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Which Horse Rug & How Many to Use?

When should I start rugging my horse & how many horse rugs should I use?

These are some of the most common questions we get asked. Insuring you have the right Horse Rugs and Horse Gear from the beginning will make life much easier for you and your horse!

The number of rugs to put on your horse is different for each horse and each situation, just like it is for people.

When first rugging a new horse, you are usually better going lighter, than heavier, until you learn to read your horses comfort signs when rugged. Overheating tends to be the greater danger for horses.

Learning to read your horse's comfort when rugged is not that difficult. You can do this quick check:

  • Your horse is probably too cold if he's shivering, seems unusually tense or stiff, has cold ears, or has hairs standing on end. They will huddle together in groups with other horses or turning their hindquarters into the prevailing wind.
  • Your horse is probably too warm in his rug if he's sweating (check the rib cage, not just the shoulder) or seems unusually restless or thirsty
  • To get familiar with your horses comfort, you need to regularly place you hand up under the horses rug and check the horses coat in multiple locations. In colder weather, check that you have even warmth over different sections of the horses body. If the horse's coat seems cool, (coat may also be slightly raised) you may need a warmer rug or an additional layer. If he seems too warm, are there signs of humidity or dampness in his coat from perspiration indicating he is to warm?

Rugging your horse in the Cooler Months -

Knowing when to rug and how many layers to use can be daunting for those new to horses, especially when you are not familiar with horse gear and terminology. There are a few very good reasons to rug your horse, apart from keeping him comfortable, the two driving factors are to keep a short show coat and reduce feeding in the cold weather.

Rugging to keep a short coat. A horse's coat responds to the length of day, as a trigger to know when to start growing a winter coat. As the days get shorter, a biological trigger occurs which starts the winter coat to begin to grow in. This is why many people keep their horse under lights in the evening to 'trick' the horses biological system into thinking the days are longer and delay coat growth. Also light rugging from early February also keeps the coat shorter leading into the cooler weather. Many people make the mistake of rugging only when the weather turns cool, at this time your horses winter coat is well and truly already growing in.

Reducing Feed Bills - A horses in cold weather need substantially more feed to generate the body heat they require in cold weather. Rugging your horse can lead to big saving in your feed bill. The cost of the additional horse gear to keep him warm will be less than your extra feed bill over a season!

When to start rugging and how many layers.

If you want to keep a short show coat, you would start rugging lightly in February and increase the layers as the weather cools into winter. If you are rugging to just reduce your feed bill, and you are not concerned with coat length, you would start when the weather turns cold and would likely get away with just one warmer turnout rug. Many factors come into play like:

Your Horses Coat -

Horses have an excellent built-in insulator - a thick winter hair coat. Most horses will grow a thick winter coat if left unrugged during cold weather, the horse's hair stands on end, which creates an airspace around the horse where it can trap heat, enabling it to stay warm. This insulation will fail when its wet or windy - the rain causing the hair to lie flat and the wind blowing away the warm air trapped in the upstanding hair.

Putting a light rug on a hairy horse can reduce that insulating power by flattening the hairs. (and actually make him colder!) In other words, when a blanket with inadequate insulation is put on a horse during milder weather, it forces the hairs to lie flat, taking away the horse's natural insulation. If your horse's winter coat is thin or if you want a short coat for showing, then a rug is necessary to make up for what's missing and prevent a thick coat from growing (for showing).

Weather -

Horses with full winter coats can stay warm, without rugs, in temperatures well below zero. However it is important to consider other weather factors, such as humidity, wind chill, and rain. When soaked, even a thick winter coat can lose its warming power, leaving your horse chilled to the skin. Similarly, stiff winds can lift the hair coat, allowing icy blasts to penetrate straight to the horse's skin. So, a horse that might be comfortable naked on a dry 20-degree day might appreciate a lightweight, waterproof cover if it's windy or wet, even at a more moderate temperature.

