To rug or not to rug?

   As the weather gets colder many horse owners are deciding whether or not to rug their horses. It can often be difficult trying to decide whether a rug is needed, which rug to use and when to put it on. However, some people feel horses should not be rugged and it may even be detrimental to do so. Here we explore the issue of whether to rug our horses or not.

Heat Regulation

  The horse has many natural mechanisms by which it can regulate its heat loss. A horse can generate heat through digestion, muscle movement and the skin, fat and coat can provide insulation. A horse can increase the thickness or length of its coat in response to changes in daytime light length and can raise, lower or change the direction of the hair altering the insulation offered. As a result, horse’s find it easier to warm up when it is cold than to cool down when it is warm or cool down after heavy exercise.

    Rugs often leave parts of the horse exposed to the cold. As horses are incapable of regulating the temperature in specific parts of their body, when they attempt to warm these exposed parts the areas covered by the rug can then become overheated.

    Furthermore, when the relevant mechanisms through which horses regulate their temperature are not used they deteriorate. This could mean that if they were to be exposed to cold temperatures suddenly, they could not use their natural mechanisms properly.

 Natalija Aleksandrova (2014). Thermoregulation in horses in a cold time of year. Revised. Holistic Horse and Hoof Care. Available at: http://holistichorseandhoofcare.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/thermoregulation-in-horses-in-cold-time.html.

Rug Fit

    Rug fit is very important. Many horse owners may have noticed rubbing from ill-fitting rugs. However, it is less commonly known that incorrectly fitted rugs could cause more damage to your horse. A dip or indent in front of the withers can sometimes appear when the edge of a rug is pulling down and pressing on to the crest and nuchal ligament. Apart from an indent, other signs that this could be happening include hair loss, coldness from lack of circulation and potentially even stiffness and soreness in the horse, ranging from mild discomfort to severe unsoundness.  

Stefanie Reinhold (2010). Horse Winter Blankets: How much damage can they do? Reinhold’s Horse Wellness. Available at:

https://sreinhold.wordpress.com/2010/02/28/horse-winter-blankets-how-much-damage-can-they-do/

 

Every Horse Is Different 

    When deciding whether to rug a horse it must be remembered that each horse is different and will have different circumstances. A sick or injured horse that may not be able to move around as much could benefit from a rug. Elderly horses could also benefit. Another reason may be that you have little shelter available. Many horse owners also show their horses. This may mean they want to rug their horses to keep them clean, or prevent a thick coat from growing. Many people also don’t have much flexibility in when they can exercise horses in winter meaning horses may be clipped or need a rug after sweating.

 

Your Thoughts

    A recent survey was conducted by Western Horse UK and Horsemanship Journal which included questions about rugging. Of the 114 respondents, 65 % felt that horses were often over-rugged whereas, only 4 % felt horses were often under-rugged. 20 % believed horses were both often over-rugged and under-rugged.

    When asked if they rug their horses to prevent a thick coat for showing, 41 % said they did not. Furthermore, 45 % of respondents said they find it hard to find well-fitting rugs and 37 % said they sometimes find it hard.

Comment below with your thoughts and to read more you can buy WHUK Volume 7 Issue 5/HJ Volume 3 Issue 5 below. 

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Rider Weight

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How heavy is too heavy?

The controversy of rider weight has long been a popular topic for equestrians and the media. While we all want what is best for our horses, it is important to recognize the relevant factors that should be used in determining a healthy weight that a horse is capable of carrying. Things like the type of work being performed, horse breed, suitability, riding ability and gender of the rider all should be considered. 

 

The Studies

Studies performed by Powell et al. (2008) have determined that it isn’t until horses carry 25 and 30% of their weight that heart rates remain higher, plasma lactate concentrations are faster, and muscle soreness and tightness are more significant. A study by Halliday and Randle (2013) at Duchy College, Cornwall, recommends that a rider should be 10% of the horse’s body weight – somewhat unachievable considering that this percentage should include the weight of the rider and tack.

Type of Work

Before worrying that you are too heavy for your horse, remember to consider the type of work being performed. Remember that the more strenuous the work, the lighter the rider should be in order to achieve optimum performance.

Horse Breed

Not all horses are created equal. The list of breeds is incredibly long and, within each breed, horses will vary. Different horses and breeds have different characteristics and weight-carrying abilities. Additionally, age, fitness, condition and conformation all contribute to a horse’s ability to handle a heavier rider.

Riding Ability

Yet another argument revolves around riding ability. Lighter riders typically are less capable, more unbalanced and use “heavier” riding. A heavier rider tends to be more competent, balanced and rides with a lighter seat.

Gender

It has also been argued that gender is a significant factor in a horse’s weight-bearing ability. A heavier woman riding a horse is more quickly condemned than a man. Some have made the observation that men – not even those who are overweight – typically weigh more than women. This theory suggests that an overweight female may not weigh much more than an ideal-sized man.

