Reasons Why Your Horse Isn’t Shiny
Of course, a shiny horse looks good, but there are plenty of reasons your horse isn’t shiny. Some are easy fixex, others take a little bit more time.
This goober loves the curry comb and is naturally a bit shiny
What makes horses shiny?
- It’s sebum. That makes a horse shine, bloom, look amazing, and catch the sun. But what on earth IS sebum?
- Sebum is the natural oil made by your horse’s sebaceous glands in the skin. These tiny glands attach to each hair follicle and release sebum to move along the hair.
- There are three things to know about sebum:
- It creates shine.
- It makes your horse waterproof. Handy for winter.
- Sebum has anti-microbial properties to ward off bacteria and fungi. – It’s part of your horse’s immune system.
- That last one is of utmost importance! Fun little story. I once asked my vet what the common denominators of horses with skin infections, especially equine pastern dermatitis, are.
“They have too many shampoos and detergents in the wash stalls.”
- Take that sebum away, and your horse becomes more susceptible to skin infections. And not shiny. Food for thought.
Read more about sebum and your horse’s integumentary system here.
In a parallel universe, this horse could be shiny.
Reasons why horses are not shiny
The mud hound horse.
- No matter how much you groom, your horse has daily and nightly routines that require a mud bath. Static loves to keep this mud dust on a horse, and during wet weather, there’s no grooming it off unless a hose is involved.
It’s just genetic.
- Most horses can develop some shine, no matter their breeding. Some have more shine than others. The metallic Ahkel-Teke horse will always look shinier than a densely coated Fjord.
- Also, stallions have more shine. Testosterone links directly to sebum production, therefore, more of the sparkling hair.
This freshly clipped stallion is super shiny!
Do you need to step up your grooming routine?
- Perhaps the curry comb is, in fact, not your best friend forever. Nothing helps a horse’s coat bloom more than smearing that sebum around. As a good rule of thumb, curry twice as long as you think you need to, and do it before and after a ride.
Dirty grooming brushes
- Dirty curry combs and grooming brushes don’t help your horse. Weekly cleaning is an excellent place to start, and you may need to change that if your horse is a mud hound.
- Bacterial infections like rain rot and fungal infections like ringworm can hop from horse to horse by sharing brushes and saddle pads. Even if you don’t share grooming tools, that bacteria or fungus can bounce right back onto your horse.
- Incidentally, ringworm can also jump from your horse to YOU.
Speaking of skin infections…
- Any time a skin problem happens, it’s likely that hair around that area will have some damage and dullness. And when you add clipping and topical medications of various colors, you might have one very interesting-looking horse for a bit.
- Rain rot is a good example of this. A shiny coat can become dull where the infection is and even progress to hair loss.
- Horses rely on appropriate levels of vitamins and minerals, especially zinc and copper, for the pigment in their hair. UV light likes to say, “forget that, you will bleach out.” Even palomino horses can fade from the sun. Horses not receiving a proper dose of minerals can hasten this process, and your black beauty may soon have blonde or reddish highlights. Shine goes away, too.
A winter coat
- It’s harder for a horse to have a shiny winter coat than a summer coat. They still need all that great sebum for waterproofing, but it’s harder to look polished when there is SO MUCH FLOOF.
This extra floofy (and sweaty) winter coat could look better
- It’s not only zinc and copper that influence a hair coat. Omega fatty acids, fats in the diet, biotin, and the entire vitamin and mineral range play a role.
- A diet that’s missing some components can create a dingy coat. Diets that have excesses of some ingredients can also result in a less-than-stellar coat.
- An equine nutritionist is always a good investment for your horse’s health. It’s not enough to feed forage only. Your horse may be missing vitamins, minerals, etc. that grass and hay can’t provide. Or, you have a forage-based diet and add supplements that overlap with each other or the nutrients in pasture or hay.
- I’m confident that astrophysics is easier to understand than horse nutrition.
Internal parasites can mean your horse isn’t shiny
- Boy howdy, do internal parasites live a life of luxury at your horse’s expense. They take the nutrients from your horse before your horse can use them. They also create colic risks and can generally make your horse feel like dirt.
- Despite your best curry combing, a horse with internal parasites will remain dull until the issue is addressed.
Some parasite eggs travel through the horse, into the manure, and then into the world.
How to make your horse shiny
- Your horse depends on you to keep their insides and outsides healthy. For a blah-looking hair coat, attack all angles.
Do fecal egg counts and targeted deworming
- It’s no longer recommended by the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to rotate wormers on your horse every few months. When you willy-nilly deworm a horse, the parasites start to develop tolerance to the medications. Also, giving your horse something he may not need is a waste of money.
- Instead, have your vet, local ag-extension service, or mail-in service do a fecal egg count. These tests let you and your vet know your horse’s parasite load; in some cases, you may not need to deworm.
A well balanced diet is the basis for a healthy coat
Make sure the diet is properly balanced for skin health
- Fresh pasture is an excellent source of many nutrients for horses and definitely helps with a shiny coat. But, this may not be available for all horses, all the time.
- Supplements with biotin, Omega-3 fatty acids, and appropriate amounts of copper and zinc help the skin stay healthy and produce that sebum. You may notice that many supplements for healthy hooves also improve the skin and coat.
- A forage-based diet with a vitamin and mineral supplement or ration balancer is ideal for most horses. You can always add stabilized flax or chia seeds for some omega fatty acids.
Stop stripping sebum away
- If you absolutely must shampoo your horse, use the mildest shampoo you can find. Whitening shampoos, dish soaps, and Orvis will strip all sebum from the coat.
- When you prioritize grooming instead of shampooing, the sebum builds up, and stains can get rinsed away. You can also use a damp cloth to remove stains.
Elbow grease is your friend
Use grooming gloves
- Any curry comb is better than no curry comb, but you’ll get more bang for your buck with grooming gloves. They work in the washrack and on dry horses and cut your curry time in half.
Clean your brushes weekly keep shavings clean
- Nothing keeps your horse dirty more than dirty grooming tools and dirty bedding. You may clean your brushes more often in the winter, but it’s well worth it. Start with weekly cleaning and go from there.
Oil buff your horse
- Oil buffing is a fun way to add shine and conditioning to the hair. It will also help protect tails and manes from becoming too dry and brittle, thus holding stains. There are many ways to oil buff your horse, in warm weather and cold weather.
- The easiest method is to add grooming oil to some water and rinse your horse. In the winter, you can hot-cloth it with a damp rag.
- You may use a stiff brush or rag to buff it on your horse at any time of year, although this can take a bit of time to get it all worked in.
- A little bit of grooming oil goes a long way and helps to keep your horse *mostly* free of stains.
Read this for videos and detailed instructions about oil buffing
Oil buffing before and after clipping can enhance shine!
Use fly sheets and blankets
- One significant benefit of using fly sheets and blankets is that your horse has relief from insects, and the layer of fabric is great at buffering stains.
- You can use fly sheets in winter for some stain protection; they are light enough to avoid interfering with the winter coat.
Grooming is a marathon, not a sprint. Take your time to work on the basics – nutrition and grooming – and the shine will appear!
Clean your dang grooming brushes!
Oil buffing info
Tips for oil buffing your horse
Click these links to shop for horse supplies. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, which are not a penny more for you. I couldn’t be more grateful for your support!
HandsOn Grooming Gloves – also, use code PEG for some free shipping!
Genuine Cactus Cloth – Natural – 18 X 16-1/2 Standard This is much better for stain removal and spreading natural oils around.
Amigo Mio Fly sheet – I love this one, the extra long tail prevents bugs up the butt, and the neckpiece is great. It’s also super light, which means it tears easily.