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Rugs, clipping, caring for horses and ponies in snow and frost, feeding in Autumn and Winter, Rain rash, skin infections, caring for older horses ... (on this page)

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Horses and ponies need special care during the Autumn and Winter months. They will need extra feeding, warm waterproof rugs and, if they are being ridden, they may also need to be clipped.

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Tips for saving money in winter

  • Leave horses and ponies out with a rug instead of in stables. Saves money on bedding.
  • Don’t put a rug on a native horse or pony not in work as they are well able to cope without and will grow a thick, warm coat.
  • Buy hay and haylage in bulk earlier in year when cheaper if you have somewhere to store it. Buy large round or square bales as they are usually cheaper.
  • Feed plenty of fibre instead of sugary mixes. Fibre such as hay, haylage and soaked beet pulp will keep horses warm. Add a vitamin lick to supplement.
  • Feed oil to help keep condition and shine.
  • Buy second hand rugs and tack from equine charity shops such as www.horseworld.org.uk/support_us/tack_shop .

Contributors: Richard Reason, Codee Marie Leiblich, Terri Andrea Bedingham, Jess King, Elaine Tasker (Equine Market Watch Sanctuaries UK), Laura Stewart, Sue Steel, Diane Smith, Ragen Ellaway, Katie Heedcase Mercer, Horseworld Trust, Chloe Gregory, Sophia Greppi and Anna Palmer.

Rugging a difficult horse for the first time
Go slowly when putting a rug on a young or difficult horse for the first time. Practise first with a numnah or saddle cloth, follow this with a towel and finally fold an old rug inside out and slowly place on the horse's back. You can then unfold the rug leaving the correct side out. An old one is advised because horses sometimes tear a rug if not used to it. You don't want to see your fabulous new rug which cost about €150 in tatters on the stable floor.


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Winter turnout rugs

To rug or not to rug - that is the question!

Ask yourself this: 'Does my horse really need a rug? How much work will he do over the winter? Do I want to leave him out at night? Does he sweat much when ridden?' Chances are, if you've got a native breed or a good doer, he won't need a rug if he lives out. If he's clipped, a thoroughbred, old and inclined to lose weight or a show pony type, then a rug is a better option. Each case is individual but there's no point spending money on a rug and clipping off a natural, thick woolly coat unless you really need to.  

Click here to download 'Should Horses Wear Rugs' article by Chloe Gregory

When to put rugs on horses in Autumn

Autumn is a difficult time of year, like Spring, and there are no hard and fast rules but this is what I would do with a horse who is going to be in medium to hard work: 

If the horse is not too hairy by now, put on a lightweight waterproof rug on wet, windy days. If it is still mild, he would only sweat in anything heavier. You have to be ready to take off this rug if there is very warm sunshine. The rug will keep the shine on his coat and stop him getting too hairy. If the weather is warm and mild, I would take the rug off during the day and put a light rug on him at night - unless the nights are very warm. Sweating under a rug is bad because it can lead to skin infections so be careful of this.

When the horse gets so hairy with his winter coat that it difficult to dry him off after excercise, it is time to clip him and put on the winter rugs. If you want to make life easier, you can leave the rugs off until the horse has grown a winter coat, then clip him and put on the winter rugs. The drawback is that a horse in work will be harder to clean after turnout and will take longer to dry off after work.

Ponies and horses in very light work or not being ridden (who will not be clipped or only lightly clipped) can be left until they have grown more hair before putting on winter rugs or, depending on age and type, may not need a rug at all. Native breeds such as Shetlands, Welsh mountain ponies, Connemaras, Irish Draughts and New Forests should cope well without them.


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What type of clip to choose
  • Clipped Out or Hunter Clip - for horses and ponies in hard work where they sweat a lot - all hair is clipped off (except legs for hunters)
  • Trace Clip - a half clip (named after traces of carriage horses) for horses in medium work. It keeps horses warmer than when clipped out.
  • Blanket Clip - where hair is left on back in a blanket shape for horses in medium/low work. This keeps the horse's back warm.
  • Bib Clip - where hair is taken from neck only. In one photo below, this has been extended down under the chest and back to the girth area to keep the pony clean. Suitable under a rug for animals living out.
  • Bib and Belly Clip - where hair is taken from stomach, between front legs and a little up neck for horses and ponies in light work. Clip suitable under a rug for animals living out.

Photo Gallery of Clips for Horses

Click on thumbnails below to see what each clip looks like. Thank you to Katie Harraway, Gemma Donaldson, Parsons Rump, Livi-May and Sarah O'Kane for allowing Horse and Pony Info to use their photos.

