300g to 400gHeavy weight, with neck cover – approx 500gHeavy weight, with neck cover and liner – 300g to 500g

Is there a difference between rugs

Years ago a lot of people only had an all-purpose jute rug that they could use on its own or with blankets underneath if the weather turned cold. These days there’s a different rug for every season for the year but despite that most of these rugs do fall into one of eight categories:

Fly rugs are idea during the warmer months to keep insects at bay
  • Fly – Made from a lightweight mesh material these can be used during the summer months to give the horse some protection from insect bites during the hotter months.
  • Cooler – As the name suggested these are used to help cool your horse down exercise. They allow moisture to evaporate and the horse to cool down gradually. You can also use a cooler rug after you’ve washed your horse.
  • Exercise – Not essential, these are designed to keep your horse dry and warm while being ridden. They can be used under or over the saddle.
  • Fleece – Ideal as a travel rug fleece rugs are lightweight and can also be used as a light stable rug or as an under rug if the weather is exceptionally cold. Despite their ‘warm’ sounding name fleece rugs make a good substitute for a cooler rug. Fleece rugs are sometimes referred to as combo rugs.
  • Stable – Varying in weight and thickness stable rugs aren’t waterproof so should only be used while the horse is stabled.
  • Summer – Similar to the fleece rug, the summer rug is usually made from cotton and is extremely lightweight.
  • Sweet Itch – Similar to a mosquito net these rugs are made from an ultra fine mesh rug and greatly reduce a horse’s chance of being bitten by gnats, which is the main cause of sweet itch.
  • Turnout – As you would expect by their name these rugs, which come in a variety of different weights and thicknesses, are waterproof and are designed to keep your horse warm and dry while he’s turned out.

What size rug does my horse need?

Rugs come in every size, from foal to full grown Shire Horse

To make sure you get the right size rug for your horse you need to measure him (as a general rug are measured in centimetres, inches and feet). Where you measure him from though is dependant on where you are and where you’re buying the rug from. If you’re in the US, UK or Australia then you need to measure the horse at the bottom, from the centre of his chest to the rear. On the other hand you’re in Europe then you measure the horse from the top, starting at the withers and stopping at the tail.

How do I fit a horse rug?

A properly fitted rug should cover your horse’s entire body, it shouldn’t be too tight and nor should it slip about. If it’s too tight then it can rub and hurt your horse, while if it’s too loose then there’s a risk of it slipping and getting caught which could be very dangerous. When it comes to fitting a rug there are a few questions you should ask.

  • Can my horse move? – A well fitted rug should have enough room at the front to allow the straps/buckles to be fastened without pressing on his chest. To check this make sure that, after fastening it, you can comfortably get your hand inside the rug and around the shoulders and chest.
  • Does it sit well? – There should be between 2in and 4in of rug covering the withers, this will prevent any pressure being put on them. The back of the rug should also comfortably reach the tail, if it doesn’t then it won’t protect your horse from the elements properly.
  • Does it cover him properly? – You shouldn’t be able to see any of his stomach under the rug, if you can then he’ll be exposed to the elements. Also check that the surcingle fits correctly. Most surcingles can be adjusted so make sure you an easily fit your hand between your horse and the strap.
  • If you have a neck cover does it cover the neck? – This might sound like a really silly thing to say but make sure that it covers the whole neck, even while he’s eating. Also make sure that it’s not too tight as it’ll cause rubbing and soreness on the mane.

When putting a rug on your horse it’s better to position it higher than it is to position it lower. The reason for this is because if it’s too high you can pull it back until it’s in the right place. Whereas if you end up putting it on too low down then you’ll have to pull it upwards, this would also pull his fur up and over time become very uncomfortable. If you do find it’s too low you’d better off removing it and starting again.

Can I put my horse’s rug in the washing machine?

You may be surprised to know that while many rugs can’t be put in your washing machine at home some of them can. Most rugs or blankets will come with the manufactures cleaning instructions which will tell you if they can be machine washed or not. If they can then it’s important to follow the instructions they came with and the manufacture will have tested them thoroughly to make sure you get the most out of your rug. As a general rule though it tends to be the lighter ‘summer type’ blankets that can be machine washed.

How do I clean my horses rug?

When it comes to cleaning a rugs it’s pretty easy really. To start with you should remove all of the straps and anything else that can be removed, these can then be put in a washing machine although it’s advisable to put them inside a wash bag.

When it comes to cleaning the actual rug you can make it easier for yourself it’s best to lay the rug over a fence, this will save you having to bend so much. Next take a sturdy brush to remove all of the mud and dirt from the outside of the rug. After this turn the rug inside out and if you have a handheld vacuum you can go over the lining of the rug first. Don’t worry if you don’t just use a brush to remove all of the hair from it. Once you’ve brush as much of the dirt as you can from both sides you can then wash it.

