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  • April 16, 2023 4 min read

    Does Your Horse Really Need a Rug?

    It's that time of year when we put an extra blanket on our bed, but does that necessarily mean that our horse needs a rug? Well, the answer depends on a few factors such as whether they are clipped and their age and weight, among others. It is also important to understand the horse's thermoneutral zone. In this article, we will discuss the thermoneutral zone in a little more detail, and then take a look at what factors may influence our decision to rug a horse. 

    The Comfort Zone

    When it comes to temperature, everyone has a comfort zone and horses are no different. The “comfort zone” for horses is called the thermoneutral zone ("TNZ"), which is the external temperature range in which a horse can regulate its core body temperature. 

    For a horse, the TNZ is 5C to 25C. So, this means that they will be able to maintain a comfortable body temperature when the outside temperature is between 5C and 25C. If the temperature is outside of the TNZ limit, that is below 5C (or above 25C), it still doesn't necessarily mean that you need to rug your horse. However, the horse will need to work harder, through its body processes, to maintain its core temperature. 

    Other ways in which your horse can warm itself if the temperature falls below 5C, include exercising, finding shelter from bad weather and eating more, especially hay. You may also notice that a horse’s hair will stand on end, which insulates a horse by trapping a layer of air within the coat - think horse goose bumps! 

    If a horse can’t effectively warm itself, for example when it has been clipped, or an older horse, then a rug will definitely need to be considered! 

    When to Rug?

    As mentioned above, there are a number of factors to consider before rugging your horse. These include body condition score, age, breed, access to shelter, coat condition and weather. Each of these factors are discussed in more detail below. 

    Body Condition Score ('BCS')

    The BCS reflects a horse’s fat deposition: 1 is poor and 9 is extremely fat. If your horse is between 4 and 5 then they may not need to be all. In fact, if you leave an overweight horse in their birthday suit throughout winter, then you will encourage weight loss, as they will need to use their fat stores to generate energy to keep them warm. This is a great way to reduce the risk of your horse foundering, as when the spring grass comes through, they won’t be holding too much excess weight. 

    On the other hand, if your horse has a score below 4, then you may need to give them a helping hand and rug them in the cooler weather. This is because they don’t have the fat stores to help keep them warm when the temperature drops. 


    In Australia, we experience a broad range of weather patterns. One second it is monsoonal rain, and then hot sunshine...four seasons in one day comes to mind when I think about our weather! 

    As Australian winters can be reasonably mild, your horse may need a rug. If your horse is paddocked during the day and has no access to shelter, on the days where it is raining excessively, it may be wise to rug. The reason for this is because rain will cause the hair to flatten, so the horse will not be able to raise its hair to keep warm. Add to this possible wind chill due to the bad weather, and the horse can very quickly get cold. 


    Horses that are paddocked, should be able to access suitable shelter to keep them dry in winter. Ideally, the shelter should be 3 sided for best protection. Dense tree and shrub areas are also good coverings.

    If your horse has access to shelter, then it is able to keep dry, so will be able to cope with the rain and wind. However, don’t be so quick to bring your horse into the stable and assume it will be warm. Remember, the easiest way for a horse to get warm is to exercise, and out in the paddock it can RUN. When it is brought into a stable, it is unable to move around sufficiently, and may not be able to generate enough heat to warm itself. 


    When deciding whether to rug a horse, you will need to consider its age. Young horses and senior horses generally have less body fat, so will lose heat at a quicker rate compared to a horse with a higher body fat content. Senior horses may also have health issues, which will impact on their ability to generate sufficient heat to keep warm. 


    The breed of horse plays a role in determining its tolerance to the cold weather. Heavier horses will generally withstand the cold better than finer breeds. Also, some breeds of horse, such as thoroughbreds and standardbreds have a thinner coat and skin, so may have less cold tolerance than other breeds. 

    Coat Condition 

    As touched on above, some horses have thinner coats and skin and as such may need to be rugged in the cooler months. The same is true for horses that are clipped. If you do decide to clip your horse, be aware that it will need assistance in keeping warm and dry.

    Individual Requirements 

    Like humans, horses are individuals and no one knows their horse better than you! If you feel the need to rug your horse, then do it. Just make sure that your horse is comfortable, and that you have taken into account the factors that are described above! If you’re still unsure, I would recommend talking to your vet - they are a walking search engine with a wealth of information and will be able to help you!

    Take Home Message 

    When deciding to rug your horse, there are a number of factors that you should consider. However, no one knows your horse like you, and if you feel that they need an extra hand in keeping warm this winter, then you should rug them. Watch out for Part Two: Choosing the Right Rug, of this article, which we will be releasing next week! 

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