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Horse rugging guide: What horse rug size, weight and type do you need?

Guide to Rugging Horses

Whether you’re a new horse owner or a seasoned professional, choosing the right rug for your horse can be a minefield! Horse rug styles, fabrics and weights have all advanced considerably in the last twenty years and the amount of choices now available can be quite confusing. Our horse rugging guide is here to help! Below we’ll outline all the different styles of horse rugs, when you should use them and how to find the perfect fit for your horse. We’ll be covering:

What are horse rugs used for?

Horse rugs have grown in popularity considerably over recent years thanks to advances in technology that make them lightweight, comfortable and a secure fit. Horse rugs come in a large variety of styles, all designed to protect your horse, whether this is from the rain, cold, mud, dirt or flies!

You’ll most likely find you need a number of different rugs to see you through the year and the changing weather conditions, as well as any changes to your competition or travel schedules. The correct horse rug will not only provide protection from varying weather and external conditions but also help to regulate your horses body temperature and keep them in a healthy condition.

When to rug a horse

When to rug a horse

There are lots of things to consider when deciding if your horse requires a rug, and the type of horse rug that would be most appropriate for them. Some people argue that in the wild horses don’t require rugs and therefore domestic horses shouldn’t either. In some cases this is true, however there are a number of reasons why this isn’t always the case.

A horse’s internal body temperature should remain consistent at around 38ºc. There are certain things, particularly in the domesticated horse’s routine, that can have an impact upon internal body temperature:

  • Turning your horse out: Depending on the weather conditions, time of year and the availability of shelter turning a horse out can alter their internal body temperature. Some breeds have very fine skin making them more prone to feeling the wet and cold and are therefore more likely to appreciate being rugged than some hardy breeds. Some horses suffer considerably from insect bites when turned out and a fly rug can be used to keep flies at bay, keeping your horse or pony more comfortable throughout the summer.
  • Stabling your horse: A stabled horse has less space to move and therefore can’t generate as much body heat by moving around. Stables should always be well ventilated to keep your horse healthy but in winter this can mean cooler air causing a draught and a rug may therefore be required for comfort.
  • Washing your horse: Whether you’re washing your horse in preparation for competition or cooling them down after exercise you will be stripping your horse’s coat of its natural water-repelling oils. Whilst your horse is wet a wicking rug should be used to help regulate the horse’s temperature as it dries.
  • Clipping your horse: Horses that are exercised throughout the winter are often clipped. Clipping reduces the horse’s natural insulation and a horse rug is used to compensate for this, keeping your horse cosy when not being ridden.
  • Riding your horse: Just like humans, horses warm up whilst being ridden and depending on the external temperatures it can take a long time for your horse to cool down comfortably after exercise. Wicking rugs are perfect for use after exercise as well as after bathing to help absorb any excess sweat.
  • Horses age: Wild horses don’t live as long as domesticated horses. As your horse ages they will likely require additional warmth to keep them happy and healthy, and a cosy horse rug is the perfect way to achieve this.

Every horse is different so deciding when to rug a horse requires knowledge of your horse as well as an awareness of environmental factors. Just because you’re feeling hot after filling hay nets and mucking out doesn’t mean the ambient temperature and therefore your horse is hot as well! Before rugging horses we recommend considering the environment the horse is in, the horse’s exercise routine and finally the age, breed and condition of the horse. Also bear in mind that what is correct for one horse may not also be the best option for your other horse.

What rugs do horses need? 

Once you’ve decided your horse needs a rug, the next decision is the type of horse rug that will best suit their needs. Below is a quick, handy guide to horse rugging that covers the main types of horse rugs as well as some of the different fabric and weight options.

Horse Rugging Guide

Turnout Rugs

Turnout rugs are designed to keep your horse dry and comfortable whilst out in the field. They usually feature a waterproof outer layer with a smooth polyester inner and can be padded for additional warmth in winter.

Horse turnout rugs are sold in three main weights that refer to the insulating property of the rug as opposed to the physical weight of the rug. Lightweight turnout rugs usually have no fill in them at all making them the perfect choice for wet summer months. A rug with 150g -250g fill is classed as a mediumweight turnout rug and this is generally a great choice for spring and autumn. Turnout rugs 300g and over are referred to as heavyweight turnout rugs and are only really necessary in very cold or snowy conditions.

