WORDS: Pat Crawford for Hadlow College
Not so very long ago, ‘the seasons’ virtually decided which rug the horse wore – and when! But ‘seasons’ are increasingly a thing of the past and it is no longer possible to rely on the time of year to decide whether or not to rug up – or what type of rug is the most appropriate.
March was the third warmest since records began and rug-less horses sweltered under their natural winter coats. April proved to be the wettest since records began – and cold too. Out came winter rugs – and the biggest problem was how to dry them off in time to be worn the next day. At the time of writing, forecasters are predicting that May will be the coldest on record – and so far it’s dismally wet too. And will June live up to its reputation for ‘flaming’? It is looking increasingly doubtful.
Saddleries and other retailers have traditionally based their stock – for horses and riders – on ‘the seasons’ but now they are being asked for outdoor rugs in the spring – and summer sheets and light rugs at increasingly ‘out-of-season’ times. Astute horse owners have long sought bargains at ‘end-of-season sales’ but if retailers have to extend the types of rugs they stock throughout the year, it rather looks as though these additional money-savers could soon be a thing of the past.
Years back, buying a rug was pretty simple. Water-proofed canvas for outdoor rugs – blankets under heavy rugs indoors – cotton for shows. Rugs variously known as travel/show were quite effective but canvas outdoor rugs were heavy and difficult to handle, failed to mould to the horse’s body when the weather was cold, hard to dry – and even more difficult to clean. The combination of indoor rugs and blankets was heavy and awkward and many a horse owner ended up with a ‘bad back’– especially in the case of a tall horse and a short rider!
Despite lining the necks of ‘old fashioned’ rugs with sheepskin, fleece and other soft materials, horses often developed bald patches in the withers area. Leg straps and curcingles frequently produced nasty rubs – especially when they had been adjusted too tightly in an effort to keep the rug in situ. And it wasn’t unusual to see a horse standing in a field with a dislodged rug dragging dangerously around its fetlocks and – not surprisingly – nasty accidents sometimes happened when a frightened animal panicked.
The big breakthrough came with the development of the first self-righting rug – the Chaskit. The merits of the design are evidenced by the fact that today – at least a quarter of a century later – some of the original Chaskit rugs are still in use!
Today the range of rugs and accessories exceeds that of rider’s clothing – and a horse’s wardrobe frequently involves greater investment of cash than does the owner’s! Outdoor rugs, combination rugs, summer turnout, autumn turnout, winter turnout, travel, stable, body suit, heavyweight, medium weight, lightweight, fly, cooler, exercise, sweat, under, Newmarket – and more. Cotton, Polyester, Flectalon, ballistic nylon, wool, sheepskin, Thinsulate – and more. Shower-proof, waterproof, rip-proof, breathable, bug-repellent, insulated, reflective – and more Masks, hoods, shoulder-protectors, neck covers, vests, bibs – and more!
With owners spoilt for choice, the time spent researching won’t be wasted. Be clear what sort of job the rug needs to fulfil. Analyse the advantages and disadvantages of various rug systems. Don’t allow ‘fashion’ and ‘colour’ choices to dominate. ‘Function’ and ‘fit’ and ‘practicality’ are what matters!
Some excellent bargains are often to be had by buying online but, if the rug doesn’t fit or suit for another reason, returning it will generally involve a degree of hassle. The local saddlery, on the other hand, will often allow an established client to take rugs away to ‘try’ for fit and style before purchase. They are also generous with information and advice – a service that is worth its weight in gold!