If dealing with shedding was the worst problem we had to face with horses we would be blessed indeed – but it’s still a pain. Getting to that glorious new coat underneath will always be predominantly a matter of time, patience and elbow grease but there are a few things you can do to hasten things along.
Horses in work shed out quicker. This probably has to do with more blood flow to the skin, with more sebum and sweat production easing the hairs out. Exercise can also save grooming time. Give the horse a good curry before you lunge and watch the hair fly off as he works.
Other than exercise and investing in a good horse vacuum (which makes a huge difference!) there’s no way to influence the normal process. However, there is a check list for skin and coat health which will help everything go as quickly and smoothly as possible.
Delayed shedding or failure to shed, especially if the coat is unusually long or curly, is a hallmark of Cushing’s Disease (PPID). This will only respond to treatment that restores normal dopamine levels in the brain. If your horse has held onto a coat that has turned a stark straw to rust color, that’s not normal. A heavy parasite burden can do this, especially in foals and older horses. Otherwise, look for areas where important aspects of nutrition may be subpar.
Vitamin A is a key nutrient for skin and coat. Hay begins to lose vitamin A activity 6 months after baling. By 1 year it is often too low to meet requirements. This starts to become an issue in late winter/early spring, before the grass has come in well or that year’s hay has been baled. The more faded from bright green the hay has become, the more A loss there has been. Target supplementation until the horse goes on pasture or that year’s hay is available is 20,000 to 40,000 IU/day. If the horse is not already getting this much from supplements or grains, add it separately.
The amount of fat a horse requires in the diet to support life is considerably less than what will give you optimal skin and coat health. A shiny smooth coat, supple moist skin and good local immune defenses result from supplementation of as little as 4 to 6 oz/day.
Biotin is also extremely important for skin health and skin cell division. Dry, flaking skin can signal suboptimal biotin intake. No specific daily requirement has been established but research into the effects of biotin on hoof quality have repeatedly demonstrated an intake of 20 to 30 mg/day provides best results. [Note: The hoof wall, sole and frog are specialized forms of skin.]
Finally, inadequate intake of protein in general or specific amino acids will adversely affect hair growth. If your hay is of poor quality or cut at a very late growth stage you may need more protein from high quality sources. Otherwise, it may only be lysine and methionine you need to supplement. Give 10 g/day of lysine and 5 of methionine.
Don’t let shedding be a bigger pain than it needs to be. Plug any nutritional holes now for a smooth transition to that new coat.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD