photo credit Rupert Gibson Photography.
Autumn has to be the trickiest time of year for rugging up horses. The evenings turn chilly so quickly and temperatures overnight can soon plummet to frosty depths and then the next morning by 11am it is blazing sunshine. This year is a little more extraordinary than most with the consistent dry sunny days, (please don't let me be the curse that breaks the spell -although some rain to soften the ground would be lovely - I do have a fear that when it starts it won't know when to stop!!), and I seem to spend more time at evening stables debating which rug, if any, to put on, only to then be lying in bed thinking 'well I got that wrong then' as the temperature either plummets if I haven't rugged up, or doesn't go below 13 degrees if I have!
I have lost count of how many times over the last couple of weeks have I left home early, horses nice and snug with their rugs on in almost freezing conditions to return to find them steaming gently in the baking sun! They are not unduly concerned, but it can't be that pleasant for them. So, I have invested in some new rugs, (any excuse my husband would say!!) And I have to say I am rather pleased with them. Shires Tempest; red rugs with a very effective breathable lining, so when I left the frost covered yard this morning the boys were as warm as toast in their new PJ's, and when returned at 11 o'clock they were as cool as cucumbers despite the temperature having increased by 16 degrees!
My horses spend the majority of their time rugged up if they are in work, it keeps their coats looking glossy and smooth and keeps the pesky flies at bay, and Henry being grey it helps to keep the worst of his stains at bay- well almost! My main aim at this time of year is to put off the clipping for as long as possible, but this week the tell tail signs of the ''blackberry coat'' have appeared. I have no idea what ‘'blackberry coat'' actually means, and if any one can enlighten me I would be delighted!! All I know is Triggers is worst- it stands up on end and looks fluffy - the clippers are revving!.
And then the joy of the clean rugs!! At the end of the winter all of the rugs are packed off to the lovely Ruggles people who wash, repair, reproof and bag up for easy storage over the summer months. I just love opening them up and putting them on freshly clipped bodies- all nice and clean - SO pleasing. There are some fabulous rugs on the market, and I have to confess to having rather a penchant for a new rug or two, I would be far too embarrassed to share a picture of the shelves in the shed with rugs on......one for every day of the week, for every horse wouldn't be too much of an exaggeration! If you look after them well and keep them clean and reproofed they last well, which is rather dull really as I do love to have a new rug delivered! When buying new rugs research well, some makes and styles suit some horses better than others, and it is well worth asking opinions before spending- especially as it is very easy to spend a rather large amount of money on new rugs!
At this time of year when their coats are changing, if you do not intend to clip them out I would not put a rug on at all...………….hairy ponies/ horses are happy ones. Their coat will develop over the next few weeks and produce the best protection for them, but if you rug up you prevent it from forming a proper winter woolly. Even in the hardest of last years 'beast from the east' the two horses that wintered out did not need rugs. Their coats stood up to trap air next to the skin and kept them toastie, by putting a rug on you prevent the horses body from doing its natural thing. The one foot note to add to that would be that my winter fields have great shelter in the form of high hedges and trees- if they were out in an unsheltered place I would think again - they need some thing to tuck their bottoms in to on a windy day! If you want to ride off the field and are worried about them getting too hot and sweaty, just clip out their tummy and under the neck - it helps enormously and won't affect their insulation too badly.