Horse Rugs

The following article provides an independent review of horse rugs, including:

  • 1.0 Types
  • 2.0 How to Choose
  • 3.0 Rug Care

 1.0 Types of Horse Rugs

 There are many different types of horse rugs, to serve a variety of purposes. Following is a summary of the main types and their function:

  • Fly Rug. The purpose of this is to protect the horse from flies that bite or sting. They are more commonly and accurately referred to as 'fly sheets' rather than 'fly rugs', as they are typically a thin plastic sheet or mesh, rather than a fabric rug. One can also get 'fly masks', which are made out of the same material and are intended to protect the head (especially the eyes and ears) from flies. As they are a thin sheet they provide little warmth or insulation, although some can provide protection from wind and rain. See fly sheets and masks for details.
  • Turnout rugs. These are intended to provide insulation (warmth), to protect horses when they are outside. The amount of warmth depends largely on the amount of insulation, which is typically measured in terms of weight rather than thickness. Consequently, rugs with a moderate amount of insulation are referred to as Lightweight Turnout Rugs, while those intended for maximum warmth are known as Heavy Turnout Rugs. Some turnout rugs are resistant or impervious to rain.
  • Coolers. Although they may look like some turnout rugs, their purpose is quite different. They are intended to help the horse dry by 'wicking' moisture away from its coat, and at the same time protecting the horse from cooling while wet (a wet horse can quickly become chilled if it is exposed to cold and/or wind while it has a wet coat). They are typically used after exercise, when the weather is cool or windy, and removed once the horse has dried off. These are also known as 'sweat rugs'.
  • Rain sheets. These are typically a thin sheet, with little or no insulation. It is intended to keep the horse dry and can also provide protection from the wind.
  • Stable rugs. Also known as 'stable blankets', these are similiar to turnout rugs in that they provide warming insulation, but are intended to be used when the horse is stabled rather than when it is outside.
  • Saddle rugs. A saddle rug (also known as a 'saddle pad') is placed under the saddle. It provides cushioning between the saddle and the horse, which protects the horse from the relatively hard saddle and at the same time protects the saddle from being rubbed down by the horse. As the horse tends to sweat under the saddle rug, due to the combination of exercise and the warming insulation provided by the saddle rug, some have built in 'wicking' materials to help remove the sweat from the coat.
  • Show rugs. A show rug is placed between the saddle and the saddle rug. It is a relatively thin but colourful rug whose main function is look attractive. As it has little or no other practical purpose, it is typically used only during exhibitions or competitions.
  • Summer rugs. More commonly known as 'summer sheets', these are thin sheets intended to keep dirt off of the horse's coat (e.g. if it rolls or lies down).
  • New Zealand rugs. A turnout rug which is made of waxed canvas. It provides limited warmth but protects well from wind and rain (provided that it is re-waxed as required) and is relatively resistant to damage due to the strong canvas material. 
  • Riding rugs. It provides protection from the weather but is designer to be worn by the horse when it is being ridden.

2.0 How to Choose a Rug

When choosing a rug, one must first decide on the objective or objectives of the rug: warmth, rain protection, wind protection, or a combination of these. It is possible to purchase a rug which does multiple purposes, but if this is not required then you may be paying for extra capabilities which you do not require. Furthermore, rugs which provide wind and rain protection typically do not 'breath' as well as rugs which provide just warmth, so if you only want a warming rug (e.g. for use in the stable) then you may be better off getting a rug which does not provide wind and rain protection.

A horse which is too hot can be as uncomfortable as one which is too cold. Furthermore, a rug will discourage the growth of the coat and if too warm will actually result in the horse shedding its coat. Consequently, it is important both that the rug is heavy enough to provide neccessary warmth but as the same time is not too warm. For warming rugs, the rug requirements will depend on several factors:

  • Weather. On a cold winter day, one will need a warmer (heavier) turnout rug than on a cool autumn or spring day. If there is wind, additional protection is required due to the wind chill factor. Likewise, if there is heavy rain, the insulation provided by the horse's coat and by the rug are both reduced, unless they have a rain resistant cover.
  • Health and Age. Horses which are young, strong and healthy have less requirement for a warming rug than ones which are not. On a cold day, it may make sense to put a heavy turnout rug on a sick or old horse, when a younger horse in the same field may be fine with a light turnout rug or no rug at all.
  • Thickness of coat. A horse with a thick coat will have less need for a rug than one which has a fine coat, or which has been clipped.
  • Exhibiting. A horse with a thick coat generally does not look as attractive (in the eyes of most people) as one which has a thiner coat. Consequently, horses being exhibited usually have a rug which is warm enough to discourage growth of their winter coat. Such coats are relatively heavy for the horse's circumstances, as they need to replace the insulation provided by the natural winter coat rather than merely supplement it. Likewise, summer sheets and show rugs are for the needs of the exhibitor rather than the horse.
  • Number of rugs. The above factors will determine the number of rugs required. For example, a young and healthy horse in a mild climate may not require a rug at all and may be happier without one. In a colder climate, a healthy horse may need only a light rug to be used during the coldest days. An elderly or sick horse may need multiple rugs, depending on the situation (e.g. uninsulated waterproof coat for summer rain, lightweight turnout rug for autumn or spring, and a heavy turnout rug for winter).

Rugs vary in terms of quality, materials and features. Some items to consider:

  • Antibacteria. Some rugs are treated to be antibacterial.
  • Breathable. Breathable rugs allow sweat to evaporate and air to access the coat, features which make the rug more comfortable and healthier.
  • Coverage. Rugs generally cover the body. Some also have neck covers, either as part of the rug or an a detachable extra.
  • Friction points: Rugs can rub, especially if worn by active horses or when the horse is working. The main points affected are typically around the shoulders and chest. To prevent this, some rugs have anti-friction fabric at these points to allow the rug to easily slide and move without rubbing the coat.
  • Hooks, loops, buckles, straps and attachments. These should be strong, easily opened and closed, and firmly attached.
  • Insulation. The amount of insulation is typically expressed in grams per square meter. For example, a '300g' rug has 300 grams of insulation per square meter of rug. The actual rug will weigh more than this, as this is only the weight of the insulation itself and does not include the weight of fabric, straps or buckles. In general, the heavier the weight, the warmer the rug. However, this is not a precise measurement as there are different types of insulation, which vary in terms of quality and effectiveness.
  • Rain. A rug may be unsuitable for rain, or be rain resistant, or rain proof.
  • Tear Resistant or Rip Stop. Rugs may use fabrics or weaves which are resistant to tearing, and in the event of a tear resist the tear becoming larger.
  • Washing. Machine washable rugs are more convienent.
  • Wicking. Remove sweat and moisture from the coat.

Rug sizes vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer, so if you have the change to try before you buy, it is preferable. For full-body rugs, one generally measures from the middle of the chest to the tail, at the widest point of measurement.

3.0 Rug Care

Rugs which become damp should be allowed to dry completely, in a well ventilated area. When not in use, particularly during the summer, they should be stored in an area where they are not exposed to sunlight.

Check the washing instructions carefully. In general, waterproof rugs can be hosed down in cold water. Some rugs can be cleaned in a washing machine. Check before using any detergents or cleaning chemicals; do not use bleach.

If a rug has a small tear, repair it as soon as possible before it becomes larger. Some rug manufacturers provide rug repair kits, which you may wish to order at the same time as the rug, so that the kit is available if and when required.

Dress rugs should be used only when neccessary as they are primarily intended for show. Using them on a regular basis results in wear, which is not ideal when they are required for formal exhibitions or shows.