How to fit a rug correctly to keep your horse comfortable

  • Rugs are a staple item in most horses’ wardrobes, so it’s worth knowing how to fit a horse rug correctly to ensure he is comfortable both in and out of the stable.

    Well-fitting rugs tend to be cut fairly high over the wither to eliminate rubbing and pressure around the wither and chest. Darts, shaping and lightweight, flexible fabrics now ensure a good fit that stays in the right place, so it’s worth shopping around for one that’s the ideal shape for your horse.

    Shoulder vents are a good idea for horses who tend to charge around in the field, and it’s wise to look for enough depth to come below the horse’s belly. You may want a design you can wrap-round underneath and fasten snugly, especially in stable rugs where less movement is required.

    Many turnout rugs claim to be self-righting, and indeed many are, but much depends on the cut and fit for this to work. Again, it’s important to find one that really suits your horse’s size and shape – make sure all darts are in the right place and leg straps are at a comfortable height.

    How to fit a horse rug: sizing

    Turnout rugs, coolers and stable rugs made in the UK are usually measured horizontally from the centre of the chest to the end of the rump, in feet and inches. Use a soft tape measure that will bend round the horse’s curves. Rug sizes are usually manufactured in three-inch increments. When giving your horse’s measurements, some manufacturers advise you to allow an extra three inches for well-built horses.

    How to fit a rug

    Rugs made by European brands are measured from the withers horizontally across the back to the top of the tail, in centimetres.

    In theory, all sizings are the same, but in practice the cut may vary from brand to brand so shop around for the one that fits your horse best. It’s handy if you can confirm sizing estimates with a similar build of horse on your yard – or check out our rug reviews.

    Does it fit?

    You’ve measured the horse and bought the rug – but before you turn the horse out, you need to check the fit. It’s advisable to try it on for size over a thin stable sheet, so that the new rug doesn’t get dirty if needs to be exchanged.

    First, assess how the rug fits over the whole body. The front of the rug should sit around three inches in front of the withers to reduce the likelihood of pressure sores. Can you fit your hand easily down the front of the rug? If not, it will restrict the horse’s movement.

    The rug should stretch easily to the top of the tail (the seam above the tail flap if there is one) to provide adequate protection from the elements. If it hangs down below the top of the tail, then it is too long.

    Next, check all the straps, surcingles or filet strings. The hindleg straps should fasten to make a figure of eight, with each one going round the inside of each leg, and looping through the other to help prevent chafing. They are adjustable, so make sure there is a good hand-width between each strap and the horse’s leg or his movement will be restricted. If there is a filet string going under the tail instead of leg straps, make sure it is short enough to keep the rug in place on a windy day or when the horse rolls.

    The belly straps, or surcingles, should also allow a hand-width between the strap and the horse’s tummy. If they are too long, the horse may get his legs tangled in the straps; too short and they will rub.

    How to fit an exercise rug

    The advice above relates to stable rugs, outdoor rugs and coolers that cover the horse’s body. For exercise rugs, a different sizing guide is required. They are sold in smaller sizes than the other rugs. However due to the fact that you will be requiring an increased range of movement while exercising than when the horse is, for example, standing in the stable, take care to get the right size. You want to enable freedom of movement without having excess fabric that might get caught on bushes, or flap about causing the horse to spook.

    These are measured like European rugs, from the highest point of the withers to the top of the tail, using a soft tape measure. In the UK, they are typically sized in feet and inches. As a general guide, a horse which takes a 6ft rug will take a 4ft 6in exercise rug, but this depends on the build of horse, for example if he has a deep chest.

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