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:

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:


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


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.


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.

Forward Thinking

Forward Thinking

So, you are thinking of breeding you mare?  Great - this can be a rewarding experience but before you go any further, please take a few minutes to read this article and ask a few questions. Responsible breeders set themselves a target as to what they want to breed and why. First of all list your aims and objectives in creating a foal. What do you plan to do with it? Answer honestly and define your reasons and goals.

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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.

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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.


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.


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



•  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.

What's Up With The Neck?

Gaited horse skeleton

Gaited horse skeleton

For many gaits an upright neck is a desirable feature explains Beverly Whittington. There are many attributes that come together to give gaited horses the ability to perform their smooth gaits. As with all breeds, conformation is form to function. The horse’s physical build predispositions it to perform in a particular way. To some degree, training can alter or enhance these base tendencies. Nevertheless, it is always easier to take what nature and a good breeding programme have given a horse and enhance it through training, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel.

The upright neck of the ventroflexed (opposite to a rounded back) horse is a signature conformation that often causes the non-gaited horse owner to shake their heads in confusion. The ventroflexed gaits require an upright neck set. The upright neck, often thought of as an ewe-neck, is looked upon as a fault in most non-gaited breeds. The ewe-neck is a weakness in a horse expected to perform a trot. A level or low neck set will predisposition the horse for the level or rounded back necessary in a trot. The ewe-neck will make it difficult or impossible for a horse to round its back to perform a good trot. This of course, lends itself to being a desirable situation for a breed of horse we do not want to trot! The ewe-neck is easy to spot. The horse would actually have an improved neck if it could be turned to its mirror image. The ewe-neck is not the same as an upright neck, but since they are similar and so different from the lower neck sets seen in most trotting breeds, it often fools the non-gaited equestrian.

To perform a ventroflexed gait, the horse needs to hollow its back slightly. It is not structurally or visually (to the human eye) the same as a horse working with a hollow back, but the mechanics are close. Ventroflextion is not the same as a trotting horse working with a hollow back. Gaited horses achieve ventroflextion through continued downward flexion of the lumbosacral junction, a slightly hollow back, a stronger degree of bend in all the joints in the hind leg (hip, stifle, hock, hind fetlock) and a raised root of the neck at the withers. It is virtually impossible for a horse to carry itself in ventroflexion without erect neck carriage.

Gaited horse neck conformation

Gaited horse neck conformation

The common gaits performed with a degree of ventroflexion are known by different names in the various breeds: Rack, Saddle Rack, Stepping Rack, Half Rack, Fino, Corto, Largo, Rocky/Mountain Horse Pleasure Gait, Trippel, Singlefoot, Fox Rack, Hreina or Pure Tolt, Pace, Stepping Pace and Sobreandando. These gaits span across most breeds of gaited horses. A natural, upright neck will allow the horse to achieve gait with less effort. The inclination of the horse, structurally, will be to move in the frame that the ventroflexed gaits require. It can be enhanced through training, but the horse’s predisposition is to move that way.

Can a horse gait that does not have an upright neck? Yes, several of the gaits do not require the upright neck. It is only one of the elements to perform a good ventroflexed gait. Having an upright neck will not guarantee you strong, natural gait. However, it makes it a lot more likely, especially if the horse is bred for gait!

Joint Supplements

Western horse joints

Western horse joints

Feeding joint supplements is a good idea but how many of us really understand the benefits of their ingredients? Steve Rix presents the science behind the most common ingredients and urges you to check the label before parting with your cash.

We all know that healthy joints are vitally important to the working horse. With wear and tear from competition, regular riding, and often just old age, our horses can unfortunately be susceptible to pain and stiffness. With the high quality feeds produced today we can be sure that they are getting the best possible nutrition to support overall health, but adding a supplement to the diet can be very beneficial when it comes to looking after joints.

GLUCOSAMINE Derived from the shells of crustaceans, glucosamine is the primary ingredient in the vast majority of joint supplements today and is usually combined with chondroitin. It is one of the compounds known as ‘chondroprotective agents’ and can stimulate the formation of joint tissue as well as keep joints and cartilage lubricated. Cartilage is the first part of the joint to be affected under stress, so any product aimed at supporting regrowth is a worthy addition to your supplementation.

Cartilage does not actually contain blood vessels and so grows and repairs more slowly than other connective tissues. This means that it may take a number of weeks before any improvement is seen. The horse’s body produces glucosamine naturally but a horse with excessive joint wear may not generate enough to repair any damage. This can result in cartilage that loses its ability to act as a shock absorber in joints, causing pain and stiffness. The studies on both human and equine use of glucosamine demonstrate that it is a very effective supplement for joint care.

CHONDROITIN Chondroitin sulphate also comes from animal sources. Most chondroitin sulphate in supplements is derived from marine or bovine sources. It is generally believed to work synergistically with glucosamine to provide maximum joint support and is included alongside glucosamine in the majority of supplements. Chondroitin is a component of cartilage, providing structure, holding water and nutrients, and allowing other molecules to move through cartilage – hugely important given the lack of blood vessels.

