Mother Nature provides our horses with a dense coat to protect them in Winter but getting rid of it in the Spring is a hassle. Shedding is triggered by changes in day length. There are many factors that may either delay or enhance the process.
Low thyroid function, parasitism, PPID (Cushing’s Disease) and poor health in general are among the serious medical conditions that can delay shedding. You need to contact your veterinarian for advice if any of these issues is suspected. Otherwise, there are several things that may influence shedding.
As the coat becomes older and disconnected from its nutrient supply it will get progressively drier, coarser and lighter in color. Darker horses can turn a stark mustard-like color if shedding is not progressing normally. If you see lightening/”bleaching” of your horse’s winter coat it can be a sign that shedding is delayed.
Exercise increases blood flow to the skin and the production of sweat and sebum. Horses being exercised will shed out quicker. A brisk 15 to 20 minute lunge session followed by turning the horse out to roll before grooming will cut the time it takes to get rid of all that hair. Rolling is the horse’s way of auto grooming.
Sebum is the oily secretion of sebaceous glands which is secreted directly into the hair shaft. Sebum coats and protects the hair, helping to prevent dryness and imparting shine. Sebum also makes shedding easier. Dried forages have only half the fat content of fresh grass. That’s a deficit of over 200 grams of fat (7+ ounces) for a horse eating 10 kg (22 lbs) of hay a day.
Vitamin A is low in preserved forages and rapidly progresses to deficient. It is a critical nutrient for normal function of the skin and associated structures, including the hair follicles and sebaceous glands. Supplementation of 20,000 to 40,000 IU/day supports those tissues in late winter and spring.
Production of the Summer coat is critically dependent on adequate protein and essential amino acid intake. Hair is 95% protein. One of the most striking differences between hay and Spring growths of grass is the high grass protein level. Supplementation of the three most important essential amino acids – lysine, methionine and threonine – may be helpful during shedding. A ratio of 10-5-2 for lysine-methionine-threonine works well.
We are most familiar with the B vitamin biotin in connection with hoof quality but skin and hair follicles, just like hoof horn, are also epithelial tissues. While the intestinal bacteria produce abundant amounts of most B vitamins, biotin has been identified as one where supplies may be borderline. Supplementation with 20 to 25 mg/day during the high demand shedding period may be wise.
Last but not least is the trace mineral zinc. Zinc is the most commonly deficient mineral in forages worldwide. Zinc (along with copper) is required for production of adequate levels of the pigment melanin in dark colors, which protects those gorgeous Spring coats from rapid fading. Zinc is also necessary for the rapid cell division needed to produce a new coat. Zinc is in high concentration in the skin where it supports normal cell multiplication and immune system protections. A dose of 250 mg/day is reasonable.
That’s a lot of bases to cover in enhancing shedding and healthy Summer coats but the good news is if shedding needs some assistance there’s a good chance nutrition can help.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD