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Horse rugs are an essential part of horse care and getting a rug that fits well is incredibly important for the comfort and protection of your horse. An ill-fitting rug will not only provide inadequate protection from the elements but can also cause a lot of discomfort; too small and the rug will dig in and restrict movement, too big and it will move and chafe – and rug slippage can become a major hazard in the field.

So, whether you’re a new horse owner or you’re simply wanting to confirm your horse’s rug size, follow this guide to find the perfect fit.

How do I measure my horse for a rug?

To measure your horse for a rug with UK sizing, follow these simple steps;

  • Stand your horse square on level ground.
  • Using a soft tape measure, measure from the centre of the horse’s chest – roughly where the top buckle of a rug would sit – round their shoulder in a straight line, continuing horizontally along the side of their body to the furthest point of their rump. In the event that you don’t have a tape measure to hand, you can do this using a piece of string that you mark and measure later, but this is likely to give a less accurate measurement.
  • Don’t include the tail in your measurement as that will add unwanted length to your rug.
  • Take this measurement at least twice and, if possible, get someone to help you so that you can get the most accurate reading.

If you are buying a rug in European sizing, you’ll need to take the measurement from the horse’s withers, across their back to the top of their tail, in centimetres. This will give you the rug size you need, or you can take the same measurement as above and use the conversion chart below to find the right size.

How do I know what rug size my horse needs?

Once you’ve measured your horse as instructed above, you need to convert that measurement into an equivalent rug size. You can use this handy guide to establish what size rug your horse needs based on the measurements you’ve taken…

Note: Horse rugs are sized in increments of 3 inches. The majority of horses will end up falling somewhere between two sizes; in most cases, it’s better to opt for the bigger size - so if your horse measures 6ft1”, don’t be tempted to size down to a 6ft rug. An exception to this might be if your horse was particularly narrow chested or petite.

How else can I calculate my horse’s ideal rug size?

While we highly recommend taking a measurement of your horse as described above, there are a couple of other ways you can get an idea of the right size;

Measure an existing rug

If the horse in question is not a new horse and you have an existing rug that you know fits your horse well, you could use this to identify the best size. Simply lay the rug out flat and take a measurement of the rug from front to back, from the chest binding (just under the neck) to the binding at the end of the rug in a straight, horizontal line. Don’t simply rely on the size stated on the label as the chances are the rug will have changed size over the course of its use.

When choosing an existing rug to measure, ideally use one that not only fits well but is also fairly thin – such as a cotton sheet or lightweight turnout with no fill. This will give you a much more accurate measurement.

Base it on their height

One of the most common questions that a rug retailer hears is “What size rug do I need for my XXhh horse?” This is a question to which there is no accurate answer, as horses can vary so much in shape, irrelevant of their height. The length of their back, width of their shoulders and size of their hindquarters can all greatly affect the size rug a horse will need.

We’ve put together a table of the most likely rug size needed for a horse of a certain height, however, as this is simply an estimate, it should be used as a rough guide only. We strongly recommend taking an accurate measurement to ensure your horse’s comfort.

How can I tell if a rug fits my horse?

It’s important to check the fit of any new rug on your horse, to ensure they are comfortable and that the rug provides them with adequate protection from the elements. It’s advisable to try a new rug on your horse over a clean, thin cotton sheet (or any clean rug that won’t add too much bulk) to prevent the new rug from getting dirty in the event you need to return it for a different size.

Make the following checks and adjustments to guarantee the rug is a good fit;

1. Check the front of the rug

The top of the neck of the rug should sit about 2-4 inches in front of the withers so as not to cause pressure or uncomfortable rubbing. The chest straps should be adjusted so that they are tight enough to hold the rug in place nicely over the horse’s shoulders and prevent the neck from slipping back on the withers, but should not be so tight that the rug distorts in shape or digs in. A good test is that you should be able to easily get your hand down the front of the rug and move it back and forth over the horse’s coat, creating a small amount of movement of the rug on the shoulders and withers.

2. Check the back of the rug

The end of the rug should reach the top of the tail – this should be checked while the horse has their head down to ensure you’ve allowed room for grazing, as the rug will be pulled forward slightly in this position. If the rug is too big and hangs over the tail, the extra length can mean the rug can move too freely on the horse, creating the risk of slippage. If the rug is too small and doesn’t quite reach the horse’s tail, it will not provide suitable protection – this is an especially important point to consider in the case of a turnout rug, as horses tend to turn their backs to wind and rain.

If the rug appears to fit your horse well in length and around the neck, the next step is to make the required adjustments to tailor it specifically to your horse, making it as safe and comfortable as possible

3. Adjust the surcingles

Most rugs have crossed surcingles to secure the rug under the belly. These should be adjusted to allow a hand’s width between the straps and the horse’s belly to ensure the horse is comfortable, but that they are not so loose they could cause a hazard.

4. Adjust the leg straps

Any rug designed for prolonged unattended use – such as turnouts, stable rugs and fly rugs – will feature leg straps. These should be fastened as follows;

  • Take the left leg strap, pass it between the horse’s hind legs and then fasten it to the rug on the left hand side.
  • Take the right leg strap, pass it between the horse’s hind legs and through the loop made by the left strap, and fasten it to the right hand side of the rug.

It’s important to make sure you link the leg straps in this way in order to prevent rubbing and keep the rug firmly in place, even when your horse rolls.

Adjust the length of each leg strap so that there’s about 4-5 inches in between the horse’s leg and the strap. If the straps are too tight, they can rub and cause sores, as well as restricting your horse’s movement. If they are too loose, they won’t keep the rug in place and can result in the horse getting its legs caught when lying down.

Note: Rugs without leg straps will have a fillet string at the back of the rug which goes under the horse’s tail. This should be fastened securely to ensure the rug stays in place and doesn’t get blown around in the wind.

For information about the various types of horse rug available and when you should be using a particular type of rug based on the weather or activity, please see ‘Horse Rugs Guide - Different Types Of Rug And When To Use Them’.

Genevieve de Lande Long - Horsemart
Horsemart Marketing Team
Published on 08-01-2021
Genevieve is the marketing manager for Horsemart. She'll keep you up to date with all the latest industry news and provide you with helpful guides and advice.