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Shoes mask weaknesses, barefoot highlights strengths

Friday, 5 December 2008

To rug or not to rug that is the question

As a kid I never played with soft toys. Dressing up, dolls houses, all that stuff just left me cold. Instead I'd spend hours creating 'paddocks' with hearth rugs and buckets from toothpaste lids for my herd of tuppennybit plastic steeds.

Same thing for the real horses. I am not really into playing 'dress up' with them. But until recently I've always rugged. In fact two of my girls were regularly 'double' rugged because they always seemed to be cold. I don't have as many rugs as some people, but I have my fair share.

But 1st September this year I embraced the barefoot movement even more whole heartedly than before by renting some private grazing. The sole purpose being to attempt a circuit or poor man's Paddock Paradise for the benefit of the horses. I did a fair amount of research and a fair few people were advocating leaving rugs off too.

I admit I was a bit wary, if not completely horrified. In the past I have been one of those people that tut at 'naked' horses out in the rain and cold. To be honest I could still be persuaded to tut - because as well as being an ardent barefooter I am also a hypocrite!

My girls and boy are 'naked'! And have been all winter. I do however continue to reserve the right to fold under pressure and put rugs on them if I think they are required, or if I get too nervous of my very posh neighbours. Who can all tut much more loudly and effectively than me.

But I have learnt a lot - (please note all these 'learnings' apply to fully furred, perfectly healthy and not unduly old, unclipped horses).
  1. Horses do not dissolve in the rain - they don't even go a bit soft round the edges
  2. Horses are smart enough to seek suitable shelter if they want/need it (we just need to make it available)
  3. Horses that move stay warmer than those trapped in a small area like a stable
  4. Horses with a continuous supply of suitable long forage (hay, haylage or grass) tend to stay warm even in quite miserable conditions (so long as they can continue to move)
  5. Thick hedge + good supply of suitable long forage + movement = warm horse
  6. Add a rug to this equation and you can end up with a cold horse (or one that is too hot)
  7. Rugs really do destroy the horse's ability to maintain a suitable body temperature
  8. It can take a previously rugged horse a while to adjust to being unrugged, but it can literally be just a few days
  9. A cold, rugged horse can be toasty warm in less than 15 minutes (even in frost) if you take his rug off, turn him out and give him a big pile of nice hay (thank you George)

I have clipped my horses out for winter in the past. My reasoning being they were working hard, would get sweaty and then get chilled. I have changed my mind.

All of our lot regularly get very sweaty - because they charge up and down the hill enmasse, or (George) chase cyclists along the fence line (cows in the summer), chase the errant dogs that enter the property unbidden (Madam) or just scoot about because they can (The Grey). And so far they have been just fine. Even when soaked they don't take long to dry themselves off, although they do tend to stink of old carpet or wet dog at times.

So I think I will live with the wet carpet pong rather than subject them to the inexpert science of clipping and rugging or even just rugging. At least until I change my mind again.

1 comment:

dp said...

As an avid barefooter I considered not using blankets, but it is just too wet here for the horses to go without. One night last winter I was trying to be tough but when I went out to feed the following morning Tonka was trembling so hard he could barely walk. Now I leave uninsulated rain sheets on them whenever it might rain. I also find that a sheet helps the hard-keeping TB mare when it is cold and sunny, but the big guy can go without.

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