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Should I Rug My Horse When it's Raining?


can I put a rug on a wet horse

When it comes to UK weather, rain is a common occurrence. Be it summer thunderstorms or winter drizzle, precipitation has horse owners rushing to and from the field as everyone asks the age-old question: To rug or not to rug?

We have discussed rugging in general in another blog, “Does My Horse Need a Rug?”. Meanwhile, this blog will cover rugging specifically in relation to wet weather.


The Importance of Providing Shelter

Rugging is not the only way to protect your horse from the elements. Horses will seek out shelter, stand with their backs to the rain and huddle together for warmth. Therefore, providing adequate shelter and company will give your horse some protection. Of course, some horses will require additional protection in the form of a rug.


Can I Put a Rug on a Wet Horse?

With the British weather being so changeable, it’s easy to be caught out by a sudden downpour. If this happens, should you rush outside to rug your horse when he or she is already wet?

Rugging a wet horse will prevent the water from evaporating or running off the horse’s coat naturally. Instead, the rug will absorb the water, holding it close to the horse’s skin. As the temperature drops, the moisture will cool. This risks chilling the horse. 

Instead, using a moisture-wicking rug until the horse dries before switching to another rug will help to prevent chilling. 

For the same reasons, you should not rug a horse immediately after bathing. Rugs should also be checked daily and changed frequently so the horse is not wearing a wet, dirty rug for a prolonged period. 


Rain Scald and Rugging

Rain scald is a non-contagious skin condition that is similar to mud fever. It occurs when skin on the horse’s back, neck or hindquarters becomes infected. Rain scald can occur as a result of overexposure to wet and muddy conditions. However, it can also be caused by excessive sweating due to over-rugging. Putting a rug or rain sheet on an already wet horse during mild or humid weather can have the same effect and the warm, wet conditions are ideal for bacteria.


Will the Rain Make my Horse Cold?

Wet weather - particularly in the colder months - can exacerbate the effects of low temperatures. As humans, we are more likely to feel colder when it is raining. This is because wet skin allows more heat to escape, making you feel colder. 

Unlike humans, horses have two layers of hair. The dense, soft underlayer is designed to trap heat and the longer, coarser outer layer is designed to keep the underlayer dry. When your horse gets wet, the outer hairs collapse, helping to channel water off the horse’s body. This is designed to prevent the underlayer from getting wet and causing excessive heat loss. 

However, as the horse dries, the evaporation takes the moisture - and with it, heat - away from the horse. This can chill the horse, especially when it is also cold and windy.

For most horses, getting caught in the rain without a rug is not a cause for concern. However, prolonged or heavy rain - particularly when it is also cold or windy - could result in a chill for some horses.  


Every Horse is an Individual

Your horse’s age, breed and condition will affect how vulnerable they are to catching a chill. 

Native ponies are perfectly adapted to living out all year round and in all weather conditions. An unclipped native pony will be well-protected from the rain and the cold by two very thick coats. Even when it is raining, the underlayer will probably stay warm and dry underneath the protective outer coat. Therefore, rugging is unlikely to be necessary and may even cause your pony to overheat. 

On the other hand, a thoroughbred horse, with its much thinner skin and coat, is more likely to get cold in the rain. In this case, a breathable but waterproof rug may be advisable. 

As always, you should base rugging decisions on your horse’s individual requirements and ask your vet for advice if you are unsure. 


Avonvale Equine Vet Practice

As with rugging during cold weather, the decision on whether to rug your horse when it is raining depends on a number of factors. The conditions and your horse’s individual circumstances must all be taken into consideration. Sometimes, it is best to simply allow your horse’s natural protective coat to do its job. If you are unsure, speak to one of our experienced and dedicated equine vets. 

Avonvale Equine Vet Practice is an independent equine vet practice covering Warwickshire, the Cotswolds, Worcestershire and Northamptonshire. Our well-equipped clinic in Ratley, near Banbury, allows our highly qualified equine vets to carry out routine and emergency surgery, diagnostic tests and a range of therapies and treatments. Register your horse, pony, donkey or mule with us today.

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