In short, rugging is a personal decision and depends on many factors, however, rugging the horse when temperatures dip below the equine thermoneutral temperature of 4 - 7° helps avoid cold stress in susceptible horses.
It's useful to understand that the horse has several inbuilt mechanisms to regulate their own body temperature however shelter is important in cold climates. The horse needs somewhere that they can shelter out of the wind at least and preferably the rain as well. Its also important, especially for aged horses, to provide an area for the horse to lie down that has ground insulation and good footing.
A horse can generate much heat from digestive activity. One of the most effective ways to help your horse warm-up is to feed additional hay.
The digestion of feedstuffs in the gut all produce internal heat whilst being digested, however, because the hay portion is digested by microbes in the hindgut (cecum and large intestine) they produce more internal heat than concentrates that are largely digested by enzymes in the small intestine. Even though concentrates contain a higher level of digestible energy, they do not give off as much heat in the digestive process.
If you live in a very cold area you may need to consider taking the chill off the trough water. Horses prefer warm water and intake will drop if it is very cold and icy! Use heated or insulated water buckets or troughs. An inexpensive electric heating coil that can boil water can be used to serve comfortably warm water in buckets or add hot water to troughs.
Salt is the other element that will encourage adequate water consumption. Even in winter, the average horse needs at least 28g/day.
We know that with the cold weather, sometimes we can feel more stiffness and pain throughout our bodies, and horses are no different!
Cold has negative effects on a variety of body tissues. Tendons and ligaments reduce in flexibility and can, therefore, feel stiffer and be prone to higher injury rates, also muscles shorten and stiffen up as well.
Joints also suffer from the cold; joint fluid becomes less able to lubricate the joint capsule and cold temperatures can increase sensitivity to joint pain.
Exercise can warm up the body and loosen stiffness, but you must be cautious not to damage the more venerable stiffened tissues. Problem areas can be massaged before work with a warming liniment and warm-ups should be slow and long.
A joint supplement can also help during the colder months to help offset the increase in joint pain and possible dysfunction due to the cold temperatures. We have two in the shop that you may consider:
Other supplements on top of a mineral balanced diet could include:
Whatever joint supplement you choose, winter may be a good time to begin treatment!
If you live in a very cold area or have an aged or venerable horse you may have some extra management considerations, however, with a little extra care and attention, your horse should weather the winter blues just fine!
You may find that your horses coat has already started shedding, this is triggered by the longer daylight hours and marks the start of the long winter coat loss! This process will continue over the next few months and it's important to provide adequate nutritional support during this time to encourage a healthy and shiny new summer coat.