They are born with a perfectly adequate coat, so why do horses wear rugs in summer? There’s no nicer sight than a glossy horse grazing in a green meadow in the sunshine, but the reality is rather different. Sun-bleached coats, fly and midge bites, inclement thunderstorms and even sunburn are all summer irritations that send owners reaching for the rug rack.
Why do horses wear rugs in summer? Flies…
Fly rugs have become a staple in many horses’ wardrobes for the summer months. A fly rug is made of a fine mesh fabric that will help protect the horse from tiresome fly and midge bites, without making him too hot on a summer day. Flies and other insects can turn a beautiful summer day into a nightmare for your horse in the field. Some horses are so distressed by the bites that they kick out and run around rather than settling to graze.
Bites can cause allergic reactions, bumps and rashes. In some countries there are also potentially fatal mosquito-borne diseases which can be passed from horse to horse, although thankfully this is not currently the case in the UK. Flies and other biting insects are more prevalent in certain areas and fields, while some horses seem to attract flies more than others, which may affect your rug choice, or whether you use one at all.
If your horse is particularly bothered by flies, you can buy a rug that fully covers the horse’s body, including protecting the neck and belly – where flies often bite. In addition, a fly mask is a popular option for those horses who are especially irritated by flies on their face, as is fly spray and fly gel repellents.
Sweet-itch rugs are a type of fly rug designed for maximum protection for horses that are prone to this condition, including full body coverage and an extra-fine mesh to help prevent midges from biting. They are a preventative measure and do not treat the horse or cure the condition.
There is a wide variety of options of all types of fly rug on the market nowadays – including waterproof fly rugs to cope with sudden summer rain. Sun protection rugs effectively do the same job as a fly rug, with the added bonus of blocking out harmful UV rays, which can bleach the coat. Pink-skinned horses are more prone to sunburn than dark-skinned ones, so they are an obvious candidate for UV protection. These horses will also benefit from a high-SPF suncream on exposed pink skin, such as muzzles.
Rain on a summer’s day
British summers don’t always play ball and downpours are common whatever the season. Some owners use lightweight turnouts or rain sheets on cooler, damp days during the summer months simply so they can ensure a dry horse to ride after work. Older horses and poor-doers may find the waterproof protection helps them maintain weight. Or owners may want to keep the mud off a grey or coloured horse ahead of a show.
Lightweight turnouts typically have 50-150g of insulation, but you can also buy no-fill (0g) rain sheets, which are more suitable when it’s warm.
Another useful rug in the wardrobe for any season, including summer, is a cooler. Their main purpose is to help the horse to cool gradually after exercise, and can be useful after exercise on a colder summer day or early mornings and late evenings if the horse has sweated up through exertion or travelling.
Cooler rugs should be breathable and with wicking properties to help the sweat disperse. They come in a variety of thicknesses, with the thinner ones being more suitable for the warmer months.
Finally, a summer sheet is handy for the stable, to keep the dust and stable stains off before a show. They also to prevent a fine-skinned horse from getting chilled on colder nights in late spring or early autumn, without leaving him liable to overheat.
It is easy to make a judgement from afar when you look into a summery paddock and wonder why horses are wearing rugs on a summer’s day. However there is no hard and fast rule on whether horses should wear rugs or not, it depends on each individual’s needs.
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