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We are lucky enough to have some excellent vets who help us with the various species and breeds of animals that call the ABC Animal Sanctuary home – for however long they are here.

One such vet is our amazing equine and large animal vet Alastair MacVicar, BVM&S MRCVS – Anvil Equine Veterinary Clinic, Copsale, West Sussex.

Alastair has a wealth of experience and told us 'Unbelievably, I have now been qualified 43 years, having worked extensively on horse medicine and surgery in three continents. I've additionally enjoyed the diversification that comes with being a horse vet; dealing with alpacas, deer, nilgai (worth looking up!) and many other species such as lions, tigers and elephants. However, my main passion remains with horses where I have a special interest in internal medicine and ophthalmology. To keep things lively I often advise overseas horse-vets, especially in Serbia which makes for interesting working holidays too!'

We asked Alastair for some top tips regarding our equines and things to look out for with Autumn upon us and winter just around the corner.

Rugs and Laminitis 

‘Most horse owners in the UK rug their horses in the winter. But, in many other parts of the world, they do not. So, what is right and what is wrong?  

Native horses are very well adapted to cope with all but the worst British weather. They do not need to be rugged unless they have been clipped for work/ showing or are very underweight or ill.  

Cross-bred horses have some of the resilience of the natives and common sense should prevail. If the weather is reasonable, and even if wet, many such horses cope well without rugs.  

Blood horses (Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, and some Warmbloods) usually need some help if the temperature is below 7⁰c. This is especially true if it is raining or there is a strong wind. For these horses, wet and windy conditions, in combination, mean that rugs, and sometimes shelter, is important.  

Rugs are good at insulating and sometimes waterproofing, but they have disadvantages. They can sometimes cause injury, especially if the straps become entangled. Excessive sweating can lead to skin disease under a warm rug. Also, lice love rugs, so watch carefully. If in doubt, ask an experienced rider!  

Laminitis is always on my mind in the spring; but autumn is also a danger period. Watch the weight of your horse and have a blood test to assess their “laminitis risk” if you are concerned. Also ask your farrier to tell you if the feet look as if sub-clinical laminitis may have occurred.  

Good luck for the winter!’  

Alastair MacVicar




There are many rugs available these days and it can be a bit of a minefield. They come in all sorts of styles and designs. There are even novelty patterns, with rugs available for the smallest miniature Shetland ponies at one end of the scale to heavy horses, like shires at the other end!

Here is an example of a few of rugs you can buy and their uses.

Turnout rug

· Where: Outdoors

· Why: Weather protection

· Fabric: Waterproof, breathable

Weights of turnout rugs:

Lightweight: Typically ranging from 50, 100 and 150 grams and used to protect against light rain or milder weather conditions.

Medium weight: Usually around 200 -250 grams, offering more warmth. They are used in cooler temperatures or in between seasons.

Heavyweight: These are about 300 grams or more and are designed for much colder climates, finer or older horses.

Different neck cover designs:

· Standard neck: These usually do not have any neck covering.

· Detachable neck: These are versatile rugs that can add/remove neck coverings

· Combo/full neck: These have a fixed neck covering for extra warmth and maximum protection.

Rain sheet

· Where: Outdoors

· Why: Light weather, light rain protection – no fill - 0 grams

· Fabric: Lightweight, waterproof, breathable

Stable rugs

· Where: Indoors or can be used as travel rugs

· Why: Warmth

· Fabric: Thick smooth material, breathable

Top tip: Older horses may need thicker stable rugs (which you can layer up with fleece rugs) to help prevent muscle stiffness as opposed to lively younger horses.

Stable rugs are also available in different weights, much like the turnout rugs, and with different necks, like the turnout rugs.

Stable sheet

· Where: Indoors, travel

· Why: Warmth

· Fabric: Smooth, lightweight, breathable

Fly rugs (or fly sheets)

· Where: Outdoors, summer

· Why: Fly repellent

· Fabric: Meshed, lightweight, breathable, UV protection

Sweet itch rugs

· Where: Outdoors

· Why: If a horse suffers from sweet itch/skin sensitivity

· Fabric: Lightweight, breathable, UV protection.

Note: Some sweet itch rugs have further features for maximum protection. These can include belly flaps, tail flaps and detachable neck covers.

Cooler rug

· Where: Exercise, training

· Why: Removes excess moisture from the horse’s body

· Fabric: Lightweight, breathable, moisture-wicking

3 types of cooler horse rugs:

1. Lightweight summer coolers: These are made from lightweight, breathable materials, providing just the right amount of coverage on hot summer days. Their woven meshed fibres allow excess water to evaporate easily whilst keeping your horse cool and comfortable.

2. Waffles coolers: These rugs are slightly thicker when compared to standard cooler sheets. They are ideal to use during spring and autumn as they offer more warmth while not being too bulky. These horse rugs can also be used as a base rug, underneath layering to provide extra cosiness.

3. Fleece coolers: Fleece cooler rugs (or fleece rugs) are the thicker of the three, providing the most insulation and warmth. These are usually used in winter to keep your horse warm when temperatures are very low.

Exercise rugs

· Where: Exercise, training

· Why: Keeps the horse warm during exercise

· Fabric: Waterproof, breathable, moisture- wicking

Note:  Exercise sheets typically feature reflective strips, ensuring maximum visibility.

Summer sheet

· Where: Outdoors, summer

· Why: UV protection, keeps horses clean

· Fabric: Lightweight, breathable,

Summer sheets can also double up as lightweight stable rugs. They can keep your horse cool while in transit or at shows.

Combination rug

· Where: Versatile / indoor or outside

· Why: Coverage, protection, warmth

· Fabric: Waterproof, breathable, moisture-wicking

The good thing about these rugs is that you can layer by adding or removing the inner fleece rugs to keep your horse warm or fold back the neckpiece if your horse is too hot. They are waterproof, and breathable ensuring your horse is dry and comfortable; allowing moisture to escape and preventing any sweat build-up.

What size horse rug?

1. Measure A to B in a straight line from the center of the horse’s chest (where the top chest buckle would sit) around the shoulder, along the side of the belly to the furthest rear point of the rump where you expect the rug to finish. Do not measure around to the tail!

2. Measure C to D to get the depth (never below the knee).

3. Measure E to A to get the neckline

Size/cm 122 130 137 145 152 160 168 175 183 191 198 206 213

Size/inches 48” 51” 54” 57” 60” 63” 66” 69” 72” 75” 78” 81” 84”

Size/feet 4’ 4’3 4’6 4’9 5’ 5’3 5’6 5’9 6’ 6’3 6’6 6’9 7’

Hands 11.2 12.0 12.2 13.0 13.2 14.0 14.2 15.0 15.2 16.0 16.2 17.0 17.2


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