We’ve all been there, slaving away with a curry or shedding blade on one spot for 30 minutes and there is just no end to the hair. Truth is that elbow grease will always be an inevitable component of getting through the spring shed but there are some things that can make it quicker and easier.
In my experience, shedding goes much quicker in horses that are being worked. As little as 30 minutes/day lunging or ponying will greatly increase shedding rate. The likely explanation is that the exercise increases blood flow to the skin, thus stimulating the hair follicles. Conversely, not exercising the horse can lead to them holding onto the winter coat much longer.
Shedding is under hormonal control but also requires adequate nutritional support to grow the new coat. There is no nutritional requirement for fat other than the essential fatty acids but coat quality is definitely improved by fat supplementation after a winter of dry hay (which has only 50% as much fat as fresh grass). Cold pressed, unfiltered fat that still retains all its inherent antioxidant content is especially helpful.
If you notice the skin is particularly dry and flaky consider supplementing with vitamin A (40,000 IU/day) and zinc (300 mg/day) until your pasture grass comes in. If also having problems with dry, poor quality hooves you can try adding biotin, 25 mg/day (all doses for an average size horse). Biotin is a B vitamin equally important for skin, coat and hooves.
Clipping the horse is one way to bypass the saga of shedding time, but it doesn’t do anything to change the health of the skin and hair or the timing of the winter coat shedding and the vibrant new spring coat coming in so you may be stuck with a coat that is shorter but dull for a while.
One thing I can recommend 100% as a godsend with shedding is a vacuum. The upper level equine vacuums do a fantastic job but you can even benefit by putting your wet-dry Shop Vac to double duty. They effortlessly lift the loose hairs and dead skin cells. Turn it on in the barn without using it to desensitize jumpy horses but you will see that even sensitive types learn very quickly that it feels good.
On a final note, if you have an older horse that is slow to shed remember this is a classical symptom of Cushing’s disease/PPID, a hormonal disorder of senior horses. The advanced Cushing’s coat is long and often curly but in earlier stages you may see only long guard hairs or patches of longer hair. Left untreated, PPID can cause disastrous issues with laminitis but it is very amenable to the correct medication. If you suspect this, get your horse tested.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD