Everyone wants to show off a shiny horse, and that’s why coat supplements command a large share of the marketplace. Poor coat quality is often the first sign of either inadequate nutrition or physical problems, such as an illness or parasitism. That’s because the horse’s body assigns a low priority to keeping the coat supplied with key nutrients. We’re going to look at products that address skin and coat from a nutritional standpoint in this article. (We’re beginning a field trial on specific color-enhancing products, which will be in an upcoming issue.)
There are no magic-bullet ingredients that automatically make your horse shinier or help him grow a thicker or longer tail. The working ingredients are nutrients, and they won’t help a bit if the horse is already getting a sufficient supply of them. Doubling nutrients above the horse’s actual requirement only makes for more work for his body in eliminating the excess. It won’t speed up or double the results.
Manufacturers formulate coat supplements with an eye toward the nutritional inadequacies that are most likely to be involved in coat-quality problems. These include fats, protein/amino acids and key minerals and vitamins. If your horse’s diet is low in any of these ingredients, you should see a difference.
Protein: Next to water, protein is the most abundant substance in all body tissues. Skin, hooves, hair, ligaments and cartilage are all variations on the same theme, and they all need protein.
Subtle differences in the sequences of amino acids and the bonds between amino acids are what give the proteins in these different tissues their unique characteristics, but in the end they’re all mainly protein. Horses on a diet of very mature hay only are the most likely to have protein issues.
Note: An absolute deficiency of protein is rare, but deficiencies of key amino acids are possible. Sulfur amino acids originating from methionine are the most abundant in hair, but hair also contains generous levels of lysine.
Fat: Some type of fat is common to most coat supplements. Fat is what gives the coat (and skin) a soft texture and forms a waterproof seal between individual cells and around the shaft of the hair. Polyunsaturated fats are an important component, as advertised for many supplements, but the only fats that the horse can’t build himself are the essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Fresh grass contains high amounts of both these fatty acids.
If you supplement a horse on a dry diet with some oil rich in polyunsaturated fats to bring the level up closer to what a horse on pasture would receive, the texture of the skin and hair, as well as shine, will improve. However, for maximum benefit in terms of resistance to allergies and infections, the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids should be supplemented. That’s why we like feeding flaxseed, with a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats, when feeding supplemental fat for skin and coat condition.
Minerals: Zinc deficiency may cause delayed hair regrowth, slow hair growth/shedding, skin flaking, poor wound healing, increased susceptibility to skin irritations and infections, and a dull coat color.
Copper is a key mineral for the production of dark-coat pigments. Inadequate copper is often why a horse’s coat and mane bleach out. Mineral imbalances and/or deficiencies are a common cause of coat-related complaints, especially drab colors and easy sun damage. Sun damage can also break up the hair protein, resulting in dry and brittle coats.
Unless your horse is on a balanced complete feed, or you know for sure your entire diet of hay and grain combined is well balanced, there’s a good chance copper and/or zinc are part of your problem.
Vitamins: Although full-blown B vitamin deficiencies are unlikely in a horse, some key B vitamins are common ingredients because of their effects on skin and coat health. Deficiency symptoms aren’t an all-or-nothing thing. Suboptimal levels can still impact coat quality.
Biotin is best known for a role in hoof health, but deficiency causes skin and coat symptoms as well. Dryness, flaking, fungal infections, fine and brittle coat or hair loss may be caused by inadequate biotin. Pyridoxine (B6) deficiency may slow hair growth because of a key role in plays in protein synthesis. Another symptom you may see is skin inflammation.
We wouldn’t make inclusion of B vitamins an absolute must in a coat supplement, but we wouldn’t rule out a possible benefit while rebuilding damaged hair, especially for biotin and pyridoxine. Aim to include these B vitamins if the horse also has flaking skin and hoof-quality problems.
Vitamin A also plays a pivotal role in skin and coat health. A rough, dry coat and skin would result. However, vitamin A inadequacies are rare.
Pumping Up Protein
Feeding your horse right means giving him adequate amounts and balancing nutrients. It also means zeroing in on what might the most likely culprit in coat problems. For many of us, that’s protein.
Most of the products we looked at don’t provide enough protein to make much of a dent in a diet that is truly too low in protein. Levels of added essential amino acids also are low, with the highest levels in Med-Vet Pharmaceuticals Omega’s (lysine at 2.3 grams) and Smart Pak’s Farrier’s Formula Concentrate (methionine at 5.3 grams). If you’re feeding flaxseed and need to address methionine deficiency and trace minerals, try Smart Pak’s Farrier’s Formula Concentrate.
We also like the essential amino acid supplement Uckele’s Tri-Amino, which provides lysine and methionine in good amounts and good balance. If you’re feeding mature-cutting hay, and you have balanced your minerals but have coat problems, try combining a no-frills flaxseed with Tri-Amino.
If your diet has good protein levels and is balanced and adequate for minerals, but you’re still having coat problems, your first step is to replace the fats lost when grass is baled into hay. If you’re going to feed fat, make sure it’s a good source of the essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, in a correct balance. Several products met the criteria for fatty acid profiles similar to fresh grass but the easy winner for quality and content was Horse Tech’s Nutra-Flax. It’s also our coat-supplement Best Buy.
For a broad-spectrum supplement that covers all the bases and address es amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, Horse Tech again gets the nod for potency, balance and price with Glanzen 3. Brookside’s Command Hoof and Coat is also an excellent choice, but it’s more than twice as expensive to feed as Glanzen 3.