When deciding which weight of turnout rug to put on your horse you should consider not just the ambient temperature but also the horse’s environment and physiology. Assess how exposed the field is and how much shelter there is (natural or in the form of a field shelter) alongside your horse’s natural coat type, age and whether or not they are clipped. You should also consider whether you require a neck cover for extra protection. Turnout rugs are available with a standard neckline, an integrated neck, a detachable neck and a half neck (or wug). Detachable necks are often a great solution as you can add or remove the neck cover in accordance with the weather conditions.

Horse Rugging Guide: Turnout Rugs

Technological innovations in turnout rugs no longer mean they are heavy and bulky. A heavyweight turnout rug may not feel overly thick but it will made from fill that offers a better weight to warmth ratio than some cheaper horse rugs. This means your horse gets all the warmth they need without the bulk, keeping them comfortable and free to move around uninhibited.

As well as differences in weight, turnout rugs also come in a range of outer fabric types that impact upon how waterproof, breathable and easy to tear they are! The majority of introductory price turnout rugs are made from 600 denier polyester, as the denier increases, for example to 900D or 1200D, the stronger the rug outer is. Some turnout rugs are made from nylon which is favoured over polyester for its strength and many also feature ripstop technology. If you have a horse that is prone to tearing their rugs in the field it can be tempting to opt for the cheapest rug possible so you haven’t spent too much if they break it. This is often counter-intuitive though as these tear much more easily and in the long run can be considerably more costly. We would recommend a stronger denier rug and one with ripstop so any tears or holes can be repaired.

At Houghton Country we stock a huge range of turnout rugs, many of which can be seen on display if you choose to visit our store. Our extensive range includes Horseware turnout rugs, Shires turnout rugs, Weatherbeeta turnout rugs and of course pony turnout rugs so we’re sure you’ll find exactly what your horse needs.

Stable Rugs

Horse Rugging Guide: Stable Rugs

A well-ventilated stable can be a little chilly in the winter. If your horse is getting older or is clipped they may appreciate a cosy stable rug to keep them comfortable whilst stabled. Stable rugs are designed to provide additional warmth and therefore feature warm, insulating fill to fight the chill whilst remaining breathable for comfort and temperature regulation. Horse stable rugs do not feature a waterproof outer so shouldn’t be used as turnout rugs. Many feature a hard-wearing outer for durability but some are more akin to a sleeping bag feel!

As with turnout rugs, stable rugs for horses are available in different weights. Lightweight stable rugs are usually around 100g and best suited to milder weather or hardy types in colder conditions. Mediumweight stable rugs hover around the 150g-250g fill level and heavyweight stable rugs can go all the way up to an incredibly cosy 550g! It’s important to always ensure you pick the correct fill for your horse. Whilst a super heavyweight rug may look incredibly cosy your horse could easily overheat and these are often only needed by fine skinned horses or clipped horses in very cold weather.

Some owners use stable rugs to add additional weight to their turnout rug, however, we don’t recommend this as if the rug slips it could cause discomfort and rubbing. It’s much better to select an appropriate weight rug for the conditions or use a rug liner designed specifically for your brand or style of rug. These attach into an outer rug at various points and therefore avoid the issues arising from rugs slipping.

Browse our comprehensive range of stable rugs online or instore to ensure your horse is cosy and comfortable all winter long.

Fly Rugs

Horse Rugging Guide: Fly Rugs

Flies can be a real menace in the summer months, and can lead to serious health conditions if your horse is prone to sweet itch. There are a huge range of products available to assist in keeping flies at bay, including fly repellents and fly masks, and many owners find that fly rugs are a great way to keep their horse comfortable whilst out in the field.

Fly rugs or fly sheets as they are often called, are made from a fine mesh fabric designed specifically to provide protection against flies and other biting insects. They are lightweight, breathable and cool ensuring they’re perfect for hot summer days. Fly rugs for horses are available in a wide range of styles but most feature either an integrated or detachable neck to provide as much coverage and protection as possible. Some, particularly sweet itch rugs, also feature belly wraps and extended tail flaps as well as an extended neck cover that reaches up and over the ears.

As well as providing protection from pesky flies and insects, many horse fly rugs also offer a degree of protection from UV rays. This is particularly helpful if your horse has light or thin skin, or alternatively it can prevent bleaching of the coat in darker skinned horses ensuring they always look at their best in the show ring. Some fly sheets also feature a waterproof top layer over the horses back to provide your horse some protection from summer showers, perfect for the changeable British weather!