After washing a water proof rug you’ll need to re-proof it

To wash your rug you’ll need to use a large bucket or bin filled with hot soapy water. Make sure you use non-bio washing powder though and add a little bit of detergent free soap to help protect the waterproof layer. Put the whole rug in the water and use a clean broom handle to mix the water and rug around before leaving it to soak for a little while. 

After around ten minutes remove the rug and lay it flat on the floor and, using a clean hard bristled brush (or a broom if its easier), remove any marks or stains that were left after washing. To dry the rug you can hang it on a rug rack or drier. If you don’t have a drier though you can put it back over the fence to let the air dry it.

If you don’t like the idea of cleaning the rug yourself or are worried about doing it don’t worry there are plenty of professional rug cleaners who would be more than happy to do it for you. If needed they will re-proof the rug for you and  will often carry out any minors too. Your local saddlery should be able to provide you so a few professional cleaners or if not a quick search online would give you the details of people near you.

What’s the best way to look after my horse’s rug?

If you look after your rug it’ll last you for many years, washing is of course one way to look after it but you should also look after it in-between washes. You should regularly check your rugs for signs of damage, this is especially important for turnout and exercises rugs. Make sure there’s no tears or holes in them. If you do find a small tear then you can either sew it up or if it’s a turnout rug glue a repair patch over it. If you use a repair patch always use around twice a much material as the hole, for example if you have a tear that’s an inch make sure you use a two inch piece of material. This will help it to stick better and will also offer better protection and it prevent the original hole from fraying. Don’t forget to also add waterproofing to the repair.

If your rug is wet then don’t put it away. This might sound like the most obvious thing to say but be honest have you ever thought to yourself ‘that’s almost dry, it’ll be okay’? I know that I certainly have, only to find mould on it when I come to use it again. I know it can look unsightly to have rugs hanging up but in the long run it’s better for the rug to make sure it’s dry.

How do I store my horse’s rug?

There’s no right or wrong way to store rugs, except to say they should be dry first! Everybody has a different solution for storing rugs but there are plenty of ‘off the shelf’ options.

  • Rug rack – Either free standing or wall hanging these can store multiple rugs out of the way while also allowing easy access to them when needed.
  • Storage bag or box – Storage bags and boxes are pretty much the same thing except the bag has a softer exterior while the box has a more rigid surrounding. These are designed to store a number of folded rugs. 
  • Vacuum bag – This option is my favourite, and I always us it to store my winter rugs in the summer and summer rugs in the winter. Put each rug is a separate a bag and then use a vacuum to remove all of the air. This has the double benefit of protecting the rugs from moths while removing the air shrinks the bags down and makes them even easier to store.

Jargon explained

When I had my first horse I was baffled by some of the names of various parts of the rug, things like ‘fillet string’ always made my laugh. Trouble was I didn’t want to look silly so didn’t ask what it was, which is why I thought it would helpful to explain some of the more unusual rug terminology.

A detachable fillet string courtesy of filletstrings.co.uk

  • Fillet string – Running under the horse’s tail the fillet string prevents the rug from blowing about when it’s really windy as well as helping to keep it in place while your horse is rolling.
  • Surcingle – This is the strap that runs underneath the horse to keep the rug in place.
  • Filling – Measured in grams, the higher the number the warmer the rug is.
  • Denier – Similar to tights this refers to the thickness of the rug. The higher the deer the tougher the fabric is. 
  • Rip-stop – This means that the material of the run runs in two directions which will help prevent any tears for spreading.
  • Waterproof – As you would expect this refers to the outer layer of the rug, over time the waterproof layer will finish and need to be re-proofed.
  • Breathable – This refers to the rugs ability to remove sweat and moisture wot wick away.
  • Taped seems – Waterproof taping is applied over the seams to prevent water getting in through the holes made by the needle when the seams are sown together.
  • Standard neck – Rugs with a standard neck stop at the horse’s withers and leave the neck uncovered.
  • High neck – Unlike a standard neck these go beyond the withers but cover the entire neck.
  • Detachable neck – This means that the rug can have a neck cover attached to it. Some rugs will come with a neck cover but others will have to be bought separately.

Conclusion

Some people argue that horses live out in the wild naturally without any problems and while that’s true in the wild they’re not ridden, clipped or stabled. So while wild horses don’t need a rug today’s domestic horse is far removed from their wild ancestors in lots of ways. That doesn’t mean you need to wrap them from head to toe in a rug all of the time though. Just remember they can’t deal with the elements in the way their wild counterparts can.

I hope you found this article helpful, if you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.