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A study has found light-coloured summer sheets do not provide an adequate alternative to shade.

The research, conducted by City University of Hong Kong researcher Barbara Padalino and her colleagues, was recently published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour.

The aim of the pilot study was to examine the effects of wearing a light-coloured cotton rug on horse heart and respiratory rate, rectal temperature, sweat production and stress-related behaviours.

Eighteen horses were tied in an outdoor arena in direct sunlight. The horses’ recordings were taken and they were monitored for tail-swishing, licking and chewing, pawing and repeated head movements.

Half the horses were then fitted with lightweight rugs and all were monitored at 15-minute intervals for a further two hours.

The rug was found to increase rectal temperature and sweat production, but unrugged horses displayed more tail-swishing and pawing, suggesting that the rug had reduced irritation from flying insects.

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“Even though wearing a rug did not have an effect on the other parameters [heart and respiratory rate and stress-related behaviour], it is worth noting that [these factors] were higher than normal values for equids, suggesting that horses were potentially prone to discomfort,” said the researchers.

“It appears that the use of light-coloured cotton rugs may help reduce the irritation caused to horses by flying insects as evidenced by less tail-swishing, but may also lead to an increase in internal temperature and subsequently sweat production, increasing the risk of thermal stress and loss of electrolytes.

“Wearing a rug is not an adequate substitute for the provision of shade when ambient temperatures exceed 25oC.”

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