When you sort through your collection of rugs and realise your horses have a bigger wardrobe than you do, you have to wonder how you managed to collect so many rugs.
My first pony had three rugs. The first was a green canvas New Zealand which was so heavy, I had to get help to put it on her. Next, she had a blue quilted stable rug that looked like a big sleeping bag – probably because the manufacturers’ main business was making…you’ve guessed it.
Finally, she had a sweat rug. It looked like a lot of string vests sewn together and at Pony Club rallies, we were shown how to put a layer of hay along our wet or sweaty ponies’ backs and place the sweat rug on top so they dried off.
It was a very long time ago and today’s pony owners are no doubt howling with laughter. But when I look at what we now consider essential, I wonder if the joke is on us. My horses have turnout rugs in different weights, fly rugs, coolers, rugs made from thermal knitted fabric and cotton summer sheets.
I’m not as bad as some and at least my rug collection works hard and helps keep my horses comfortable. I’ve been on yards where horses are swaddled in so many layers of rugs, stretch bodies and hoods that you can’t tell what colour they are.
More seriously, I’ve seen totally inappropriate use of rugs. Covering every inch of a native pony so he’s sweaty and uncomfortable – but stays clean for a show – isn’t on. Nor is adding extra rugs to deliberately overheat a horse: the reason was ‘He’s too fat and I’m sweating it off.’
On a social media page devoted to native ponies, some owners sought advice on the best rugs to keep ponies warm and dry this winter. Amongst the various suggestions were one from a lady who has bred Fell ponies in their natural habitat for many years.
She wrote that a Fell pony’s best protection is his coat, because nature has designed it to do a job in harsh conditions. When it’s cold, the hairs stand on end, trapping a layer of air next to the skin. When it’s wet, the two layers of the coat work together, the undercoat keeping him dry and the top layer of hair lying flat.
It made me think about my cob and pony, who have to cope with strong Fenland winds that put the chill in wind chill factor. So far, they’re perfectly happy unrugged, but the turnouts will come out at some stage. They also appreciated their fly rugs when the insects from the big drainage dyke alongside our field were at their worst.
The summer sheets, coolers and thermal rugs have also been useful – so yes, my money was well spent. But I’ve made a mental note not to lose sight of what nature has given them for protection and to remember that they aren’t thin-skinned Thoroughbreds.
And to resist the present a friend bought for her grandchildren’s cute pony, who looks even cuter now he’s wearing a turnout rug emblazoned with the message: Born To Roll.