Slate grey mountainous cumulonimbus clouds had been rolling across the valley toward my location for the last half an hour. I hastened my attempt to remove every trace of manure from the paddock as the aerial equivalent of the Atlantic Ocean projected angry towering waves of water vapour high up into the stratosphere. The last patches of blue sky were consumed and the Sun became submerged by an atmospheric tsunami causing the temperature to plummet. The calm breeze that had been snoozing amidst the blackberry bushes while caressing the leaves with its gentle breath woke abruptly. Angered by this sudden interruption to a quiet afternoon it left the bushes to seek vengeance amongst the birch trees that lined the paddock perimeter. Thousands of leaves sang their disgruntlement while holding on for dear life. My hair whipped at my face, and my coat flapped around my legs sounding like an over enthusiastic flag waver on Coronation Day. Then it came, the loudest acoustic shock wave I will hopefully never hear again.
I have trained my little dog not to enter the horse paddocks but to wait outside the gate. She isn’t scared of horses, quite the opposite in-fact as she likes to nip at their heels. She is overly confident for an animal that weighs no more than 2 bags of sugar, making her a danger to herself. I can’t even let her get kicked to learn a lesson, which is something I have done with my labradors, as she would be killed instantly.
The crack of thunder above my head which I am convinced had the noise equivalent of the Krakatoa volcano erupting was terrifying, scaring both myself and my little 2 bags of sugar. The tri-coloured entity could be seen tearing up the hill adjacent to the paddock, with her ears pinned flat while keeping her body close to the ground. Once up the hill she raced along the top fence line, under the gate, past all the horses and as I knelt down to reassure her, she flew into my arms. At that moment several million gallons of water that had been collected from the Atlantic Ocean and the South west on its journey to Milton Keynes was released as hail. While clutching the little one I ran for the mobile field shelter. For quite some time I sat perched on one of the back wheel arches with my small dog trembling under my jacket and watched the hail. Boredom and curiosity eventually got the best of me. After-all, I was in a paddock full of horses, there was lightening, thunder and hail. Yet apart from the small trembling mammal under my coat, I was alone in the shelter. I poked my head out of the opening to see what the horses were doing.
They were all calmly grazing.
They were all calmly grazing while marble size balls of hail ricocheted off ample well rounded rumps. Freezing lumps of ice bounced and rolled off their backs and down long faces. All of the horses became thoroughly soaked but didn’t appear to mind at all. Not one horse was galloping around scared of the lightning and thunder, not one horse seemed bothered by the sudden drop in temperature and the blustering wind. None of these horses were wearing a rug.
The popularity of using rugs during the summer has increased over the last 15 years, which I think has been fuelled by both novice horse owners and companies that sell them. Walk into any tack shop and you will find rows upon rows of many different types of rugs, and in every colour of the rainbow. Moreover they are extremely affordable, even Tesco sell them. Obviously owners wish to do right by their horse, of course they do, but by trying to do right, they are doing wrong. Too many times already this year I have come across a horse wearing a rug in 18 0C or warmer. The owner has been up the stables during the cool hours of the early morning and decided their fragile horse may get chilly or even wet, so have thrown a rug on. In the heat of mid-day I have noticed the animal looking extremely uncomfortable and have slipped a hand under the rug, only to feel the horse is over-heating. In the 1st case I took the rug off immediately, in the 2nd case I reported it to the yard manager but nothing was done. In the 3rd case I rolled my eyes and didn’t do anything because I didn’t want to get involved, as no-one thanks a busy body.
In every case these particular horses had similar ailments going on, colic being the most common. Fat horses on summer grass, provided with hard feed and hay and rugged unnecessarily will not be fit and healthy animals. A vet I spoke to recently said she’d read a recent article① in which studies showed a healthy horse without shelter will suffer no adverse effects to its health until temperatures dip below -15oC.
Obviously these temperatures would only occur during a freezing winter, but then the rugging requirements would depend on whether the horse is clipped, the type of coat it has, whether it has been roughed off, it’s condition and if the field has shelter. But we aren’t talking about winter temperatures here. Owners are reaching for that rug in the summer!
Horses are actually better equipped to keep themselves warm, than they are in keeping themselves cool.
“Horses also increase body metabolism through various physiological mechanisms. Bacterial fermentation of forage in the hind gut of the horse can generate a tremendous amount of heat. As a result, horses can tolerate much colder weather than humans” (Swinker A 2009).
The horse does not mind being wet or even a bit cold. The animal has been evolving and surviving for 50 million years without needing a rug. However it’s becoming very common to see many different breed’s and type wearing one during the warmer months. Even British native horses and ponies that are hardened to the elements of Wales and Scotland can be seen rugged up to the eye-balls. While owners think they are doing the right thing, the horse will be miserable and unhealthy.
The horse is not naturally fragile, don’t make it so.
Swinker A (2009) Horses and other livestock can thrive in cold weather, Penn State University, News [ONLINE] Available at:
(Accessed 19th September 2017)
① Further reading:
Hathaway M, Martinson K, Clanton C, Williams C (2017) Equine Winter Care, University Of Minnesota Extension [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/horse/care/equine-winter-care/
(Accessed 19th September 2017)