How to Choose a Horse Rug

There are many different types of horse rugs, with various characteristics and functions. Therefore, the first step to choosing a horse rug is to decide which type you require for your horse. To assist you in this decision, following is a list of the main types of rugs and an explanation of 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.
  • 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 similar 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 designed to be worn by the horse when it is being ridden. Fur rug

Of these various types of horse rugs, perhaps the most commonly used is the turnout rug. The most important factor when choosing this type of rug is to select a rug of the appropriate warmth. Keep in mind that 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 necessary warmth but as the same time is not too warm. The warmth which an individual horse requires will depend on various 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 thinner 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.