I get asked about this quite a lot. Many people are wondering if Emily wouldn’t be better off wearing a nice, warm rug during winter. But honestly, I think she is much happier this way, let me explain why.
It is both horse people and “normal people” (so to speak) that ask these questions. Where the horse people are wondering if Emily’s thick layer of hair is not difficult during training, others are afraid she will get too cold without a rug. I can address both with practically the same answer.
You see, the thing is, horses are very well adapted to dealing with harsh climates. They can easily grow a thick layer of hair to protect them from wind, rain and cold. Sometimes when it has been snowing, you can even see a bit of snow lying on the back of a horse, which doesn’t melt because no warmth escapes from the fur at all!
I think when you want to keep your horse in as natural a way as possible, you should embrace his/her winter coat. It is by far the best way for them to keep warm. They can easily deal with temperatures from below freezing point to quite a bit above zero, as their coat can adapt to the environment and make itself more isolating or let more warmth escape, whichever is needed at that moment.
Even when a horse has broken into a sweat during or after exercise (which happens rather easy with such a thick coat, I have to admit), the sweat is quickly transported to the ends of the hairs. From there, it can take its time evaporating. You’ll see that with horses in full winter coat, often the skin is already completely dry again even when the outer part of the hair is still quite wet. It has all evolved to work that way, it is what has kept wild horses warm and alive for thousands of years. It would be a waste not to use that! (Of course a proper cooling down is essential. But that is the same without a winter coat.) Not to mention that when you put a rug on top of a still-sweaty horse, all the water is trapped inside and can make it feel very clammy and cold for your horse. You’d have to wait for him/her to be completely dry before rugging.
When you put a rug on your horse, it blocks the natural function of the hair, forcing it into a flat shape. By doing so, your horse can actually get cold sooner. The only way to prevent him/her from feeling cold is by keeping an eye on the weather and making sure your horse is wearing an appropriate rug at all times. Which might mean you’d have to change rugs two times a day to provide optimal comfort. Or at least every time as soon as the temperatures change drastically.
I do see the use of rugs for horses that are engaged in high-level sports. It would just be too warm for them to perform with such a heavy coat. Then they would have to invest a lot of energy in cooling their body, which is not what you’d want. Also older horses or horses with health problems can really benefit from wearing a warm rug, when they are not capable any more of keeping warm by themselves. But for most of the horses that you’ll find, which are ridden recreationally, or maybe even not ridden at all, a rug is really not necessary.
That all said, I don’t mean to criticize anyone for letting their horse wear a rug. It is every rider’s own choice and only possible to decide when knowing the entire story. I just wanted to explain my point of view and make clear why I think Emily is better off without a rug.
I would love to hear from my horse-owning readers how they feel about rugs! What do you think is best?