Color in April, Before Mineral Balancing
Color in August, After Mineral Balancing, Despite Summer Sun
Even if your horse has no skin allergies and manages to avoid wounds or infections, summer still poses many threats to the skin and coat.
Bleaching/fading related to sun exposure is common and caused by hair damage from ultraviolet rays. It is believed the generation of free radicals causes damage to the sterols and fats in the hair cuticle as well as to the amino acids and sulfur bonds in the hair’s protein. White areas with pink skin are also at risk for serious sunburn.
Sweating is an essential component of the horse’s cooling mechanism. While sweat contains some fats in addition to water, it’s not enough to completely shield the skin and coat from the irritating effects of salts and fine dirt that becomes mixed with the sweat. This can quickly lead to skin sores/rubs in areas in contact with tack as well as stripping of the oils in the hair cuticle and drying and splitting of the hair. Sweat may also react with residues of soaps, detergents, shampoos and other products on the tack.
Your horse’s first line of defense against sun damage to the coat is the pigment melanin. Melanin traps the free radicals triggered by UV radiation, protecting the tissues. Pheomelanin is found in chestnuts, duns, palominos while eumelanin is in darker shades of bays, browns and blacks. Both forms of melanin depend on adequate copper for their production. Eumelanin also requires zinc. Both zinc and copper are very common deficiencies and other minerals compete with them for absorption. When you get the correct amount and balance of minerals, the coat can change dramatically, even over the summer.
No amount of supplements can protect the horse’s areas of white and pink skin. When located on the head, these areas are also at high risk of developing skin cancer so need to be protected. Human sunscreen products can produce severe reactions in horses and should always be spot tested if you are going to use them. A better approach is a combination of limited exposure, masks and zinc oxide cream as a sun blocker. Zinc oxide cream is the white cream may life guards use on their noses.
The only solution for caked sweat and dirt is to remove it. Plenty of plain water is a good start. Between shampoos, rinsing the horse with a mixture of 1 cup vinegar to each gallon of water is a good way to loosen and remove any residues the water may have left as well as preserve normal skin pH. Do not rinse again after applying this. Shampooing once or twice a week is often needed to keep active horses at their cleanest. A natural based, pH balanced shampoo is best. Tack should be cleaned daily and saddle pads replaced or covered with a new, clean cover.
With a little effort and attention to detail it is possible to bring the horse through summer and peak riding season in tip top skin and coat condition. It’s well worth it.
Eleanor M Kellon, VMD