Technology in fly rugs is advancing all the time. Have you ever seen a horse in a field dressed in zebra stripes? Well, there’s actually a scientific explanation for this! Zebra’s aren’t bothered by flies in the same way that horses are as the stripes reportedly confuse them and they don’t know where to land. Fly rugs that feature a zebra stripe or other elaborate patterns are therefore designed with this in mind to keep the flies at a distance. The other significant advancement in fly sheet technology has been the impregnation of fly repellents in the mesh fabric. This not only cuts down of fly repellent usage but is also great if your horse isn’t keen on standing still when spray bottles are around!

At Houghton Country we stock a large selection of fly rugs to help your horse get through the summer months in comfort. Our range includes sweet itch rugs for horses as well as pony fly rugs and we also do a range of colourful fly hoods for use whilst riding to ensure your horse’s ears aren’t bothered by flies.

Fleece Rugs and Coolers

Horse Rugging Guide: Fleece Rugs and Coolers

Horse coolers and fleece rugs are highly absorbent rugs designed to wick moisture away from the horses skin, helping to keep the coat dry and preventing your horse or pony from catching a chill. They are perfect for use after exercise if your horse is sweaty as they allow the horse to cool down gradually. They’re also perfect to assist in drying your horse after a bath or to use as a travel rug for competitions.

Horse cooler rugs are made from a huge range of fabrics so you may find you need a few styles to cover you for all eventualities! Mesh coolers are particularly useful in the summer months and perfect after a bath as they spread the moisture over a larger surface area thereby reducing drying time. The fibres in mesh coolers are specially designed to avoid hair and debris getting trapped so they always perform at their best. Some mesh rugs feature a fleece or jersey section over the horses back to help keep the horse warm. The majority of heat is lost directly along the horses back and loins so these areas can remain warm whilst the sweat and moisture is still being wicked away from the horses sides.

Horse fleece rugs are a great option for wicking moisture away all year round as they’re cosy yet effective at moving sweat away from the horse’s skin. They also make a great option for travel rugs. Jersey cooler rugs are a variation of fleece rug that are fleece on the inside but smooth on the outside to help prevent shavings and debris sticking to the rug.

Our range of horse fleece rugs and coolers features all styles and fabrics so you’re sure to find the perfect option for your horse. If you’re looking at the best rug option to use before and after exercise it’s also worth looking at our range of magnetic horse rugs and boots that assist recovery of muscles after strenuous exercise, as well as provide targeted support for a range of health conditions.

Exercise Sheets

Horse Rugging Guide: Exercise Sheets

If your horse’s wardrobe is starting to look a little full don’t panic – there’s only one category of horse rugs left and that’s rugs designed for use whilst exercising. Exercise sheets come in a variety of styles, some that just cover the hind quarters and others that fasten over the withers with a cut-away section for the saddle.

Exercise sheets for horses serve a number of different functions. Some exercise rugs are waterproof to provide protection if riding in the rain, others are made from fleece to help keep your horse warm in colder weather, whilst hi viz exercise sheets are made from high visibility or reflective fabric to keep you visible when riding on the roads.

Our range of horse exercise sheets and rugs at Houghton Country includes all of these styles so no matter what the conditions you’re riding in you’ll always be safe and protected.

Pony Rugs

All the styles we have mentioned above are also available as pony rugs. When looking for pony turnout rugs or pony stable rugs we recommend looking to see if the rug is available in a full run of sizes (to fit horses as well) or just in pony sizes. Some rugs are just smaller versions of horse rugs whilst others are designed specifically for ponies and therefore a different cut. If you have a chunky little pony or are looking for Shetland pony rugs for example you may find a better fit is obtained by a rug using a specific pony cut.

At Houghton Country we know ponies are very much part of the family so we’ve hand selected a range of pony rugs covering a large variety of styles so your pony can be warm, dry and comfortable throughout the year.

Rug Liners

The use of horse rug liners has grown in popularity considerably in the last few years. Rug liner systems allow you to buy the best outer rug you can afford (whether a turnout rug or stable rug), usually with little or no fill that you can then use year round through the addition of a liner. This system avoids the need for multiple weights of rug as you simply swap out the liner instead.

Liners avoid issues with slipping and rucking by attaching around the neckline of the outer rug and often clipping in to the rear of the outer rug as well. Liners are available in a variety of weights from 100g up to 400g so your lightweight outer rug easily becomes a mediumweight or heavyweight rug as conditions require. Liners are also much easier to wash, many can be popped into a washing machine so your horse can remain clean and comfortable under their rug.

We stock a range of horse rug liners and we recommend checking the description of outer rugs to see if they are liner compatible when making a rug purchase. It’s important to use the correct brand of liner with an outer rug as they may use different fixings or have fixings at a different position between brands.

