Cob, welsh pony, thoroughbred, warmblood? If you have a thin-skinned thoroughbred, they may well need a thicker, heavyweight rug. If you have a pony that is one of the native breeds eg Welsh, Dales or an Irish cob, then they will have already grown themselves an excellent coat and are unlikely to need more than a thin lightweight rug.
It stands to reason that an elderly horse may need a thicker rug than a young one as it can less easily afford the energy needed to keep warm. Start rugging an older horse earlier in the Winter so that they don’t lose weight.
If you have your horse or pony in busy work, hunting or preparing for the next season competing then you will likely have given your horse a clip. If your horse is fully clipped, then it will need a thick horse rug. If it has just a trace or chaser clip, then it will have most of its back hair and will need just a thinner rug. If your horse isn’t clipped at all, it may not need to wear a rug in the stable.
If your horse is living out all winter in the driving rain and snow, then it is likely it will need a thick New Zealand rug. If it is out for a few hours then in at night and is clipped, it may need a fairly thick rug. If it is unclipped and stabled at night, it may not need a rug at all.
This is where it gets interesting. If the temperature has dropped, then everyone on your yard is likely dragging out the heavyweight rugs and layering for all they’re worth. But bear in mind, that the horse has a wider thermoneutral zone than us. It’s only when temperatures drop below 0 degrees that a horse will feel cold. They feel hot when the temp is 25 degrees. Between those temperatures is their thermoneutral zone. So only pull out the heavyweight rugs when the temperatures get below zero.
We don’t mean to be personal but the weight your horse is carrying will affect its rugging. Your horse uses energy to keep warm, so if your horse is thin, they will need a thicker rug. If they are carrying plenty of condition, use a thinner rug. If you put too many rugs on your horse, they won’t use as much energy so may put on weight. If you are happy with this, rug away. If you have a tubby pony, then be wary of over rugging.
You can judge this by putting your hand inside the rug behind the withers. Don’t use the ears as a judge. Contrary to tradition, they aren’t a good guide. If your horse feels feel warm, fine. If your horse feels cold, consider adding another rug. If they feel damp, they may be too hot, so consider swapping to a lighter weight rug.
So there we have it. Wait until the temperatures drop to 5 to 10 degrees before considering rugging at all, dependent on the breed, age and lifestyle of your horse. You can now use your finer judgement to put the right rug on your horse at the right time and impress the yard with your new found knowledge.