Shedding is triggered by hormonal changes that are tied to day length. With mares especially, you can stimulate shedding by mimicking longer day lengths. Keeping a 100 or 200 watt light bulb turned on in your horse’s stall so that the total hours of sunlight and stall-light exposure is 12 hours will help start shedding.
The effect of exercise on shedding per se is unknown, but it definitely improves the health of the skin and the appearance of the coat. The production of sebum, the oily substance that gives hair its gloss, is also increased. On days you have a little extra time, use your curry, then longe the horse for 15 to 20 minutes. After longeing, repeat currying and complete the grooming. You’ll find hair comes out easier after exercise, and the coat will take on a sleeker appearance in just a few days.
Shedding and the appearance of the coat in general are closely tied to the horse’s general health and nutrition. Any illness, even inadequate deworming, can delay shedding. Older horses in general tend to grow longer coats and hang onto them longer, although even a small amount of formal exercise can improve that. At the extreme is the older horse with a pituitary tumor (Cushing’s disease). If your horse doesn’t start shedding when he should, or if shedding is delayed or incomplete, especially when compared to the horse’s pattern in previous years, consult your veterinarian.
On the nutritional end, there are a few key players. Hair is 88% protein. Inadequate protein intake will slow hair growth. Of the specific amino acids, hair contains a wide array of both essential (must be in the diet) and nonessential (body can make them) amino acids, with particularly high levels of the sulfur-containing amino acids compared to other body tissues (except hoof).
Hays are better sources of the sulfur amino acids, on a percentage of protein basis, than seeds or grains, but the total intake is a function of both how much total protein is in the food, and what percentage of that protein is in the form of sulfur-containing amino acids and essential amino acids.
On the vitamin/mineral front, it’s impossible to single out ”the” most important nutrients since adequate and balanced intake of all is important. The most commonly encountered deficiencies that impact the coat are zinc, copper, vitamin A and B vitamins, especially biotin.
Last but far from least is fats. Fats are required in a small percentage in the diet, primarily in the form of the essential fatty acids. Fats are incorporated into the protective coatings on the coat and are essential for robust immunity at the skin level. You can feed any fat and get a ”grease” effect, but it makes more sense to feed the essential fatty acids the horse needs.
What this boils down to on the nutrition front is:
• Consider incorporating a few large carrots, or 10,000 to 20,000 units of vitamin A, per day in late winter and early spring months, when pasture is not yet available. Vitamin A levels in hay drop as it ages.
• Supplement essential fatty acids using 6 oz./day of a heavily flax-based supplement. Our favorite products in this category are Horseshine from Omega Fields (www.omegafields.com, 877-663-4203) and Horse Tech’s Glanzen (www.horsetech.com, 800-831-3309). The supplements will also give your diet a nice protein boost, including sulfur containing amino acids and lysine. Glanzen is also zinc-supplemented.
If you’re having problems with dry coats and poor hoof quality, feed an equine protein-and-mineral supplement (consult your feed store for a brands in your area).