Horse Hoods and Vests

Many horse rugs either come with a neck cover or feature fixing points to attach a neck. Neck covers are available to purchase separately as well so you can gain maximum versatility from your rug. Our range of horse rug necks, bibs and hoods also includes lycra hoods a shoulders that serve to both keep your horse clean and prevent rubbing on thin skinned horses.

Rug Accessories

Once you’ve picked the perfect rugs for your horse it’s essential to ensure you look after them. Our ranger of horse rug accessories includes everything you need to keep your rugs in great condition so they’ll last you for years to come. Our rug wash, re-proofers and repair kits will ensure your rugs always perform as they were intended. We also have spare surcingles, tail cords and leg straps to replace any bits that go missing. To keep your rugs in good repair and ensure they dry properly we also advise the use of a rug rack to store your rugs.

How to measure a horse for a rug

Points of the Horse

Once you’ve decided on the rug you need the next step is to ensure you buy the correct fit. In the UK we measure and sell rugs by body length in feet and inches. Use a tape measure and measure from the center of the horse’s chest to the end of the rump where you expect the rug to finish. This will give you a good indication of the size rug you need. If your horse is between sizes it’s generally better to go up a size rather than down to ensure the rug isn’t too tight, unless your horse is particularly narrow chested. Some European rug brands size their rugs in cm and take the measurement along the horses back. In this case measure from the withers to the top of the tail to find the best size option.

Every brand of rug is different. Measuring your horse (or laying an existing rug flat to measure) is a good indication of size but changes in the cut of rugs between brands can make a difference, a little like shopping for shoes for yourself. It’s important to also take into account the build and shape of your horse. A wider, chunkier horse with plenty of shoulder may need to go up a size to ensure plenty of room, whilst a narrow chested horse may find a slightly smaller size is more suitable.

How to fit a horse rug correctly

Correctly fitting horse rug

A badly fitting rug could slip, cause discomfort or even injure your horse, so it’s important to check the fit of any rug you purchase, even if it’s the size your horse usually wears. When you first try a rug on leave all the tags on (ensure they won’t flap and scare your horse) and try the rug on over a clean bedsheet or summer sheet to avoid it getting dirty. Once you are happy with the fit you can remove all the tags.

Fitting a horse rug

You can check the fit of your new horse rug in 5 easy steps:

  • Step 1 – Check the front: The rug should fit comfortably around the shoulders sitting around 2-4” in front of the withers. Ensure there are no signs of unnecessary pressure or rubbing around the withers. You should be able to fit your hand down the front of the rug, if there is not space to do this the rug is too tight and may inhibit movement.

  • Step 2 – Check the back: A correctly fitting rug should reach to the top of the horses tail. If the rug doesn’t reach to the tail it is too short, alternatively if it hangs down the tail it is too long and could cause injury. The length of the rug is particularly important if it’s a turnout rug, and the rug should still reach the top of the tail when the horses head is down and grazing. If it does not it won’t provide the full protection from the wind and rain your horse requires.
  • Step 3 – Check the surcingles: Most rugs feature cross surcingles, meaning the front surcingle on one side attaches to the rear fixing on the opposite side creating a cross under the horses belly. Some fly rugs feature three straight surcingles and some coolers just a single surcingle. Surcingles should be fastened to give a hands width between the strap and the horses belly. Surcingles that are too long could cause your horses legs to become trapped, whilst surcingles that are too tight could cause rubbing or restrict your horses ability to lie down or roll.

  • Step 4 – Check the leg straps (where applicable): Not all rugs feature leg straps, in fact the majority of rugs are now sold with just a fillet strap to keep the rug down at the back. If your new rug does feature leg straps it’s important they are fitted correctly with a hands width between the strap and the horses leg. Wrap the first strap around the horses leg and clip in. The second strap should loop inside the first strap and around the second leg to create a figure of eight shape.
  • Step 5 – Check the tail fillet string: If your rug has a fillet string ensure it’s fastened securely and the correct length for your horse. It should fit comfortably under the tail without creating a loop that could cause injury whilst also not being pulled taught. A correctly fitted fillet string stops a rug from flapping up in the wind and helps to keep the rug in place when your horse lies down or rolls.

We hope you’ve found this rugging guide useful, and it’s given you an idea of where to start when looking at our comprehensive range of horse rugs. Don’t forget other members of the household may benefit from a rug too! Our range of dog coats and rugs are great for keeping your dog warm, dry and comfortable.

If you’d like additional advice on which rug is best for your horse or further information on choosing the right size rug please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our knowledgeable team by calling 01661 853110.