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This winter – to rug or not to rug?

Did you know that the only 2 mammals capable of running for sustained distances are horses and human beings, as we are the only mammals that use sweat glands as the main way to regulate our body temperature. When you cover a horse with heavyweight duvet style rugs, you compromise his ability to regulate his own body temperature so you need to be very vigilant – on a warm and sunny winters day, make sure he can sweat and cool down or a rug can have a debilitating effect and your horse even lose weight! Traditionally, horses were only ‘clothed’ if they were clipped and in hard work, ill-health or elderly. Rugs as we know them today did not exist – horses were clothed in breathable materials such as woollen, cotton or jute blankets, with a roller to hold it in place.

Here at Thunderbrook, we don’t rug our horses – even in extreme cold weather (exceptions are the very elderly). If wintered outside, we provide shelter from the wind and rain, the ability to move about, and lots of organic hay. If wintered in a stable, ensure there are no cold draughts. At minus 15 degrees C, outdoors and with no rug, each horse may consume a whole small bale of hay per day, as fermentation of fibre in the hindgut provides body heat. Interestingly, we find at the end of a hard winter that the horses kept without rugs have far better skin and coat condition than those kept with rugs on. Glossy and clean as opposed to ‘stary’ and with scurf and grease. Did you know that the top 0.5mm of skin cells obtain their oxygen direct from the air and not from the blood circulating below. It is called cutaneous respiration. So the skin really does need to breath! To rug or not to rug? So what do you do?

This blog is part of an archived library.  These blogs were originally written from 2009 through to 2014, so some are over a decade old (apologies the exact dates have been lost on website updates).  Research and informed opinions are a constantly evolving stream of work, so there will always be updates required to any older blog post, research paper, etc.  For the latest information, please email info@thunderbrook.co.uk or telephone 01953 797050 for nutritional advice.  Thank you. 

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