Horse nutrition for shedding season
Put away the lip balm, be prepared to have the hair fly, and get ready for some shedding horses. A certain amount of elbow grease is needed to survive shedding season, and you also have the opportunity to use horse nutrition for shedding. Boost the hair flying!
What triggers spring shedding for horses
- The great hair shed in the spring happens because a horse’s eyes and brain notice that daylight hours are increasing. Fancy photoreceptor cells in your horse’s eyes notice light, and that message goes to the brain, which triggers shedding.
- The summer solstice in late June and the winter solstice in late December are when the daylight hours begin their decrease and increase, respectively. About six weeks after the solstice, your horse should start to shed. The summer coat also has a big shed in the fall, but it’s not as noticeable as the hair falling out is short.
- It takes energy for your horse to lose their coat and replace it with a new model. Providing the best nutrition for your horse can help this process, as your horse’s outside health comes from what you feed the inside.
Nutrition for shedding season
- Four components of a horse’s diet can directly affect shedding. Fats, vitamins, minerals, and proteins all fuel the skin and hair coat. Ideally, horses have a forage-based diet, with supplements added as needed.
- I will always recommend an equine nutritionist work with your horse to create the best diet. A horse’s nutritional needs stem from age, breeding, discipline, where their hay is grown, how much and what type of pasture is available, medical problems, weight, metabolic issues, and more.
- It’s also easy to overlap supplements, creating an excess of nutrients. Or, some nutrients are lacking. A custom diet for your horse gets it right and will likely save you money by streamlining supplements.
- The pot of gold for skin and coat health is sebum. The sebaceous glands of your horse secrete this magic natural oil. Sebum adds shine, helps hair shed, creates waterproofing, and repels stains. Each hair follicle has a sebaceous gland, and diligent grooming helps each hair coated.
- Fats in the diet support sebum production and therefore coat health and shine. New hair is more substantial, and fats help keep moisture in the hair. Dry hair is brittle, takes stains, and easily breaks.
- A fantastic source of fats for horses is Omega fatty acids. There are Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids, which have an ideal ratio that is still being researched. Horse nutrition experts agree that an approximate Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio should be in the neighborhood of 1:4. A horse should have more Omega-3’s in their diet, and this estimated ration reflects what a “wild” horse would eat.
- Omega-3 fatty acids have some anti-inflammatory properties to help allergies, hives, and irritated skin. These powerhouse fats also improve flaky skin and dry hair.
- If your horse eats pasture, everyone wins. Fresh grass is a wonderful source of Omega-3s. There are Omega’s in hay and dried forages, but about half as much as pasture. Because pasture access and quality vary with the seasons, some horses need supplementation for part of the year.
- You can supplement with flax, fish oils, chia seeds, and canola oil. Oils like corn, sunflower, and safflower are too high in Omega-6 fatty acids. Yes, these oils will create a lovely coat, but they skew the ratio in your horse’s body.
- For the typical 1,000 lb horse, count on 10-20 grams of Omega-3 fatty acids per day.
Chia seeds and flax are great options for healthy fats
Horses need all sorts of vitamins – but for healthy skin and hair, the A’s and B’s are most beneficial for horses.
- This vitamin supports the hair follicles and sebaceous glands. Vitamin A is necessary to grow and maintain healthy skin cells and produce sebum.
- A horse deficient in Vitamin A will have dry skin and a dull coat. Sometimes, sores and hair loss occur with severe deficiency. However, too much Vitamin A can create similar problems for horses and possible toxicity.
- The precursor to Vitamin A is beta-carotene, which is prevalent in fresh pasture and new hay. But, as hay ages, 10 % of beta-carotene vaporizes per month. Year-old hay will not have any beta-carotene.
- Horses need 22,000 to 30,000 IU/day of Vitamin A. Supplementation of 20,000 IU/day may be helpful for horses not on pasture.
- B vitamins are a family of nutrients created by your horse’s intestinal bacteria. Wild, right? Let’s talk specifically about the B vitamin biotin.
