Does a Horse Need a Jacket or Blanket to Stay Warm in Winter?

Updated on July 22, 2019
Msmillar profile image

I've always had a horse in my life, I don't feel complete without one. I enjoy sharing what I have learned over the years to help others.

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?

Playing in the November sun!
Playing in the November sun! | Source

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.

So 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 naturally wants to grow a nice thick, woolly coat during the cold months, but with humans putting jackets on the horses, we are altering this natural growth.

The thoroughbred has been bred to have a heart that is 3 times larger than a normal horse's, and most grow a minimal amount of hair for the winter months.
The thoroughbred has been bred to have a heart that is 3 times larger than a normal horse's, and most grow a minimal amount of hair for the winter months. | Source

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.

Beautiful, sunny day, and the horse has a jacket on!
Beautiful, sunny day, and the horse has a jacket on! | Source

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 will be left out in the cold. Humans have altered the horse's nature for years, and because of this, some horses don't grow a thick coat anymore. Thoroughbreds are a good example of humans altering the horse. Besides the fact that thoroughbreds don't grow much hair, especially in the winter, their heart is three times as large as others horses. We bred them for that. We need to stop and leave the horse to his devices that have worked for him 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. I write trying because every single horse had a heavy jacket on, even the horse lying down.

It would have felt so good to lay out in the warm sun and enjoy the sunshine on his fur, but he couldn't feel anything but the steamy heat inside that jacket. His hair all mashed down. The sweat from overheating mixing with the heat of the day coming on, it was sad to see.

There are a few times in a horse's lifetime when a jacket may be 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 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 provides medicine 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.

Let the horse be a horse. They do it so well!
Let the horse be a horse. They do it so well! | Source

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


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