 

Fat Shaming vs. Taking Responsibility

Some in the equestrian society think the answer is simple: A person should take responsibility for his or her own weight. Riders should be encouraged to be happy and confident, while keeping the horse’s best interest in mind. If a rider is too heavy for a particular horse, simply don’t ride that horse.

Form and Function

Form and Function

An introduction to the science of hoof function by equine podiatrist Tom Bowyer DAEP MIAEP. Applied Equine Podiatry was founded by Dr KC La Pierre after work he started in 1997. A practising farrier for over 23 years, he found that no matter how good a farrier you were it was inevitable that the hooves of an older horse would exhibit changes in shape leading to problems with under-run heels, long toes and a lack of inner wall.

Read More

Barefoot Trimming

Barefoot Trimming

Keeping horses “natural” can be challengingbut in the case of barefoot trimming, there can be advantages.  Linzi Hill explains. Although it is thought that the horse shoe could have been introduced as early as the 4th Century, barefoot working horses have been in existence for as many years in countries such as Mongolia and the South Americas.

Read More

Artificial Insemination

Artificial Insemination

The benefits of artificial insemination have long been acknowledged in the cattle and sheep industries, but only recently have horse breeders realised its potential. Mike Gulliford explains. Artificial insemination (AI) involves the collection of semen from a stud animal and its insemination into the female by artificial means. Semen can be used fresh straight after collection or stored by chilling or freezing.

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Weigh before Worming

Do you know your horse’s weight? Callum Blair MRCVS explains the importance of getting it right for worming. The dose of wormers is determined through extensive research to establish the optimal amount of drug to achieve the desired effect (kill parasites) while avoiding undesirable side effects. Accordingly, if the full recommended does is administered the level of efficacy can be predicted under normal circumstances. Without access to a weighbridge it can be tempting to make an estimate fit in with the weight that one syringe will treat (or half a syringe if you have a pony). This is not universal across all products as syringes vary from sufficient to treat 575kg up to 700kg.

Inaccurate dosing favours the development of resistance to wormer drugs. Do not be tempted to under dose your horse for any reason, especially to make your horse fit in with the weight of one tube/sachet. This is false economy and not only puts your horse at risk but could also create problems for the horse population as a whole.

For wormers to effectively treat internal parasite burdens, every horse must be dosed with the appropriate amount of wormer according to their bodyweight. If horses are under dosed with wormer, the internal parasites are exposed to a sub-lethal amount of the drug. This may leave a population of worms that are able to tolerate the wormer. It is important to protect the wormers that remain effective as best we can. One of the most important ways of doing this is to ensure that animals are dosed to the correct bodyweight, preferable erring on the side of a slight overdose.

Prior to worming, very few horses are accurately weighed on a weighbridge or horse scales. More often than not, the dose of wormer a horse receives is based on a visual estimation of its weight. Unfortunately this is very unreliable. Studies have shown that horse owners and handlers tend to under, rather than over estimate their horse’s bodyweight and most do so by approximately 20%. This means that many horses may be unintentionally under dosed with wormer.

SCARY STATISTICS

A recent survey has shown that a frightening proportion of horse owners would have inadequately wormed their horses because they estimated their weight. In the same survey, owners’ guesses of their horse’s weight ranged from as low as half to over twice the actual weight. It also showed that owners tended to over estimate the weight of horses under 14.2hh, but under estimate the weight of horses over this height. The bigger the horse the greater the error tended to be so it is advisable that before any horse or pony is treated it should either be weighed or a good estimation of its weight obtained by using a weigh tape, which will also make allowances for body shape and not just base the weight on height alone.

WORKING OUT WEIGHT

Horse scales or a weighbridge are the most accurate way to weigh your horse. Unfortunately most horse owners do not have access to such equipment. The best alternative to scales is a weight tape which is used around the horse’s girth to give an estimated weight in kilograms. Alternatively you can use the weight estimation formula by taking two measurements - a horse’s girth measurement (measured around the horse’s barrel, directly behind the elbow and passing over the back at the lowest part of the wither) and the horse’s length (measured diagonally from the point of the shoulder to the point of the buttock). The formula is:

WEIGHT (kg) = GIRTH (cm)2 x LENGTH (cm) 11877

 

IN BRIEF

•  Always use scales, a weight tape or the weight estimation formula prior to worming your horse. This is especially important for larger animals that may require more than a standard 600kg syringe

•   It is important to accurately estimate the weight of ponies or foals if you are intending to share one syringe of wormer between two animals. Often ponies are heavier than you think

•  Re-check your horse’s weight every time you worm as things can change considerably with work, age and life stage (e.g. pregnancy, retirement)

•  Round up the weight estimation to the nearest 50kg calibration on the syringe, never round down

•  Remember to check the total bodyweight your wormer will treat

 

Under dosing is a known risk factor of resistance development. It is essential to administer the correct dosage.