If you're confused by the massive choice of turnout rugs on the market, allow Andrea Oakes to explain all you need to know about deniers, outers, linings and fastenings in order to make the right choice for you and your horse
The best turnout rug for your horse will keep him warm and dry while he’s in the field, providing a comfortable but durable layer against the elements. Rug design has come a long way from the days of the simple canvas New Zealand, but this does mean that choosing an outdoor model from the many variations on the market can be little overwhelming.
Panic not, because we’ve devised the ultimate no-nonsense guide to buying a turnout rug. From filling weights to fillet strings, we’ve got the subject covered.
The first choice you’ll be faced with is rug weight: light, medium or heavy. In simple terms, lightweight is sufficient for spring or autumn, while medium and heavyweight are more suited to the British winter and the colder months either side of it. There’s more to it than that, of course, so let’s take a closer look at the weight factor.
The stated rug weight (300g, for example) refers to its filling – the polyester fluff that captures pockets of air to generate warmth (much like a puffy jacket or a sleeping bag). This ‘polyfill’ is measured in grams per square metre (GSM) and can vary from 0g in a no-fill rain sheet to 400g or more in the heaviest winter turnout.
The amount of filling will largely determine the warmth offered by the rug. It’s also worth considering the quality of the materials and the overall design and construction of the rug, however, as it’s the complete package that counts where warmth is concerned. We’ll move onto those important points in a moment.
So which weight will suit your horse? There’s no easy answer to this one, as his type, age, weight, workload and general health will all affect his ability to bear the cold. While a clipped-out and thin-skinned thoroughbred might need a weightier fill in the depths of winter, a more robust type or a part-native might swelter under so much insulation.
Living conditions make a difference, too – a paddock offering plenty of natural shelter is a different prospect to an exposed field on a northern hillside. With time, you’ll get to know your horse’s normal temperature range and how he copes with his environment.
Some rugs feature detachable layers or quilts as a solution to changing seasons and conditions, allowing you the flexibility to add or remove insulation as necessary. You’ll pay more for this option, but it might be a cheaper long-term solution than buying an extensive wardrobe of different rug weights.
The outer shell
A turnout rug needs a tough outer shell, able to withstand not just the elements but also hazards ranging from other horses’ teeth to bramble bushes.
Rugs come in different deniers, denoted with a D rating, which refers to the number of yarns used to make one thread. The higher the denier, the stronger the fabric.
When choosing denier, consider your horse’s lifestyle. A lower denier of around 600D may well suffice for the more placid horse or one living alone or with a quiet companion, but could turn out to be false economy for a serial rug-wrecker. A higher denier – some rate at 1680D – is a better bet for the rough and tumble of the herd.
Further fabric options include rip-stop construction, where an interwoven cross-hatch halts any rips in their tracks – a reassuring extra if you’ve ever been to fetch your horse and found him with his rug hanging in strips around his fetlocks. Another choice is ballistic nylon, a material that’s as tough as it sounds. A good rug will have some potential to rip, however, in the event that the horse gets himself caught up and starts to panic.
A dry horse will be a warmer one, so it goes without saying that a turnout rug should be waterproof. Although a high denier count does not indicate a rug’s waterproof qualities, a tightly woven fabric does tend to repel water (and wind) more efficiently.
The rug’s waterproof qualities come from the treatment of its outer material, so look for modern finishes and barrier technologies designed to keep the wet out. Some fabrics are rated for their waterproof qualities (5,000 WP would be high). Bear in mind, however, that waterproofing can diminish with age and wear, so be prepared to re-treat rugs when necessary. Incessant rain may eventually penetrate even a quality rug, most probably through any seams and openings, so opt for a seamless model to minimise this or invest in a spare.
Almost as important as a rug’s outer waterproofing is its breathability. Unless you want your horse to be wrapped in the equivalent of a sweaty plastic bag, pay attention to the rug’s ability to allow perspiration to evaporate. If you over-rug him, though, no amount of breathability will prevent the formation of damp and sweaty patches.
Cut and colour
Modern turnouts are designed to cocoon a horse in an envelope of warmth, with many offering a choice of shapes to cover the extremities.
The standard neck shape stops at the withers and is good for warmer weather. A high-neck finishes further up for a more snug effect and tends to prevent rain draining down the neck and inside the shoulder area of the rug, while a ‘combo’ features full neck padding for the ultimate in protection.
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An added advantage of full neck cover is a cleaner horse, but downsides include the possibility of a rubbed mane and the fact that you can’t remove this extra insulation during a warm spell. A detachable neck offers greater flexibility, although the attachment area does pose leak potential in driving rain. Tail flaps offer further protection at the other end, with a choice of designs and extended lengths.
Take a look, too, at the gussets that shape the rug and provide a close-fitting, wrap-around effect to keep draughts out. These design points are not just a cosy extra. A good cut will allow the horse more freedom of movement and help prevent the rug from slipping or rubbing. There’s less chance, too, of excess fabric snagging on branches or flapping in high winds.
If you’ve a particularly wide-chested horse or a high-withered type, new build-specific models are available from some manufacturers to accommodate these shapes.
Gone are the traditional surcingles that put pressure on the spine – turnouts stay in place with innovative under-belly cross-surcingles, chest closures, wipe-clean under-tail fillet strings and leg straps that may be elasticated, adjustable and removable.
Much is down to your horse’s preference, but think about when and where you’ll be fiddling with these fittings – if you’re changing a rug in the field in the dark, you may be glad you paid more for no-fuss or touch-close fastenings that can even be done one-handed.
Before making a final choice, decide whether some of the added extras now available are worth the extra investment. Anti-static and anti-bacterial linings can create a smoother, healthier coat, while reflective outer strips could be useful if you catch your horse by torchlight.