You'll have noticed that in almost all of our winter images our horses have no additional jacket (a rug) on, like some horses do.
This isn't because we're cruel or bad owners, but because our horses have everything they need to do winter rugless.
The hardy New Forest breed is perfectly equipped to deal with the cold winter months.
Come September/October the horses start to grow a thick winter coat that traps a layer of air around their body. This warms up from body heat and acts like a fleece, keeping warm air close and buffering them from the cold winter temperatures on the outside.
If we were to put a rug on those thick coats, their hair would be crushed flat and unable to perform it's function of keeping them warm.
So rather than interfere with nature, we let the horses ability to stand the hair up erect to trap more air (piloerection) to regulate their own temperature, rather than guess what weight of rug they need.
Even in heavy rain it's extraordinary how dry the horses stay underneath, as oils in the hair act as a waterproof, causing the water to run off the hair rather than soak them to the skin. If the rain is REALLY heavy, then yes, they will get wet - but even short periods of that they can deal with, especially if they have plenty of access to food.
Finally, our horses prefer life this way.
We used to rug our horses because that's what good horse owners do, right?! However, as we learnt about the health benefits of their own regulation, we listened to our horses more and weaned them off wearing rugs over a couple of years.
Rugs can get very heavy, they're not always well-fitted and they have a habit of getting ripped, broken or need replacing every 3-4 years (if you're lucky). Transitioning the herd slowly gave them time to adapt their bodies as they needed to keep themselves well, which proved to be essential for Dainty - who relied on her rug for warmth the most.
Now, we even remove the hair from their neck and underbelly to try and get them to use a few calories to stay warm. It works well for enabling the horses to exercise without getting too hot and loose a bit of weight (or at least that's the plan!) over the winter months so they're as slim as possible when the lush grass arrives in spring.
Yes, no rugs mean it takes longer to clean them, but on the whole for us this is a tiny price to pay for the benefits they gain.
Does this mean we think rugging horses is wrong? Absolutely not. Different breeds have different requirements, and other people want different things from their horses, meaning rugging is the right thing to do for them. We sometimes rug, when we want the horses to be clean or dry for a particular occasion. It's all down to weighing up the pros and cons, listening to your horses and doing what's right for you.