I had only a short window to write last time, and wanted to say a little more about winter rugging in southern Australia, and related issues. Skip this if you prefer short posts.
Our horses free range in large paddocks much of the time, and we have planted shelter belts on the paddock perimeters since buying our place, which are already becoming popular with our animals as well as the adjoining neighbour's. For our horses this is not quite enough, and we have gone with selective rugging for them, while the donkeys, dryland creatures who absolutely hate getting even just their faces saturated, can now access a new walk-in-walk-out shelter in bad weather.
What winter rugging at our place does not
look like: A horse disappearing into a rug at the end of autumn and only re-emerging at the start of spring except when they are actually being ridden. Some people do it like that, but I think that kind of wall-to-wall rugging has major drawbacks. Even our southern winter has calm and mild environmental conditions at least 50% of the time, and during that time, healthy horses have no need for a rug and dislike wearing it. Horse skin benefits from regular exposure to fresh air and sunlight, and horses like to roll, scratch themselves effectively, etc. It's also not great for horses (or humans) to be in constant-temperature environments around the clock.
One nice place where I agisted years ago offered around-the-clock turnout in small social groups, rotating through a series of interesting paddocks (mix of terrain, trees, views of landscapes and human and equine activities), with a balance of grazing and two daily supplementary hay feeds. Also, daily owner attendance was expected, and for those of us who rugged in bad winter weather, the centre owner would un-rug in the morning if the forecast was good, for a small additional fee. You could then re-rug in the evening if necessary. It was a very good arrangement that got around some of the practical difficulties of rugging in agistment.
I've already discussed that, in the absence of adequate shelter belts or walk-in-walk-out shelters, horses can get distressed during cold, wet, windy weather. The particular valley we are located in appears to act as a wind tunnel for cold south-westerlies, and indeed our entire regional coastline is so relentlessly windy that 70% of our regional population centre's electricity is produced by less than two dozen wind turbines perched in a cluster on sea cliffs facing Antarctica. Rugging clearly has a place locally for staving off discomfort and hypothermia in paddocked horses (at least in the light horse breeds that are most commonly ridden and raced around here). But this discussion would be incomplete without also mentioning a major problem that comes with injudicious rugging: Hyperthermia, which is also distressing and potentially deadly.
Hyperthermia (heat stress) is lamentably a common condition in horses who are over-rugged for the purposes of retaining a short coat for showing, and in horses whose owners live away from unsupervised horse paddocks. These horses can end up basting in their own juices during sunny weather, and the RSPCA in Australia encourages people to report horses who are left in this predicament, as horses continue to suffer (and in some cases die) from being over-rugged. Some horses in Queensland recently were found standing up to their backs in a billabong in attempts to cool themselves when their owners had neglected to remove their rugs in warm weather.
Hyperthermia can also occur in horses who are not rugged, but live in paddocks with inadequate shade. We have to remember that fenced-in animals, unlike their wild ancestors, are not free to range around a landscape to find places which keep them comfortable in excessively hot, cold, windy or wet conditions. Providing some kind of protection from such conditions adequate for a particular species, breed and constitution is, in my view, therefore an ethical responsibility for livestock owners.