Remember that the notions of "warm" and "cool" are relative. A SE Qld horse accustomed to winter day temperatures around 19c to 21c will likely find 13c degrees chilly if he's suddenly relocated to a southern state. That horse might need a rug even when his stable mates, accustomed to the local weather, might not. Horses require between 10 and 21 days to acclimatize to colder temperatures. As an example, on the first day of 13c weather, the horse might feel cold, but over 10-21 days of similar weather, he will become acclimatized

Age and health-

Foals and older horses have a harder time keeping themselves warm than an animal in his prime, so a rug might boost their comfort levels and help them stay healthy. Likewise, an ill horse will benefit from an extra coat while his immune defenses are low

Rug Layers.

Every horse is different and its very much a case of monitoring your horses daily. As a general guide, most people start rugging early in the season with a general ripstop paddock rug. As the weather starts to cool they might start using an additional rug like a wool or polar fleece or even another ripstop rug overnight as the evenings turn cooler. In mid winter most people add a waterproof turnout over the top (even if its dry) as they do a great job of keeping your horse dry, but they also are great insulators.

You need to monitor your horse regularly when you add another layer to insure they don't over heat. In most situations it will be a case of removing a layer or two during the day and re-adding at night or when wet.

Which Horse Rug?
So many horse rug choices!

Rugging your horse in the Warmer Months -

Their are 3 main reasons you might rug a horse in the warmer months and depending on your main reason, this will decide on which style or method of rugging to use. Generally lighter the rug, the more comfortable your horse will be, but its finding a balance between cool and light and stronger and more durable as they both correlate together.

Insect Protection:

Biting insects is the most common reason to rug in the warmer weather. Many horses can suffer terribly from reactions to insect bites. If you have a very sensitive horse or you have very small biting insects (like sand flies) you would opt for a rug that offers the most protection, like a cotton rug of some sort, (i.e. Cotton Ripstop paddock Rugs) which offers total block out and is difficult for insects to penetrate. If your horse is less sensitive or heat is an issue you would opt for something like fly mesh, which has better airflow, while still offering a relatively good barrier for most insects. If your horse is itchy, you need to lean towards a stronger rug that will stand up to repeated scratching. Its often finding a compromise between insect protection, strength and coolness. The More insect protection, generally the thicker the rug fabric, which comes at the expense of the horse being hotter, which can the in turn feed the itchy cycle. For most horses a good strong fly mesh is often the best compromise.

Avoid coat bleaching and offer some heat protection

In the darker coats, bleaching can be an issue as summer progresses Unrelenting heat from the sun in paddocks with little shade protection can also be an issue. In both cases a light cotton rug or mesh is the best answer. They will provide sun protection and if you use a very light cotton (like a flag rug) , your horse will often be cooler with a light cotton rug than with no rug. (we would recommend Flag or a lighter fly mesh) Flag is very cool - but also not very strong. If your horse is a little hard on rugs, a light fly mesh may often be the best compromise.

Wet Weather Protection:

In wet weather, over summer especially, rugging for wet weather is a real challenge. Waterproof rugs and cool are mutually exclusive. In summer you would only use a unlined rainsheet and only leave a turnout rainsheet on a horse while the weather is wet and then remove as soon as the weather clears, otherwise you risk over heating the horse. Keep in mind that regardless of the rugs breathability rating - in wet conditions, it will be reduced to almost zero as water covers the rug's fabric pores. This can cause condensation to accumulate on the inside of the rug. If you are using an unlined rain sheet in humid, extended wet or cold conditions – you may need to use in conjunction with a light cotton under rug or similar with a good moisture wicking properties. The horses perspiration and condensation needs to be transported away from their skin.

It's much like us wearing a raincoat against our bare skin - with your body heat and perspiration, you will soon be very clammy under your raincoat and any moisture that enters via a neckline etc – will condense under the raincoat. You will end up very damp in a short span of time. However if you wear a T-shirt you will help alleviate the problem.

What type of rug should I use to keep my horse Warm or Cool ?

This really depends on the season. With such variations from season to season, and even day to night time temperatures in Australia, you will need to have a variety of rugs to insure your horse is comfortable.

Warmer Weather:

Fly Sheet/Fly Mesh Rug

A Fly Sheet or Fly Rug is a mesh rug which offers protection from the harsh sun, allows the breeze to pass thru and keeps flies and insects away from your horse during the summer. Not all mesh is created equally.
Fly mesh can vary from lightweight brittle and stiff fabric to something that resembles shade cloth at the other extreme. Please follow the attached link to our Fly Air Mesh Horse Rugs.

