Horse dapples and how to bring them out

 

Horse dapples are textured, concentric rings within the coat. They look like amazing, darker circles with a lighter color on the inside. Many dapples in horses look amazing for at least part of the year; sometimes, the horse’s winter coat influences how much you see them. 

 

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  • Dapples are commonly spotted along the rumps and sometimes bellies or necks of some horses. Some gray horses have dapples down their legs, too! For grays, the knees and hocks are sometimes the last dapples to disappear.

 

  • It’s fairly common for some horses to dapple when they are in great health or sometimes when they are a smidge rotund. By great health, I mean a balanced diet and a great exercise program topped off with a top-notch routine. And just to be ultra clear, packing on the pounds is not a way to add dapples to your horse; it’s a way to make them unhealthy, but it’s commonly seen. A shiny coat that dapples is not the best sign of good health, but it’s one of them.

 

dapples-on-horse

 

What causes dappling to appear on a horse’s coat?

 

  • Dapples on a horse’s coat are caused by a combination of genetics, health, and nutrition. A balanced diet rich in essential nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and regular grooming to bring out the natural oils in the horse’s skin can help enhance dapples.

 

Dapples are possible with the silver dapple gene.

 

  • This gene is common in Scandinavian and a few American breeds show the presence of dapples.. The silver dapple gene dilutes the base coat color, which is black but sometimes red. Sorrel and chestnut horses have a red base color.

 

  • If they are a true gray horse, you may also have a horse that dapples. Gray horses are born black or almost black and, over years and even decades, will lighten up and eventually become flea-bitten grays. During this process, they spend several years as dappled grays with solid surrounding coat colors.. My gray horse had no dapples at age 27, but his knees and hocks had some residual dapples until about age 17 if you looked very closely and had a vivid imagination.

 

  • Dapples in horses happen when the melanocytes produce and deposit black melanin in the hair shaft, creating a unique pattern of circular dappling designs. And what’s the number one reason black and other pigments are deposited? The equine diet!

 

Are dapples possible for non-Scandinavian breed that is not grey?

 

  • There’s a chance that they can still display dapples—and it may take some experimenting to find them. Genetics is infinitely more complicated than “they have the gene, so they will have them.”

 

dapples-on-gray-horse
 
  • I have known more than a few horses that show dapples in the summer but not winter, or some that dapple in the winter but not summer, and even a few that only show dapples when they are clipped, and some that will have their dapples clipped off with a body clip. My VERY unscientific observations have no conclusions for you.

 

  • I can also tell you that you are more likely to see dapples on gray or bay horses. For you redhead lovers out there, you will probably have to enjoy your horse looking like a newly minted penny. I have not seen a buckskin with dapples, but with the complexities of horse genetics it could be possible?

 

 

 

 

What the expert says

 

  • I also wanted to do a bit more research about dapples, so I chatted with Dr. Clair the equine nutritionist from Clarity Equine Nutrition.

 

  • Dr. Clair is originally from England, and the first thing she mentions about dapples is that in the UK, they are called “hammer marks,” like you have hammered some tin or copper to make those eye-catching circles.

 

  • Then Dr. Clair gets down to business, confirming that healthy coat quality is necessary for dapples. Balanced trace minerals and omega-3 fatty acids replace a dull coat on our horses with a shiny coat.

 

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Optimize the equine diet to enhance dapples in horses with nutrition, Omegas, zinc, and copper.

 

  • Begin by ensuring that your horse’s dietary needs are met by feeding the best-quality forage available and ensuring they receive enough forage to maintain a healthy digestive tract. Using slow feeders is a great way to let your horse graze on their hay more naturally. 

 

  • Adequate levels of quality protein, along with essential amino acids like lysine and methionine, should be included in the diet to support overall coat health and shine. For many horses, especially older ones, protein levels need to increase. Pasture is one way, if available and safe, as are protein supplements or bagged feeds containing protein. Some ration balancers will fill in the protein blanks. 

 

  • Add Omega-3 fatty acids into your horse’s diet to improve coat shine and skin health. Opt for flax, chia, or fish oils high in omega-3 fatty acids instead of corn oils high in Omega-6 fatty acids. Those Omega-6’s are “pro-inflammatory” and should be in much smaller quantities than the 3’s. 

 

Read more about Omega’s here

Read more about flax for horses here

 

  • It is also crucial to meet trace mineral requirements such as zinc and copper, which directly affect melanin production and can impact coat color. Without proper amounts of these minerals, horses will not dapple and they very often look sun-bleached. 

 

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Flax is delicious and affordable for horses! 

 

What are some grooming tips to bring out horse dapples? 

 

  • Elbow grease is your best friend. Through regular and thorough grooming sessions, focusing on techniques such as using a rubber curry to lift dirt, followed by a stiff brush to clean the coat, and finishing with a soft brush to bring out natural oils, you can enhance the shine and appearance of your horse’s coat.

 

  • Consistent grooming, including cleaning brushes regularly, keeps the coat clean, improves its quality, and can potentially bring out the dapples. They are certainly easier to see when they are shiny and clean. And it’s just good health care for your horse. 

 

The bottom line is that dapples are not “in” every horse. They appear when we have the best nutrition, exercise, and grooming programs.

 

 

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Shapley's Equitone 32 oz. Color Enhancing Shampoo, GOLD
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Brighten duns, palominos, and golden colors.

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For chestnuts and some bays

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