To rug, or not to rug… what does the horse think?
Rugging and clipping are two of the most hotly debated topics among horse people, rivaling barefoot vs. shoeing in the strength of opinions on either side. None of these come under the topic of “behaviour” – so I’m not going to weigh in on these, other than to say that I think “it depends”.
However, a recent study into rugging revealed something I found pretty awesome about how horses feel and how they can learn to communicate this in very human terms.
A team of researchers in Scandanavia taught a group of horses to ask to have a rug put on (by pushing a “-” symbol on a card), taken off (by pushing a “|” symbol on a card), or to be left as they were (by pushing a blank card). The proof that the horses had really understood these symbols came on the days when they asked the horses what they wanted under different weather conditions. The colder, wetter and windier the day, the more horses wanted rugs to be put on (or to be left as they were if they were already wearing rugs), and the warmer and calmer the day, the more horses wanted rugs taking off (or to be left as they were if they were already unrugged).
You can read a more detailed summary of the findings here, and the orginal study here. Whilst the debate over whether to rug or not will certainly rage on, it is interesting to know that horses are not so clear cut one way or the other themselves, and that there were differences in preferences between the horses themselves. What one horse found cold enough to need a rug, another might just find a little chilly.
Equine Science Talk considers the scientific evidence for and against clipping and rugging in the short video below.