Effects of using a light-coloured cotton rug on horse thermoregulation and behavioural indicators of stress

Barbara Padalino, Jaymie Loy, Lesley Hawson, Hayley Randle

Research output: Other contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


B. Padalino*1,2, J. Loy1, L. Hawson1, H. Randle1
1School of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, Australia 2Department of Veterinary Medicine, University Aldo Moro, Bari, 70100, Italy *Author for correspondence: barbara.padalino@uniba.it
When environmental temperatures exceed 25°C horses are potentially subject to thermal stress. It has therefore been recommended that horses should be provided with shade during hot days. However, this is not possible for horses grazing on many rural properties. Whilst the positive impact that solar radiation blocking can have on reducing heat absorption is understood by some practitioners, conflicting views, mostly anecdotal, remain on the use of a light cotton rug on horses for this purpose. The aim of this pilot study was to examine the effects of wearing a light-coloured cotton rug on horse heart rate (HR), respiratory rate (RR), rectal temperature (RT), sweat production and selected stress-related behaviours. Data were collected for two groups of university owned horses (n=8 and 10 respectively). The horses were placed in an outdoor arena and tied in direct sunlight for 2 hours. Baseline data (T0) comprising frequency of tail swishing, licking-chewing, pawing, repeated head movements and self-care were recorded using a behaviour-sampling method for 10 minutes. This was followed by recording of physiological measures and sweat production, using a sweat score (0=none to 5=excessive). Half of the horses were then rugged, and horses observed and monitored at regular intervals for 2 hours (from T15 to T120). The effect of time was not significant, therefore data were combined and analysed using the Mann–Whitney U-test with rug presence/absence as the independent variable. RT and sweat score were lower in non-rugged horses compared to rugged horses (37.4±0.3 vs 37.7±0.3 °C; 0.5±0.8 vs 1.9±1.3, respectively; U= 1865.0, U=1409.0; P<0.001). However, non-rugged horses showed a higher frequency of tail swishing (23.1±25.9 vs 8.7±11.0n/10min; U=1939.5; P<0.001). Even though wearing a rug did not have an effect on the other parameters, it is worth noting that HR, RR and the occurrence of stress-related behaviours were higher than normal, suggesting that horses were prone to discomfort. Overall, it appears that light-coloured cotton rugs may be useful to protect horses from flies as evidenced by less tail swishing, but as they do not reflect the light, rug use leads to an increase in internal temperature and subsequent sweat production, increasing the risk of thermal stress and loss of electrolytes, with a negative effect on welfare.
Lay person message: Light cotton rugs are often used to keep horses’ coats clean and to provide protection against insects and sunlight. This pilot study was conducted to determine the effects of this type of rug on physiological and behavioural welfare indicators. Overall, it appears that whilst rugging protects horses from flies, it also results in an increase in rectal temperature and sweat production. In the Australian summer, horses should not wear these rugs and instead should have access to shade in order to meet the welfare principles of good husbandry.
Keywords: Thermoregulation; Horse; Cotton rug; Stress; Welfare; Behaviour
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 22 Nov 2017
Event13th International Conference of the International Society for Equitation Science : ISES 2017 Down Under - Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, Australia
Duration: 23 Nov 201725 Nov 2017
Conference number: 13
https://equitationscience.com/previous-conferences/2017-13th-international-conference (Conference website, link to proceedings)


Conference13th International Conference of the International Society for Equitation Science
Abbreviated titleEquitation Science in Practice: Collaboration, Communication and Change
CityWagga Wagga
OtherThe 13th international conference of the International Society for Equitation Science took place on 23rd-25th November 2017 at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia. This was the third time that the conference was in Australia (following Clonbinane, Victoria in 2005 and Sydney in 2009). Charles Sturt University is one of the few providers of degree level Equine Science education in Australia with ample equestrian facilities to host an international conference of this calibre, with the support of a wide range of sponsors.

The conference theme ‘Equitation Science in Practice: Collaboration, Communication and Change’ attracted over 150 delegates from 17 different countries and all Australian states. The theme was supported by an academic programme of 29 oral presentations and 28 posters. Delegates learnt about the role of the horse in education including breeding work, foal handling and contribution to the veterinary industry and survival of other horses. Each of the 3Cs (Collaboration, Communication and Change) were thoroughly addressed and the two workshops - Standing on the Shoulders of Giants (designed to develop an appreciation of the pillars of Equitation Science in order to identify future directions with valuable input from ISES Honorary Fellows all of whom have been globally recognised for their contribution to Animal Welfare) and Human Behaviour Change (designed to identify key areas where change in human practice is needed to improve horse welfare) were enjoyed by Practitioners and Academics, Students and Honorary Fellows alike.

The conference was fully and actively supported by senior Charles Sturt University staff (Prof Glenn Edwards, Head of School of Animal and Veterinary Science, Prof Tim Wess, Executive Dean of Science and Prof Andrew Vann, Vice Chancellor).
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