We've had a great summer this year and although we don't like to think of winter the nights have now started to draw in and there is a distinct chilly feel around. This is the time of year when lots of us horse owners start to think about turnout rugs. Far from the days of the standard canvas new zealand rug there is now a huge array of turnouts available often making owners feeling quite overwhelmed and not knowing where to start when making that choice.
The ideal turnout for your horse will keep him comfortable, warm and dry while in the field.
Rugs come in various weights - Light, Medium, Heavy
Lightweight is sufficient for spring/summer and medium/heavy are suitable for winter turnout.
The stated rug weight (eg 350g) refers to it's filling which is measured in grammes per square metre (GSM) and can vary from a 0g (no fill) which would be a rain sheet , up to around 400g being a heavier winter weight. Therefore the amount of filling would be an indication of the warmth the rug offers.
So which weight does your horse need? There’s no one easy answer for this one , as his type, age, weight, workload and general health will all affect his ability to bear the cold.
While a clipped-out and thin-skinned thoroughbred might need a weightier fill in the depths of winter, a more robust type or a part-native might swelter under so much insulation.
Living conditions make a difference, too – a paddock offering plenty of natural shelter is a different prospect to an exposed field on a northern hillside. With time, you’ll get to know your horse’s normal temperature range and how he copes with his environment.
The outer of the rug needs to be able to stand tough extreme weather conditions but also damage from other hazards which may include, bramble bushes , other horses and fencing etc.
The outer is rated in denier which refers to the numbers of yarns used to make a thread so the higher the denier the stronger the fabric. So a lower denier may prove adequate for an old placid pony with maybe just one companion but may prove a false economy for a boisterous youngster or a serial rug wrecker.
Always bear in mind that as strong as the rug needs to be any good rug needs to have the potential to rip in the event for example that a horse gets caught up and starts to panic.
Further fabric options include rip-stop construction, where an interwoven cross-hatch halts any rips in their tracks – a reassuring extra if you’ve ever been to fetch your horse and found him with his rug hanging in strips around his fetlocks.
Another choice is ballistic nylon, a material that’s as tough as it sounds. A good rug will have some potential to rip, however, in the event that the horse gets himself caught up and starts to panic.
A good rug should also be waterproof , although denier is not an indication of water repellent properties it goes without saying that a higher denier has tighter knit fabric which does tend to repel water and wind more effectively.
The rug’s waterproof qualities come from the treatment of its outer material, so look for modern finishes and barrier technologies designed to keep the wet out. Some fabrics are rated for their waterproof qualities (5,000 WP would be high).
Bear in mind, however, that waterproofing can diminish with age and wear, so be prepared to re-treat rugs when necessary. Incessant rain may eventually penetrate even a quality rug, most probably through any seams and openings, so opt for a seamless model to minimise this or invest in a spare.
Almost as important as a rug’s outer waterproofing is its breathability. Unless you want your horse to be wrapped in the equivalent of a sweaty plastic bag, pay attention to the rug’s ability to allow perspiration to evaporate. If you over-rug him, though, no amount of breathability will prevent the formation of damp and sweaty patches.
Cut and colour
Modern turnouts are designed to cocoon a horse in an envelope of warmth, with many offering a choice of shapes to cover the extremities.
The standard neck shape stops at the withers and is good for warmer weather. A high-neck finishes further up for a more snug effect and tends to prevent rain draining down the neck and inside the shoulder area of the rug, while a ‘combo’ features full neck padding for the ultimate in protection.
An added advantage of full neck cover is a cleaner horse, but downsides include the possibility of a rubbed mane and the fact that you can’t remove this extra insulation during a warm spell.
A detachable neck offers greater flexibility, although the attachment area does pose leak potential in driving rain.
Tail flaps offer further protection at the other end, with a choice of designs and extended lengths.
Take a look, too, at the gussets that shape the rug and provide a close-fitting, wrap-around effect to keep draughts out. These design points are not just a cosy extra.
A good cut will allow the horse more freedom of movement and help prevent the rug from slipping or rubbing. There’s less chance, too, of excess fabric snagging on branches or flapping in high winds.
Gone are the traditional surcingles that put pressure on the spine – turnouts stay in place with innovative under-belly cross-surcingles, chest closures, wipe-clean under-tail fillet strings and leg straps that may be elasticated, adjustable and removable.
Much is down to your horse’s preference, but think about when and where you’ll be fiddling with these fittings – if you’re changing a rug in the field in the dark, you may be glad you paid more for no-fuss or touch-close fastenings that can even be done one-handed.
Before making a final choice, decide whether some of the added extras now available are worth the extra investment. Anti-static and anti-bacterial linings can create a smoother, healthier coat, while reflective outer strips could be useful if you catch your horse by torchlight.