Horses under wraps

1 May 2024 Written by Michael Manley

The humble horse rug, mostly just a source of protection and warmth for our equine friends, has now, like most things, evolved and moved with the times.

In days gone by, horse rugs all tended to look the same.

That is, they were usually a canvas colour and probably looked a bit dirty and tired when they were draped over a horse. In a nutshell, they looked drab.

This was probably due to the fact that they were made from the same canvas material as old-fashioned army tents.

But times keep changing, and all products continue to evolve, including horse rugs.

Horses now have an outfit for all occasions, from stable and turnout blankets for winter, to rugs for spring and summer.

Rugs are no longer simply made from canvas. Materials such as polyester are used, and even recyclable products. They are more sustainable, waterproof, and breathable.

Heavy rugs, or turn-out rugs, are used in the cooler months, especially when horses are clipped.

These rugs protect horses from harsh weather conditions such as the cold, rain, wind, and snow, keeping them warm and dry.

In summer, cooler, lightweight rugs are used to protect a horse’s coat from the sun and insects.

Cotton or mesh rugs help protect the skin from harmful UV rays and prevent a change in the horses’ coat colour from prolonged direct sunlight.

At the forefront of the modern-day rug business in Victoria is the Mornington-based husband-and-wife team of veterinary surgeon Eoin Kelly and his wife Caitrin, who run Racetrack Veterinary Services.

Caitrin Kelly said they both grew up using the reputed Irish horse brand Horseware Ireland, leaders in the rug and health range.

“As a veterinary practice, horse health and wellbeing are paramount." - Caitrin Kelly

In 2019 they visited Horseware Ireland’s factory and decided they would use their products for their online goods business, which specialises in rugs.

“I went back to Ireland as part of an equine business trade mission organised by Enterprise Ireland in conjunction with the Irish government,” Caitrin said.

“We went to the Horseware Ireland factory in Dundalk, County Louth, where we got to see the rugs being made and we met with the founder Tom McGuinness.

“After that trip, we started our Racetrack Veterinary Services online store and decided that we would stock the Horseware range. They are products that have stood the test of time,” said Kelly.

Kelly said traditionally horses wore their turnout rug in the field and then they were changed into a stable rug when they were placed in the stables overnight.

“Since rug technology has progressed in terms of waterproofing and breathability, some owners use a turnout rug in the stable too,” she said.

“During the cooler months, we have stable sheets and a range of turnout rugs to which inners can be added, depending on how cold the temperature is and how the horse feels the cold. This may be due to things including poor body condition and old age.”

The fabric that rugs have been made from has also changed over the years, due to advances in technology.

“These turnout rugs are now made from fabrics such polyester, polypropylene and ballistic nylon,” Kelly said.

They are also turning to other and more sustainable ways to manufacture their items, such as their popular Amigo AmEco Range Rug that is made from 218 post-consumer recycled plastic bottles.

With so many options to match the season as well as a horse’s workload and condition, it is simple to keep them happy and comfortable, no matter what type of weather heads their way.