So many people think nothing of running into the tack room to grab an extra thick rug when the temperature gets a little cooler, but is that the recommended course of action or not? Experts say that in actual fact, you could do with thinking things through a tiny bit more before you commit your horse to that extra layer.
Consider the following before you reach for a rug:
- Horses have a terrifically vast ‘thermoneutral zone’.
What this means is that horses don’t feel the cold until it is below 0°C and won’t start to feel too warm until in excess of 25°C. Anything in between is a comfortable temperature and won’t cause distress or discomfort.
- Eating regularly will generate body heat.
Your horse is capable of thermoregulation just by eating, as energy in food is converted into heat during the digestion process. As fibre ferments in the hindgut, a decent amount of body heat will be enjoyed.
- An extra rug can cause weight gain.
It sounds strange but it’s true! Staying warm requires a lot of energy, meaning that your horse’s metabolism will be working overtime, but throw a rug on them and all the excess energy that isn’t being used up will simple be stored as fat. Winter riding and exercising isn’t for everyone either, so it could be difficult to shift those excess pounds.
- Horses do not lose body heat the same way that we do.
Storing body heat for much longer than humans, horses are hardier than we tend to give them credit for. They will let you know when they are starting to feel the cold by actively seeking shelter or even shivering.
- Ear temperature is not a good enough guide.
A horse’s ears are an extremity, so of course they will feel cold on a chilly day! For a more realistic assessment, slide your hand under their existing rug, behind the withers. If the area feels cool to the touch, you can consider and extra layer or a thicker rug, but if you sense moisture, your horse could actually be too warm already.
- A good rule of thumb.
Essentially, you shouldn’t worry too much about popping a thick rug on your horse until the temperature drops to around 5-10°C. Exceptions to this can include young, old, thin or clipped horses, however.