Does a Horse Need a Jacket or Blanket to Stay Warm in Winter?
It is a proven fact that horses have been evolving on our planet far longer than humans. Eohippus— a small, dog-like, creature—was the first to present itself in the horse line. The exact year Eohippus first made its appearance on the stage of earth is up for argument. Some educated guesses put their appearance at five million years ago. Others say it is closer to ten million years ago. There's even an estimate of forty million years ago. Obviously, not everyone agrees when Eohippus first made its appearance, but we can all agree, it was millions of years before humans ever did.
Eohippus evolved into Mesohippus next, then Merychippus, Pliohippus, and then their evolution ended, so far, with the equine that we know today. That is a lot of evolving they went through to get where they are now, and they did it all by themselves! There was no human intervention, not once, during those millions of years, and the equine line has thrived!
So does your horse need you to give it a blanket or jacket in order to survive winter?
Can Horses Survive Winter Without Extra Layers?
To adapt to the ever changing seasons, the horse grows a winter coat beginning in the early winter months when the nights begin to get chilly. Their coat is thick, and fluffy! On a particularly cold evening, the horse will fluff his hair up on end to retain more heat. On warmer winter days the horse may roll in snow to cool off, and keep his hair flattened to his body more to allow heat to escape.
In the spring, when the weather becomes warmer during the day, and the night, their winter coat begins to shed off. There can be a lot of hair sloughing off during this time of shedding. Some horses shed such a thick winter coat it seems like another horse could be made with all the hair on the ground. I've watched a horse lie down in an area with just dirt and grass and roll around a couple of times. When he gets up . . . it looks as though he dropped a fur jacket on the ground!
Horses will roll and rub up against trees, fence posts, humans, just about anything to remove the hair. It is a natural process, they know what they are doing, they have been doing it for millions of years!
The horse has adapted so well to the ever-changing environment he lives in that he has continued to evolve for millions of years.
Do You Need to Put a Jacket on a Horse?
Are we doing the horse a favor by putting a jacket on him when it is cold outside? No, we are not. We are doing far more damage than any good that could possibly be derived from it. We are doing profound damage to the nature of the horse. The horse has a natural tendency to grow a nice thick, woolly coat during the cold months. When a human puts a blanket on the horse its natural tendency to grow that thick coat he/she needs to survive Winter is inhibited. His body does not recognize the Season as Winter, because he/she is wearing a blanket, thus the Winter coat does not come in, or it comes in thin. Is it Winter or is it Summer? Humans are inflicting this confusion with the horses natural tendency.
A Perfect Example of Human Intervention
Take a look at the Thoroughbred race horse. When, and if, humans become extinct, the Thoroughbred horse will be the first to become extinct right along with us. Why? The Thoroughbred horse has been bred to inherit specific traits that humans find complementing to our sport of horse racing.
The Thoroughbred horse heart is 3 x's the size of any normal horse. This enlarged heart allows the Thoroughbred horse to run faster, sustain its speed longer, and run a further distance without fatigue a normal horse would experience.
Thoroughbred horses are highly coveted by the horse racing industry. The horse pictured above sold for $80,000 as a yearling. Humans don't put $80,000 horses out in the pasture! They are kept in stalls of heated barns, humans intentionally put heavy blankets on them to inhibit the growth of a Winter coat. The Thoroughbred has been so altered by humans they could not possibly survive without humans to continue their special care.
Humans Are Altering the Horse
When humans joined the rest of creation here on earth, we caught and tamed the horse to do our labors. As humans tend to do sometimes, we put our own emotional and/or physical needs onto our animals, including horses. Somewhere along the line, humans decided that horses need a jacket when it is cold outside. A jacket for the horse because the human is cold, so the horse must be cold as well. This became a fashion craze. Adorning your horse with a jacket swept across the world like wildfire. Narry a farm do you pass that doesn't have a jacket on a horse during the colder months. Some will jacket a horse in the summer as well!
A Horse's Thick Winter Coat
When you look at the evolution of the horse compared to the evolution of humans, and how long both have survived here on Earth, a person may suggest that humans take some pointers from horses! They have survived and evolved far longer than us, and will most likely continue their lineage when humans are long gone.
When humans and jackets are gone, where will that leave the horse that has become dependent on those jackets? He/she will be left out in the cold. We need to stop and leave the horse to his own devices that have worked for him/her for millions of years.
Why a Jacket Is a Bad Idea on a Horse
Horses don't need or want a big, bulky, flappy jacket on them. To be able to put one on a horse, the horse must be trained to accept it first. Then, once trained to accept the jacket, it restricts their movement, increases their blind spots, and most importantly, it restricts their winter coat from growing!
Take the Jacket Off!
Today, I took a drive. It is November in California. The air is crisp at night but warms up to the seventies during most days. I live in the country, so I didn't have to drive far before I came upon the first pasture with horses in it. There was a small heard of 5 horses, one lying down trying to enjoy the warm sun, with a jacket on! The other four were standing, resting, with jackets on of various degrees of wear. A couple had, what looked like strips of the jacket hanging precariously down to the ground. A sure precursor for tripping the horse.
I can imagine it would have felt so good for those horses to lay out on the green grass, in the warm sun, and enjoy the sunshine on their fur, but none of them could. Instead they endured the steaming heat their bodies produced inside those jackets. Their hair all mashed down. The sweat from overheating mixing with the heat of the day coming on, it was sad to see.
There Are Occasions When a Jacket Is Appropriate for a Horse
Below are some of the occasions when a jacket for a horse is appropriate:
- An old horse. One thing humans have given to the horse is longevity. When a horse becomes old, and can't grow that coat like he used to, he would normally pass away. But humans provide extra nutrition and a jacket and this can extend the horses life a few years.
- A sick horse. When a horse becomes ill and cannot produce heat as he should to stay alive, he would pass away in nature. Humans provide the temporary warmth he needs and provide medicines in such a way that the horse can pull through an illness.
- A foal. A foal that is premature or has fallen ill, in nature, would pass away. Humans can provide the warmth and medicine to help the foal through this difficult time.
Is it good that humans can extend a horse's life when the horse would not live without the human interventions? Is it appropriate for humans to save a sick horse, or foal, by providing warmth and medication when needed? Probably not. That is how horses have evolved to be the strong, resilient animal they are today. Through natural selection. The tough, strong, healthy, survive. The weak and the ill do not.
The less that humans intervene with a species the better. Horses have lives dedicated to serving humans, let them continue to live on even if we do not.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Under what weather conditions/temperature would you blanket a miniature horse that is sick and very thin?
That doesn't sound good at all! Any time the mercury dips below 60 degrees for sure. Does he/she have shelter? A large dog house igloo can work well if it is a true mini, they fit right in. Anytime a horse in this kind of condition becomes cold and their body has to kick into gear to warm them, they are depriving their sick body vital nutrients it needs to get well. When it's snowing, like today, I will blanket older horses and the younger ones I let them deal with it. They all have shelter to escape to whether they want to or not (some stand out in the snow...go figure). Then, for the older horses, I give them a bucket of grain in the evening. It helps keep them warm