How to Help Your Horse Shed
There are a few things for you to help your horse shed. During shedding season, their current coat vacates to make room for the new coat. This happens twice yearly, in the spring and the fall. The purpose of helping your horse shed is to remove the loose hair. It’s not pulling hair from the hair follicles as waxing would do; it’s lifting what is ready to have another life in a bird’s nest.
What triggers a horse to shed?
- His eyes and brain regulate your horse’s coat. As the daylight hours increase after the winter solstice in December, his brain signals his body to release the winter coat and grow a new summer coat. This won’t happen immediately after the solstice, but in late winter. Most horses are shedding by the end of February or so. The shedding cycle is much more about the time of year and daylight than cold weather.
- As the daylight hours decrease after the summer solstice, your horse’s brain knows it’s time to grow that winter hair coat! This also takes about six weeks to so to kick in fully. The cold temperatures of fall and the warm temperatures of spring do not influence when or how a horse grows a new hair coat.
- Some show horses live in barns that use artificial lighting in the barns to mimic daylight. In the winter, the horse’s brain thinks the sun is shining much longer, and the heavy coats associated with winter never grow in. This also keeps a mare’s estrus cycle going in winter, allowing breeding farms to time their foaling season.
The best grooming tools for your horse’s coat
- Use the world-famous elbow grease and curry comb action. You may need to do this, flick off the hairs, then curry again in an endless cycle of horsehair rain. It’s regular grooming, but more of it. Nothing beats the circular motion to bring up all of that loose hair. Regular rubber grooming tools can get overwhelmed by the thick winter coat. Look for a rubber curry comb that’s deeper and stiffer, and has long teeth to bust through that coat.
- Grooming gloves make an excellent shedding tool. You can avoid spending extra time because you have two hands doing the work. Great to use all year long, you can spend half the time using both hands to groom your horse. Curry combs and grooming gloves also reach the skin, where they can pick up dirt, dust, and dead skin, also known as dander. They also smear around your horse’s natural oils, boosting shine.
The only kind of “snow” acceptable in the spring
Or try these specialty shedding tools:
- A shedding blade, or metal curry comb, is another option. I’m not typically a fan of these fancy hacksaw blade grooming tools for a horse’s coat. Sensitive areas and ticklish skin can be easily bothered, so avoid the bony areas of your horse’s hips, shoulders, and legs. And his adorable face – keep the metal blades away! However – it’s wildly satisfying to rake off lots of hair. Sometimes these double as hair removers from thick saddle pads.
- A shedding block works to pull horse hair. They are similar to a pumice stone, and in some ways, are a hybrid between a shedding blade and a curry, if you will. Shedding blocks also remove bot fly eggs and hair from your car’s carpet in a flash.
These nubby gloves work wonders for the shedding horse and keep your hands clean.
- Grooming oil on a cloth will pick up stray hairs after grooming. As the coat sheds, there will always be hairs falling out. Grooming oil acts like a grippy cloth, attracting loose hair as it deposits conditioners. It’s as simple as wiping your horse down after grooming. Your cloth picks up the extra hair. This is also handy if it’s windy to minimize how much hair swirls around.
You can clip a shedding horse. And maybe you should!
- Clipping during the spring will not stop shedding; it just makes the hair shorter. If the weather is warm enough to make your horse uncomfortable, a full body clip or trace clip can help. Be prepared to supplement with sheets or blankets during a cold snap.
- If your horse is comfortable, you can use clippers to tidy up your horse. Trim those wacky hairs around joints, ears, chins, and fetlocks if you want to. Clipper combs are handy to use for this; they create some distance between the blade and your horse so only the unruly hair is chopped off.
Grooming oil on a cloth will pick up stray hairs after grooming.
Help your horse shed from the inside out
- Make sure your deworming program is up to date, as parasites affect hair coat and quality. It’s no longer recommended practice to cycle through deworming brands. Instead, pair a fecal egg count program with targeted dewormers for a more specific worm treatment plan. Your vet can help you cover all of the bases.
- Is your horse missing a key nutrient? Good nutrition works from the inside out, manifesting in a healthy, shiny coat. Omega-3 fatty acids are great to use to boost hair coats. The best fats for horses have stabilized flaxseed, chia, or fish oil. Corn oil has shine-boosting properties but is much too high in Omega-6 fatty acids. Ridiculously high.
You can clip the shedding horse!
More tips for helping your horse shed
- Give your horse more turnout! This helps that daylight magic triggers your horse to shed, and your horse can roll around on his own. A sandy spot is a perfect location for your horse to curry himself.
- Exercise your horse! This will stimulate circulation and coat health. And if you ride fast enough, the wind can help shed, too.
- Use a horse vacuum. This will help suck up a lot of loose hair and prevent most of it from landing on (and in) your clothes.
- You may consider using an old shirt to cover your clothes as the shedding process peaks; there is typically a ton of hair to remove. And for Pete’s sake, don’t wear lipstick.
Why horses don’t shed out
- Some horses are on their own schedule for shedding, for a few different reasons. Horses with poor eyesight, total blindness, or living in dark barns without light may not be triggered to shed.
- Cushing’s disease is another reason. This metabolic disorder starts as a tumor on the pituitary gland, and can affect the shedding cycle. As the pituitary gland pumps out more hormones, the cortisol level in your horse rises. Aside from being a laminitis risk, cortisol tells your horse to grow hair, lots of thick, long, crazy hair. All year long. Many horses with Cushing’s disease require body clipping all year long to help them thermoregulate. You’ll be an expert clipper in no time flat.
- While a shedding horse is sometimes a hot mess to groom, at least it’s a sign of spring. And fall.
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