- Your horse’s gut microbes will churn out biotin, but often not enough for hoof and hair quality. Biotin helps skin, hair, and hooves grow. The strength and elasticity of proteins improve with biotin.
- When a horse is appropriately supplemented with biotin, hair and hooves may grow faster, the coat becomes shinier, and dry skin reduces. Most horses need between 10 and 30 mg daily, but horses struggling with poor hoof and hair quality may need more.
- For horse shedding season, you may need to supplement with 20 to 25 mg of biotin daily. Don’t expect fast results, as biotin supplements usually need a few months to kick in.
Supplements and feeds can help provide vitamins and minerals for your horse
- Minerals are equally crucial to a horse’s coat and skin, especially during shedding. Of particular note are copper and zinc.
- Copper and zinc both work with melanin – the pigment for hair color. Hair bleaches and fades when your horse’s diet lacks appropriate copper and zinc. You may notice reddening or yellowing of manes and tails, too.
- Copper also supports collagen in the skin, which helps the physical structure of the skin. An average horse needs 100 to 120 mg of copper in the diet per day.
- Zinc supports cell division, which is necessary to make new hair. Most horses need 400 mg per day of zinc for optimal health.
Amino acids and proteins
- Hair, and hooves, are comprised mainly of the protein keratin. Proteins are a collection of amino acid chains linked by peptide bonds. Ten of the 21 amino acids horses use for protein production are essential. The horse can’t make these ten – your horse needs them in their diet.
- Horses can get some protein from hay and pasture, and their needs will vary. An ornamental pasture horse’s crude protein intake should be about 8.5% in their food. Working horses need a crude protein level of 12% in their feed. Most bagged feeds will indicate the protein available in a whole serving of that food.
- If your horse eats only hay, know that stemmy hay from late cuttings or mature plants has lower protein. You may need to supplement. The most common ingredient to add protein in feeds and supplements is soybean meal.
You can add protein to your horse’s diet, too.
Tips for using supplements
- When your horse’s diet is sorted out, take care of the feeds and supplements. Proper storage in sealed tubs or containers keeps rodents and moisture out. Having a climate-controlled feed room would be nice, but do your best to keep feeds and treats from excessive heat and cold.
- Depending on the feed, buying one or two bags at a time is sometimes better for maximum freshness. The same may be true for supplements, and most should have storage information and sometimes expiration dates.
Help your horse shed in other ways
- The easiest way, usually, to help your horse shed is more grooming. Nothing beats a good curry comb session to loosen shedding hair.
- Or, you could let your horse roll and roll and roll. Providing a tempting patch of sand encourages your horse to use the ground as a curry comb. Sure, you must groom out all the sand then, but oh well, more shedding.
- Let your horse exercise and enjoy lots of turnout; their movement is excellent for mental health and physical health. And sometimes they roll more when out and about.
Your elbow grease goes a long way
Your horse’s internal health affects the hair shedding cycle
- Check your horse’s internal parasite load. Too many internal parasites steal your horse’s nutrition, interfering with shedding and hair-growing capability.
- Rotational deworming is now understood to be a waste of money and contributes to parasites becoming resistant to dewormers. Instead, have your vet conduct fecal egg counts in the spring and fall. Egg counts determine your horse’s parasite load and guides your vet in deciding what dewormers to use, if any. You can also order fecal egg counts to do via the mail!
- Your horse’s eyesight may also influence shedding. If the photoreceptors in a horse’s eye are damaged, they are not reading the changing daylight hours and their haircoat won’t play along.
- Also, check your horse’s metabolic health. Affordable and accessible tests of your horse’s metabolic status may also reveal pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID), formerly known as Cushing’s, and insulin resistance (IR) equine metabolic syndrome (EMS).
- Sometimes hair growth goes nuts with metabolic changes, and shedding is slow or non-existent. These tests are also helpful in assessing your horse’s laminitis risk, which coincidentally peaks in spring and fall when grasses are lush and stressed.
The take-home message is to let your vet help your horse if shedding or growing a new coat is late, abnormal, or not happening. Then curry some more!
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.