Rugging Up Your Horse For Winter

Winter time can be a difficult time for horse owners. One of the challenges is ensuring that your horse is kept warm enough in the cold but isn’t too hot when the weather suddenly decides to change. The most common way of achieving this is by using horse rugs (or blankets).

So here is your own quick guide to horse rugs that will hopefully give you all the answers you need.

Why Rug a Horse?

In the wild horses aren’t rugged so why do would we decide to rug our own horses and ponies? The main reason is that domestic horses can’t move around as much as wild horses and not all sources of shelter are suitable for all weather conditions, therefore our pet equines need a bit more assistance. However, most healthy and younger horses probably don’t need to be rugged up as much as they are.

Horses can cope very well with the cold, since most can grow an extra thick coat. The hairs on a horses coat are designed to lie flat when heat needs to be conserved and rise erect when heat needs to be dissipated.  In addition if they have access to additional amounts of hay then this will also cause heat production from the inside and warm them through

Badly fitted horse rugs and using the wrong type of rug, which may cause the horse to overheat, are some of the problems that rugging a horse can cause.


Photo horse in winter
Winter time approaches and rugs go on image found on

What Type of Rug Does My Horse Need?

The type and size of horse rug ultimately depends on the type of horse you have. Other factors such as what lifestyle they lead and what level of health they are at are also all part of the decision.

Most horse rugs are similar in the way in which they function, the only main difference is the thickness of the rug and the size. When a horse is using a rug they cannot regulate their body temperature as effectively as when they are without a rug, therefore as the horse carer you have to make these decisions for them.

Type of Horse Rug

There are different types of rug depending on the purpose you need them for, most of this article is focused on turn out rugs, which are used when a horse is living outside for all or part of the day. These rugs need to be waterproofed and strong enough to cope with normal everyday horse movements.

Horse rugs are divided into the thickness of the material a bit like measurements for duvet covers.

  1. Lightweight rugs range from 0 – 115g filling
  2. Medium rugs range from 180-260g
  3. Heavyweight rugs range from 260-400g

When a horse is wearing the rug they should still feel fairly cool underneath the rug, especially when they are standing still. This means that when they start moving around they won’t be overheated.

Another measurement that you might see is the denier number. This is a reflection of the strength of the rug (and the possible likelihood that it will get ripped, although not a guarantee). The lightest type is around 210 denier whilst the heaviest and strongest can go up to 2100 denier.

Other Rug Types

As well as turn out rugs there are also rugs designed for indoor use such as stable rugs, sweat sheets or travel rugs. These tend to be lighter and are not waterproofed as they don’t need to be used outside. Stable rugs like turn out rugs also come in a  range of thickness, depending on the age and health of the horse. Sick and older horses find it harder to regulate their own body temperature especially when they are not able to move about as freely.

Horse Rug Sizes

screenshot measuring a horse for correct rug size
measuring a horse for a rug

The horse rug size is usually calculated as the length from the front to back of the horse as shown in the diagram below. This measurement can be in either inches or cms depending on which part of the world you live in.

This guide sheet from Mac Equine also gives the height of the horse so this provides an easy to use chart for rug sizes. (note the New Zealand size system is different to the international system)

screenshot horse rug sizes
Australian and International Size chart – reproduced from Macs Equine

Fitting A Horse Rug

It is important that the right size rug is bought and that it is fitted correctly to prevent damage to the rug or injuring the horse through sores and rubbing. The following short video produced for features Gemma Tattersall demonstrating how to put on a rug correctly.

Although most rugs operate the same way there is one product that I recently came across, that uses a different method altogether in their rug design.

Cool Heat Rug

This is a Cool Heat Blanket that is designed to allow the horse to establish its own temperature using specially designed raised soft plastic insulators on the inside of the blanket. These enable the horse’s natural cooling system (the hairs on its back) to continue functioning, and to allow the air to flow freely across the horses back. You can see from the diagram here what it looks like.

image cool heat horse blanket
Image found on

The rug can work effectively at maintaining the horse’s proper body temperature from between -10 degrees through to 20 degrees (Centigrade), so this would be a good all round rug instead of having to use several different types.

It is also ideal if you are leaving the horse during the day and the weather is cold in the morning. But as the day progresses the weather heats up and there is no-one available to remove the rug.

The rug is well fitting and can withstand rolling and movement without slipping at all. It was even positively reviewed on a natural horsecare website that doesn’t normally advocate rug use on horses.

It’s available for purchase on Amazon Macs Equine Cool Heat Winter Combo Blanket

(The rug can also be bought and shipped in Australia through MacEquine)

Maintaining Horse Rugs

Like all horse tack and equipment it is important that rugs are looked after. The horse rug or blanket needs to be monitored for broken buckles or torn straps that can aggravate or spook your horse. Horse rugs should be removed every day to check that there is no rubbing on the horse and to check that no other injuries have been acquired that might be hidden by the rug.

There are plenty of local companies such as EquiWash in Donegal, that provide rug washing and repair services. These services are usually reasonably priced and make a better job of repairing rugs than a domestic washing and sewing machine will do.

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