HorseClips/LiviMayTraceClip.jpg HorseClips/SarahOKaneTraceClip.jpg HorseClips/ParsonsRumpShortBlanketClip.jpg HorseClips/ParsonsRumpClipBib.jpg
HorseClips/KatieHarrawayBibClip.jpg HorseClips/KatieHarrawayClippedOut.jpg HorseClips/BlanketClipGemmaDonaldson.jpg

Examples of horse clippers

Winter turnout rugs

Clipping horses and ponies 

Horses and ponies in work can be clipped in the Autumn and once or twice more through the Winter, depending on how much hair they grow. Most horse manuals will tell you to give your horse his last clip in January and to leave it at that otherwise it might interfere with the summer coat coming through but some trainers of show horses will clip horses all year round. It's really a matter of what suits you and your horse. If the summer coat has started to appear on a previously clipped horse, don't clip him again at this stage.

Getting started
Wear a hat and overalls as hair will get everywhere. It's a good idea to clear a bare patch in the stable before clipping so that it's easy to sweep up the hair afterwards. Most horses and ponies will object a bit so you will need someone to help you hold them.

Make sure you have your clipping blades sharpened beforehand and also that you have a clean extra rug to take the place of the hair you are about to remove. Have two sets of clipping blades in case the first one becomes blunt half way through. A dirty coat will blunt the blades so groom the horse well over the weeks before you clip and you can also sponge him down with a little shampoo mixed with water to wash off sweat after exercise. This will leave a clean coat ready for clipping later on. It's hard to dry a horse in the winter if you hose him so just use a cloth and bucket of water. Wring out the cloth so that it doesn't wet the coat too much and wipe the sweat off with this after riding.  

What sort of clip do you want?
Check your manual to see what sort of clip you want. Always clip against the way the hair grows. If a horse or pony isn't doing much work, a trace clip will be sufficient. Mark the lines on his coat beforehand with chalk or masking tape so that you get straight lines even on both sides. Most horses hate having their heads clipped so why bother unless you are showing the horse? One tip from a showing friend is to put the horse's bridle on while you clip him and clip away the hair behind the cheek piece (cheek strap) using the cheek piece as a guide so that you get a nice, straight line down the side of his head. It looks good with the bridle on and with it off. 

A child's pony which is ridden every now and then may not need to be clipped but, if you want him to look tidy, he will only need a small amount of hair off his stomach, between his front legs and a little up his neck. It is still possible for ponies to live out with this type of clip under their rugs.  

Keep blades clean and allow to cool down
Brush the hair off the clipping blades regularly with a dry paintbrush and apply plenty of clipping oil to the blades at the top and underneath. Leave the clippers switched off from time to time to cool down while you wipe down the horse and remove loose hair with a stable rubber (which looks much the same as a tea towel). Be careful clipping underneath the horse and under the legs as it is possible to cut him where the skin is loose. Pull the skin tight with other hand to make this easier.

TIP: If clipping on a cold day, keep the horse covered with a rug on areas you've already clipped so that he doesn't get cold.
If your horse is very difficult when clipping, always think of your safety first. Many professional trainers sedate horses to clip them. Sedalin is a well known sedative. Ask your vet for this as it is not available over the counter.

Horses and ponies will need extra feed in the snow
Horses and ponies will need extra feed in the snow

Mud Fever (also called Mud Rash)

Mud fever or rash appears on the horse's legs and, in severe cases, can spread up to the belly. Constant exposure to wet and muddy conditions causes the skin to soften and become more prone to bacterial infection, causing swelling, scabs and hair loss. A barrier is recommended for mud fever prone horses which should be applied in autumn and winter. Do not brush wet, muddy legs but leave to dry and brush clean later. We asked our readers for ideas as this is a common problem so click link below to see their top tips:

Mud Fever (Mud Rash) Tips


Rain rash, skin infections, overheating under rugs

Some horses can develop scabs on their skin which weep or ooze puss.  This can be the result of rain rash or overheating under a rug which causes a skin infection. The horse will often feel uncomfortable and itchy. The following tips should help:
  1. Clean the horse’s coat really well and wash affected area with an anti-bacterial scrub or shampoo, such as Betadine or Hibiscrub. Dry very well with lint or clean towel. Do this every day until infection has cleared.
  2. Wear rubber gloves and pick off scabs. Apply a zinc oxide type ointment, such as Sudocreme or similar. Some people use purple spray or Vetericyn.
  3. Clipping a horse will stop overheating under a rug. It also makes the coat easier to keep clean.
  4. Older horses can be more prone to skin infections.
  5. Be careful coming into Spring when weather gets warmer. Either take off rug or clip to keep horse from overheating.
  6. After work, always clean coat well.  Never leave sweat on a horse as it will irritate the skin. Brush well around girth area and wipe down with a damp cloth if necessary.
See who contributed to this


BHS Manual - A really top class reference book for care of all horses and ponies. It doesn't have glossy pictures but the information is excellent. 5 star reviews. We use it ourselves!

