Your Horse’s Coat – How it Grows and What Can Interfere
Ever consider just how amazing your horse’s hair and skin are? It cools and warms your horse, protects skin from UV rays, shines like the sun, fights bugs, and even helps your horse navigate where they can’t see. Horses have three types of hair – tactile, temporary, and permanent, each slightly different from the others.
Types of hair
- All hair on your horse’s body will grow and shed, but some more frequently than others. All are equally adorable and fun to get dirty (says your horse).
- Whiskers, eyebrows, and ear hair are tactile hairs called vibrissae. Horses have limited sight around their heads and under their muzzles, and these vibrissae are sensory – sending information to your horse’s brain about the environment. And finding food.
- In some countries and some show organizations, like the FEI, you are prohibited from clipping these sensitive hairs. To clarify this a bit more – if your horse lives in a country that prohibits this, the rules apply to you. If your country allows clipping whiskers, but you show in FEI events, the rules apply to you. Otherwise, you may choose to clip whiskers, a tradition in many disciplines.
- Your horse’s coat – their summer coat and their winter coat – is temporary. Every spring and fall, this coat falls out and is replaced by a new version. You may have inhaled part of your horse during this process.
- Your horse’s eyes and brain are responsible for this cycle. As your horse’s photoreceptors in the eyes notice an increase in daylight hours, their brain pumps out messages to the body to get ready for the next season.
- We have the summer and winter solstice in late June and late December. These two days signal the rise and decrease in daylight hours. About two months after each solstice, most horses will begin to shed as the new hair comes in.
- If your horse is clipped, the hair will still fall out; it will just be shorter.
Read this for shedding tips
- Manes and tails are permanent hair. It’s weird, but the hair is programmed to grow for a set amount of time, not a fixed length.
- The hair will grow, rest, then fall out as new hair takes its place. You will find hair in your horse’s mane and tail brush – it’s natural.
- You can coax hair to be longer when your horse is healthy. The coat won’t break as much when hair is strong, healthy, and not damaged by harsh shampoos and detergents. The hair then has the chance to grow longer in that set amount of time.
Factors that influence a horse’s hair coat
- Your horse’s genes are a primary factor when growing hair. The Fjord horses grow hair that can withstand a Nordic winter, and that coat will still grow if the horse lives in sunny south Florida. Compare that to a thin-skinned horse, like a TB or Arabian, that moves to Alaska – their coat will still be wispy.
Diet and nutrition
- The coat can be healthy when a horse’s diet is well-balanced, especially with Omega fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and biotin. Hair is made of the protein keratin, which requires nutrition for your horse to make. Incidentally, your horse’s hooves are also keratin. Good stuff, that keratin.
- Plenty of supplements are available to support your horse’s skin and coat health. Most are delicious, too, so bonus for your horse.
There’s a horse supplement for every horse condition – and then some.
- Internal parasites can create a dull coat and lackluster skin. The larger the parasite load, the more nutrition is being diverted from your horse. Fecal egg counts can guide you and your vet to properly worm your horse to minimize the parasite load.
- Most vets offer fecal egg counts, or you can order a kit to test your horse via mail. Your vet can then help you interpret the results.
- A horse’s skin and coat will only shine when health and nutrition are first; then, you do a lot of work, then add products. Elbow grease with the good ol’ curry comb goes a long way. Your horse’s natural oil – the sebum – gets smeared around by you to coat the hair. Sebum is anti-microbial, adds shine, and waterproofs your horse.
More curry, more combing, more curry combing
- Horses can get gray hairs, too! You usually spot these tell-tale signs of aging on the face, legs, and sometimes at the tail top.
- If you have a gray horse, they are genetically programmed to de-pigment their hair. There’s a change of color from black, chestnut, or bay to dapples to gray. Fascinating!
Scars and white hair
- Scars and white hairs are caused by injury or trauma to the skin. Scars appear after a wound has healed as collagen settles into the area.
- White patches occur when the pigment-producing cells of the hair coat are damaged. This could be from a wound or a pressure sore. Have you seen a horse with white areas around the withers? That’s likely from saddles that don’t fit.
This scar was from a surgery – sometimes they are much more pronounced.
- There are various and sundry types of skin infections that horses can catch. Skin problems result from bacteria, mites, lice, moisture, fungus, allergies, mud, and generally everything exposed to your horse.
- Daily grooming and noting changes to your horse’s skin, coat, mane, and tail can alert you to skin issues early. You may find an isolated area of skin infection, such as the beginnings of equine paster dermatitis. Or, you may be surprised one day and find a vast patch of rain rot.
- Any interruption to the skin’s health will ultimately affect the coat, and there may be some bald spots until the problem clears.
For much more info on common skin problems, read this
These quarter-size patches are the beginnings of a larger rain rot issue.
When would you clip a horse’s coat?
- Clipping is always optional and sometimes necessary. Many show horses are trimmed and body clipped for their jobs in the show ring. Other horses are clipped because their hair doesn’t match the climate. Sometimes clipping an area helps you apply medications.
- All of this is temporary, and the hair will grow back. Don’t worry about your horse’s appearance; you clip for health and comfort.
Click these links to shop for horse supplies to support your horse’s coat and skin. 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.
Wahl Professional Animal Bravura Lithium Clipper – this includes the 5 in 1 blade that goes from a #9 to a #40. Perfect for designs!