Wow, doesn’t a week fly past fast. Welcome to the second of my blog posts for Pegasus Health. Have you noticed your horse’s coats starting to change recently? Just as you may have noticed the nights starting to draw in a little. No more poo picking past 10pm without a torch anymore, and no more late evening road hacks!

Horses change their coats in response to the change in length of daylight, growing in a longer, coarser winter coat during the autumn, which helps to keep them warm over winter. Other factors such as temperature may also be involved in the cycle of hair growth, and more research is necessary before these are understood. The extra hair growth that occurs whilst the coat is changing is all part of the natural cycle and doesn’t cause a problem or a stress in a healthy horse. But new tissue, including hair (which consists mostly of protein), requires energy and protein for growth, and an appropriate supply of a variety of other essential nutrients. Many nutrient deficiencies can have a detrimental effect on the haircoat of horses so a correctly balanced diet is key to a healthy, glossy coat. Key minerals for the hair include iodine, zinc and copper, all of which might be low in a forage-only diet. Induced zinc deficiency causes hair loss, and copper deficiency causes loss of strength of hair, and breakage. Make sure your horse has his or her diet balanced with microminerals, adding a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement if you are feeding less than the full recommended amount of fortified hard feed (nuts, cubes or mix).

Adding oil to horses’ diets can have a beneficial effect on the haircoat, and this is good practice during spring and autumn when horses are changing their coats. Add vegetable oil rich in essential fatty acids, such as flaxseed (linseed) oil and you should see a glossier, shinier haircoat.

Horse’s hair has a variety of functions but probably most importantly, it helps to regulate temperature and protect the skin. Just like other mammals, horses can make their hair stand up (via tiny muscles on each hair follicle) on order to trap air for insulation. On the subject of horses’ haircoats, some believe that you can analyse the hair to check for mineral shortages and suchlike. Sadly, it’s not as easy as this and researchers haven’t been able to show a useful correlation between hair mineral content and current body status. Hair can be used to investigate changes in mineral intake over time, and also can be used to investigate drug intake, interestingly.

As you notice the short summer coat hairs coming out and being replaced by longer, coarser hair, or as you get your clipper blades sharpened and prepared for that first clip, consider your horse’s diet and whether it supplies enough of the nutrients that are essential for a healthy, shiny haircoat in your horse.

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About Clare MacLeod

Clare MacLeod MSc RNutr is one of the UK’s few registered independent equine nutritionists who also has expertise in health and fitness. She advises private and commercial clients in all sectors of the horse world and is a hands-on horse owner herself. Clare is passionate about correct nutrition as a foundation for good health, without which peak fitness is not possible. She states “Good nutrition isn’t everything, but there’s nothing without it”.