Tips for frozen water buckets and troughs in sub zero temperatures

  1. Put tennis, ping pong balls or footballs in water troughs & buckets.  Move these around as often as possible.
  2. Put apples in water buckets.  These also flavour the water and give horses something to play with.
  3. Use a hammer or axe and strong gloves to break ice & remove it.
  4. Use a big sieve to take out ice to avoid the pain of frozen fingers.
  5. A wheel barrow can carry buckets of tepid water from house to save your back.
  6. A hair dryer can be helpful to unthaw frozen pipes.
  7. Hot water in kettles or containers poured onto frozen troughs will melt ice.
  8. Pack straw or hay around stable water buckets to insulate. In fields, keep water buckets in shelters with hay or straw packed around them.
  9. Add a little Epsom salts to drinking water to help bowel movements.
  10. Add glycerine to water to prevent freezing. Glycerine is available in pharmacies and is non-toxic with a slightly sweet taste.
  11. Some horses learn to break the ice in troughs themselves but watch out for cuts on legs.
  12. Keep buckets of water filled in the house and alternate with ones in stables if they get frozen solid.

(See who contributed to this)

Use the Search Box below to find horse care items on Amazon.co.uk, such as rugs, clippers, instruction manuals, dvds and tack.


When to feed hay to horses and ponies living out

It's a good idea to start feeding hay to horses and ponies in fields before they start to lose weight. An easy way to tell when they need extra food apart from grass is to put out a small quantity of hay (one leaf if you have small, square bales). If they eat this, they are hungry and need hay immediately. If they don't eat it, the grass they are on is sufficient for the time being. Don't give small ponies too much hay at one time for fear of colic. Divide it between morning and evening. Make sure they have plenty of fresh water at all times.

Caring for horses and ponies in frost and snow

Horses and ponies need more care and attention in snow and frosty conditions if they are out on grass. While many horses are kept in stables during bad weather, ponies and quiet horses can remain outside if snow if not too deep.

Be sure to feed roughage, such as good quality hay or haylage because there will be little or no grass available. I also give them a hard feed to help keep condition on them, such as a coarse mix added to a chaff such as Dengie Hi Fi. I find Dengie Alfa A Oil very good for thoroughbreds or old horses which are inclined to lose weight in winter. Be careful not to overfeed in snow and frost conditions as the horses may get too lively and injure themselves on the hard ground.

Horses need water as dry feed like hay will increase their thirst. Make sure water is available at all times to guard against colic. The ice in water troughs should be broken every morning. If the trough is half full of ice, top up with warm water to melt it. If the troughs are solid to the top with ice, put out buckets of water and replenish as necessary.

Horses and ponies will keep condition better if they are rugged up for the winter. I always use a good quality rug, which is more expensive, but lasts for years, can be repaired and does not slip out of place. Check the clips and the fillet string regularly. A rug without a fillet string (the strap across the back under the horse's tail) will be blown off very quickly by the wind or when the animal rolls. It is said that 80% of a horse's energy goes towards keeping warm in the winter so a rug, although expensive, saves you money on extra feed.

Lively horses
I would not put very lively horses out on grass in frozen and snowy conditions as I would be afraid they would gallop about and injure themselves. You know your own horse so use your gut instinct.

Slippery walk ways
Be careful horses don't slip and injure themselves on ice and snow as you lead them to the fields. Throw down a path of sand or grit to prevent this and make them walk slowly. You can also use used straw or shavings from the stable bed but this will create a mess to clear up afterwards. If ground conditions are very slippery, keep the horse in and don't risk injuring him.

Older horses need rugs in winter

Caring for older horses and ponies 

Older ponies in their twenties have always been useful for teaching children to ride but more owners nowadays are keeping older ex-competition horses going for longer. They all need a bit more care and attention to look and feel well, especially in winter... (click on link below to read full article)

Click here to download 'Caring for an Older Horse in Winter'

Keeping older equines fit

As with humans, it is now believed to be good to keep older horses going with gentle exercise to help against stiffness and to keep them feeling younger.  Our older ones go hacking and do light work in the arena. There are plenty of stretching and loosening dressage exercises a horse in his twenties can do, even at a walk. An old dressage horse makes a perfect school master, as long as he’s well behaved.  All we need now is a ‘Pilates for Horses’ exercise regime! Works for humans so why not for our four legged friends? Gentle regular exercise for twenty to thirty minutes is better than strenuous exercise every once in a while. You can also take a horse or pony for a walk on a lead rope like a dog. This works well with older and very young horses as it provides variety and interest and will also help to keep the owner fit. Long reining is another useful way to keep older horses exercised without a weight on their backs but you need to know how to do this correctly so practice in an arena before you go out on the roads.

Heather Parsons book is a must for anyone who wants to look after their old equine friend. 5 star reviews and full of expert information.