The thickness of a horse’s winter coat and how long it takes to shed out are due to many factors, but you can make some differences and get through the shedding season more quickly.
• Lights: Mares kept under artificial lighting to encourage earlier cycling also shed out earlier. Keeping lights on in the barn to simulate longer day lengths may help your horse shed out quicker and earlier.
• Sheets: Winter days are just as short in Florida as they are in Wisconsin, but it’s no secret that the colder the weather, the thicker the coat. Horses kept blanketed through the winter will have lighter, sleeker coats and shed out easier. Keeping a light sheet on your horse in early spring can also hasten shedding.
• Exercise: Your horse begins to shed in earnest once you pick up his level of exercise in the spring. Exercise improves circulation, including to the skin and hair follicles. The heat produced by exercise, and improved metabolism, may be involved, too.
• Diets: Winter diets can be short in some nutrients that play important roles in skin-and-coat health. Horses on grass hay may benefit from the addition of about 20,000 IU/day of vitamin A, which could come from a pound of carrots.
A combination of slow shedding, dry/dull coat, flaky skin and hoof problems may also mean B-vitamin intake isn’t adequate. Using a whole stabilized flaxseed supplement will go a long way in meeting B-vitamin needs and will also boost his essential fatty acid intake, which may be low. If the horse has been on grain all winter, he’ll be in better shape for omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids, so use either two tablespoons of cold-processed flax oil or 2 oz. of freshly ground or stabilized whole flaxseed. Horses not receiving much grain should get 2 oz./day of cold-processed soy oil and 1 oz./day of flax oil, giving a good mix of omega-6s and omega-3s.
• Grooming: Shedding blades are great for removing hair, but we prefer rubber curries, since you get the added benefit of circulation stimulation. Use the curry to loosen hair then remove any remaining with the shedding blade. Follow with a stiff dandy brush and then a soft body brush. Rub with a towel for added shine.
Be aware that slow shedding may indicate Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism or parasitism. Even horses on regular deworming schedules may have problems in late winter and early spring. Some parasites, like small strongles, are believed to have an ’internal clock’ that stimulates dormant larvae to become active at this time of year, so that egg-laying adults are in the intestine by the time pasture conditions are ideal.