Mesh rugs have many advantages over Ripstop rugs in hot weather,:-

  • Cooler, with better airflow, allowing the horses coat to breath & helps alleviate itch.
  • Similar strength and performance.
  • They dry  out very quickly after a shower of rain - alleviating itch.  While they won’t keep the horse dry they do an excellent job in preventing rain scour in most cases.
  • Mesh rugs are a coarser fabric - compared to your polycotton Ripstop rugs, on horses with finer or sensitive coats, this can accelerate rubbing with extended use or if fitting of the rug is not ideal

Our Enduro 410gsm rugs and our 270gsm Euro-Breeze rugs are both very similar. Airflow, UV Protection and Insect Protection is very similar in both types of mesh. Both rugs are durable, but each has its own advantages:-

Enduro '410gsm' Mesh - The 410gsm mesh is a thicker weave mesh fabric, so its stronger and ideally suited to horses who are harder on rugs or suffer from itching. This mesh has become legendary for its durability and performance. Being a heavier gauge thread, the rugs are also slightly heavier in weight compared to the 270gsm mesh, the advantage being they can be more durable.

Euro-Breeze '270gsm' - The Euro-Breeze is a revolutionary new style of soft fly mesh. It features a flat weave mesh. The rugs are lighter than the 410 mesh and offer a cooler alternative. (they are good durable rugs, but the 410 mesh is stronger.) They are ideal for horses who don't suffer excessively from itchiness etc and need a cool general use rug. Being a lighter rug they are also better suited to horses with sensitive coats and can suffer from rubbing from the heavier mesh. We are getting excellent feedback and are finding many people are switching to these from Flag rugs.

Polycotton Ripstop Summer Sheet / Ripstop Paddock Rugs

A ripstop rug is generally a cotton or polyester blend rug that often incorporates ripstop. It’s a general all purpose rug that keeps the sun off your horses coat, prevents the coat from fading while helping to keep your horses coat clean and short. They are also light weight and will give your horse some insulation in the cool nights and insect protection. They are not waterproof , but dry out quickly. Great for use year round.

We use dual weave Diamond ripstop across all our Polycotton Ripstop Range. Why diamond weave? Because it runs diagonally across the fabric weave therefore it provides much better durability and strength. We also use only polyester/cotton blends. Generally we use a 70% Polyester to 30% cotton. Polyester provides the strength and the cotton gives breathability which keeps the fabric cool. If you have a higher cotton content, rugs shrink and begin to loose strength - the cost also goes up. A majority of our competitors now use 100% polyester fabrics - because its cheaper, but not the best for your horse!

All our fabrics are made especially for us on automated computerized tensioned looms. You wont be able to part the fibres in our ripstop fabrics because of this. Many cheap imports from India, are made on manual tensioned looms - the fabric looks the same, but when you start pulling at the weave you will be able to part the weave (usually only in one direct). This make a big difference to the life of your rug.

We recommend only diamond weave ripstop for its strength and durability. Please follow the attached link to our Cotton Ripstop Paddock Horse Rugs.

Hybrid Rugs

Hybrids refer to a rug that uses two different fabric types. The most popular design is a polycotton ripstop with mesh in the skirts and neckline. These offer the best of both worlds - insect protection, high airflow and the benefit of polycotton which is easier on delicate horses's coats.
Please follow the attached link to our Hybrid Horse Rugs.

Flag Rugs

A very lightweight open weave cotton rug similar to cheese cloth - very cool, ideal in very hot climates - best used in stables or yards as the rugs are not strong and can be easily destroyed on the wrong horse. GSM is usually 160 to 170gsm.

Please follow the attached link to our Flag Horse Rugs.

Cooler or Wet Weather Horse Gear:

Wool Rugs

Wool rugs are an ideal under rugs or stable rug in the cool months. Wool is a natural fibre and very breathable while also providing good insulation. It is also stronger than polar fleece and will last longer. Wool is usually a blend of wool and other fibres. A good wool rug will be at least 70% wool. Be careful with many rugs advertised as wool that may have a very low percentage of wool but be charging a full wool price! A thinner high percentage wool rug will provide better insulation than a thicker rug with a lower wool content.

Polar Fleece Horse Rugs

Polar fleece is very popular as an under rug, travel rug or stable rug in the cooler months. It doesn't have the same strength as wool, but is a compromise against price. Our Caribu polar fleece is a thick Anti-Pilling fleece that is 300gsm. Thinner fleece can flood the market , normally around the 220gsm. It may look the same - but will thin out very quickly. Always look for anti-pilling fleece for better performance.

Synthetic Waterproof Denier Turnout Rugs

For cold or wet weather a turnout rug is most appropriate. Generally the synthetic rugs are most suitable as they are light, 100% waterproof, and dry out easily. The downside is they do need to be removed when the weather clears in the warmer months as your horse can over heat in them once the sun comes out and humidity goes up. Unfortunately they are yet to invent a waterproof & cool rug! Kind of like trying to find a cool raincoat or Drizabone.

Modern coatings & treatments often allow this type of rug to be breathable as well as providing weather protection. (many cheaper fabrics are not breathable.)

We offer 600 /1200 and 1680 Denier fabrics in our rugs. Many manufactures have reverted to using 600 Denier, because its cheaper - but the rugs just don't last as well. In our opionion a 1200denier is teh best option and a balance of durability vs cost.

We recommend 1200 Deniers. A 1200 denier rug will cost you around 10% more than a 600 Denier - but you will get twice the life from it. If you can afford 1680 Denier - its a great option.

Turnout rugs come in both lined and unlined versions. In both Canvas and Synthetics. Synthetics are very popular and many opt for an unlined turnout combo and then layer stable/cotton ripstop rugs underneath in the cooler weather to get the desired warmth.

Synthetic Turnout rugs typically come in four fill weights :

  • Light (No fill) often called an Unlined Rain sheet (Our Eclipse Range)- Important to select a rain sheet that has a can-can mesh lining - this stops the Outer Denier from sitting directly on the horses coat. This insures the rug can 'breath' better. These are very versatile and you can layer additional rugs underneath to get the desired warmth in the cooler months. They are always best used over a light cotton rug to help prevent condensation from horses body heat.

  • Polarfleece Lined (Our Flinders Range)- These are ideal choice in finding a rug that offers a little more warmth than a rainsheet, but without making your horse to warm. Ideal in the shoulder seasons.

  • Medium Fill (200grams of Poly Fill) (Our Alpine-Mid Range), ideal for areas that expeience warmer Australian Winters. You will see some manufactures make them a 100-150gram version. This is more for marketing than actual benefit. The rug generates its warmth by capturing the air pockets in the poly fill lining. 150grams and below of Poly fill has very little insulation effect and its not until you get to 200grams+ that you get enough body in the poly fill to make a difference. Polyfill linings do compress over time and provide less insulation as they thin out, this is an important factor to consider when choosing between a 200gr and a 300gr. Read more detailed information on our Polyfill here.

  • Heavy Fill (300grams of Poly Fill) (Our Alpine Heavy Range), ideal for Australian Winters. 300grams is the most popular filling for winter turnouts, they offer good warmth and often don't require any under rugs. We recommend these over a 200gram rug, 300grams will experience less compression over the life of the rug and continue to provide the best insulation performance. Read more detailed information on our Polyfill here.

    Canvas Rugs are also an option. Canvas offers very good breathability. They are also very strong - but also very heavy - especially when wet. They are ideal in dryer climates, while Canvas is rain resistant, they will start to absorb water after a few hours of heavy rain and not suited to high rainfall areas. See more detailed information on Canvas rugs below.

Please follow the link to Winter Under Rugs.

What materials should I look for in a good winter rug, for both the outer shell and fill/lining?

Most turnout rugs have an outer shell of nylon, polyester, or polypropylene. Stable rugs are often made of cotton, cotton blends, or polar fleece.

With Waterproof Deniers, the strength (and thus durability) of a rug's outer layer is expressed in terms of its denier (a unit of measurement for the thickness of the thread/fabric used); the higher the denier number, the stronger the material. When comparing a 600 Denier and a 1200 denier rug - both will provide similar warmth/insulation - however the 1200 Denier will be stronger and more durable. For a horse that is out in the paddock, we recommend nothing less than 1200 denier for turnouts.

You'll also see a selection of linings; polycotton, nylon, and fleece-like wicking material are the most common. In our opinion a breathable Nylon is best - it wont hold perspiration or absorb moisture - and ultimately wont rot when stored away in the summer months

When selecting a rug, also consider whether it's waterproof (a must for turnout in wet weather) and breathable. (Please refer to our other guides for more detailed information on these ratings) Breathable rugs allow moisture near the horse's skin to pass through to the surface. Even on a cold day your horse will still perspire and you will get moisture under the rug -a breathable rug will help him stay at a comfortable temperature -and prevent chills- by allowing the sweat to escape into the air.

We have a great article on understanding grams vs gsm vs denier here.

Canvas Rugs:

Synthetic rugs have seen the demise of the canvas rug in recent years. Canvas is a stronger alternative, but does have its short fallings in extra weight and poorer waterproofing compared to a synthetic.

Canvas can range from a 100% cotton blend, which is cool and breathable, to 100% Polyester which is very strong but also can be hot. You will see a huge range of Canvas rugs that fall between the two extremes and their performance will vary significantly. The type of weave and machine the fabric is manufactured on also plays a huge part in the success of the rugs ability to perform well in the waterproofing arena.

Canvas comes in different thickness or weight, often from 11oz up to 22oz. Obviously the heavier the canvas - the longer the potential waterproofing. The downside is a 22 Oz canvas is extremely heavy/hot and not very practical in our milder Australian weather.

Corespun Canvas is gaining popularity as the technology to create the fabric comes down

What are the benefits of Core Spun Canvas? Numerous! A traditional canvas thread comprises of a blend of numerous fibers grouped and spun together to create a single thread, (At a simple level think of braiding your hair!) which is then woven into a canvas.. Core Spun canvas is made from a much more intensive process. Each thread consists of a strong centre core of polyester, which is then tightly entwined in a 100% Cotton outer layer. This creates a very strong dense fabric that is considerably lighter and stronger, but achieves the same performance as a much heavier traditional canvas otherwise would. The tighter weave also helps to improve waterproofing as the cotton around the core expands and gives better waterproofing while still maintaining excellent breathability.

Caribu Core Spun

With Canvas, its important to understand how canvas has been waterproofed. Their are three different processes used to waterproof canvas. See our Waterproofing guide for more information.

No Canvas rug is 100% waterproof. While the fabric may provide good waterproofing, water will enter via stitching lines along seams, necklines and around fittings (Over time the stitching will swell and the needle holes will clog up and reduce the issue). A high wool blend lining (not just felt) creates a membrane between the canvas and horses coat to extend water penetration. Canvas will absorb moisture from exposure to rain and from condensation condensation under the rug. If you use canvas in wet conditions, you will need to remove canvas regularly and allow to dry out completely.

Lined or Unlined Canvas? Unlined canvas rugs are great for warmer days and cooler nights, but horses in unlined canvas rugs often have high moisture transfer during very heavy rain or extended hours of rain, due to difference in the horses body heat and the cool canvas. Wool lined Canvas helps reduce this problem and creates a buffer. Like touching the inside of a tent when its raining, the tent will start to leak at the point you touched it.. A similar process happens where the rug makes contact with the horse, creating moisture transfer onto your horse. Amount of transfer depends on many factors like air temperature, humidity and body heat. The positive side of an unlined canvas is that they dry out very quickly when the rain stops often just from the horses body heat.

Canvas is ideal in many situations, it provides superior strength to synthetic rugs, is very breathable and is ideal for short bursts of wet weather protection.

We suggest for best performance that you apply a waterproofing treatment to your rug after the first 12mths to increase its life.

If you require your horse to always be 100% waterproof - we suggest a synthetic rug will be better suited as they provide 100% waterproofing.

Please follow the link to our Canvas Horse Rugs.