When produced naturally in the body there is no question about the effectiveness of this substance. However it should be noted that some scientific studies have shown that when administered orally, chondroitin may not be absorbed very efficiently. This is because it has a large molecular mass (anywhere from 250 times the size of a glucosamine molecule) which makes absorption through the intestinal wall more difficult. Some manufacturers claim to have addressed this issue by utilising a process which reduces the size of the molecules, and as there is still debate about the absorption issue it’s still worth choosing a supplement that includes chondroitin among its ingredients. And as already mentioned it is a steadfast of most joint supplements on the market today along with glucosamine anyway.

HYALURONIC ACID Hyaluronic Acid (HA) is a component of synovial fluid and joint cartilage, and is a member of a group of compounds called‘glycosaminoglycans’ (GAGS). These substances are what give skin its elasticity, cartilage its flex and fluids their lubricating properties. When joints are inflamed, the breakdown of HA makes the fluid more watery and less able to keep the joint propely lubricated. Inside the cartilage, hyaluronic a combines with another glycosaminoglycan called ‘aggrecan’ to form a complex that helps trap fluid and keeps the joint flexible and resistant to being overly compressed. It was originally developed to be injected into the joint and there is a question mark over how much can be absorbed orally (again due to molecular mass). There are however many reports of its effectiveness.

MSM Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a naturally occurring organic sulphur that is found in grains and grasses and is necessary for the correct synthesis of amino acids, vitamins and chondroitin sulphates, which are responsible for supporting joint lubrication. MSM also supplies bio-available sulphur to various types of tissues within the body including connective tissue and the tissue needed to support healthy lungs, bone, blood, tendons, hooves and skin. In comparison to glucosamine and chondroitin, few studies have been carried out into the effectiveness of MSM so it’s worthwhile carrying out some research if you plan to buy this as a separate supplement. The fact that it is included in many joint formulas means you may well be feeding it anyway.



DEVIL'S CLAW This herb is well known for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. The two main active ingredients are beta sitosterol and harpagoside which are known as ‘iridoid glycosides.’ Research has indicated that the anti-inflammatory and analgesic action is due to these compounds which reduce inflammation in the joints. Devil’s Claw is not as irritating to the horse as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, but if the horse has gastric ulcers it can aggravate the condition. Devil’s Claw must not be given to pregnant mares as it can stimulate the uterine muscle.



GREEN LIPPED MUSSEL Perna canaliculus (green lipped mussel) is found off the shores of New Zealand and is well known for its benefits in supporting joint health. It contains a number of useful nutrients, including glycosaminoglycans and chondroitin sulphate as well as omega 3 fatty acids. Four of these fatty acids are called eicosatetraenoic acids – better known as ETAs, and are unique to green lipped mussels. ETAs have demonstrated substantial anti- inflammatory effects in scientific studies and many horse owners testify to the effectiveness of this supplement. The omega 3s can also help promote healthy skin, coat and hooves.



ROSEHIP Rosehips contain an antioxidant that has an anti-inflammatory effect. The component responsible for this is believed to be a fatty acid called GOPO and trials in humans have recorded a reduction in pain, swelling and stiffness for arthritis sufferers. Similarly there have been reliable reports of its effectiveness in horses. Professor Kaj Winther, of the University of Copenhagen, is a bio- chemist and trotting race enthusiast. Having noticed that the joints of some trotting horses can begin to show signs of arthritis after a few years of racing, he began to administer a standardised rosehip preparation to affected horses. After a time it became clear that the joints were less inflamed and it was observed that gait returned to normal. It is also worth noting that rosehip contains many other beneficial vitamins, minerals and bioflavonoids ideal for supporting general health.



BOSWELLIA Boswellia Serrata, also known as Indian Frankincense, is a tree native to India and has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine (an Indian complementary medicine). It has been traditionally used for arthritis, rheumatism, bronchitis, asthma, dysentery, diarrhoea, jaundice, inflammatory skin disease and ulcers. A natural anti- inflammatory and pain reliever, it is being used by modern herbalists to treat arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. Boswellia reduces inflammation by inhibiting one of the key enzymes in inflammatory processes It also relieves pain via a sedative effect on the nervous system. This herb is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to Devil’s Claw by many owners concerned about the latter’s gastric stimulatory effects.

SUMMARYWhere horse joint supplements are concerned opinions abound.  Even though a certain product works for one owner, doesn't mean it'll work for you.  There is, however, a wealth of information available to help you make the best informed decision for your horse.  Naturally, most of the information comes from the marketing departments of the manufactures, but take the time to read independent articles, and trawl the internet and forums to get a feeling for what is working for the majority of owners.  Hopefully with this article we've been able to present the information in a way to help you make an informed choice and help you to take a closer look at the products you are buying to make sure you are getting what you have paid for.