Skin and coat care

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We all love to have sleek, shiny and healthy looking horses

South Africa with its beautiful sunny climate, can wreak havoc with our horse’s coats though. There is nothing worse than a beautiful dark bay all bleached and ‘burnt’ looking with a coat that has lost its silky texture.

There are a number of ways to protect your horse from the sun – both internal and external. First we need to understand how their skin and coat works and grows.

The basics

Skin and hair are epithelial tissue, which protect the horse as well as making him beautiful. Hair grows out of a follicle originating in the dermis, the tissue layer below the epidermis (outer layer of skin). A hair passes through the follicular sheath to the skin surface.

The active (Anagen) phase of hair growth occurs when a follicle produces a hair shaft. In the resting (Telogen) phase the hair is complete. The root separates, and eventually a new hair grows and dislodges the old one.

A single hair has a hair root, which anchors it, and a hair shaft. Hair comprises of a protein (keratin), which is the same protein that makes up the hoof.

Although hair itself is lifeless, it is moisturised by skin oils. The sebaceous gland, connected to the hair follicle, keeps the hair in condition by secreting a lubricating substance called sebum. These skin oils coat the hairs so they lie flat and shine which is why good grooming is so important as it stimulates these glands.

Oil

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There are sheets on the market made from reflective material to keep your horse cooler and protect against bleaching

There are a number of oils on the market that can assist in keeping your horse’s coat in good condition. Oil not only provides a safe form of energy for your horse, but it also helps to maintain his skin and coat in the best condition possible. Linseed or Flaxseed Oil is highly thought of for producing a healthy skin and shiny coat.

Corn Oil, Sunflower Oil and various blends are all available at local feed merchants and tack shops. According to riders we polled regarding oil choice personal preference and price seem to be the biggest deciding factors in which oil is used.

Supplements

There are many herbal products available on the market that profess to help maintain coat condition. One that has shown very good results is Honeyvale Herb’s Fenu’Shine. It increases weight, promotes a deep and lustrous gloss which encourages dappling, and also strengthens and stimulates healthy hoof growth.  

Rinse and scrape

Always rinse or sponge your horse down after work to remove all sweat. The salt content in sweat bleaches the coat of dark-coloured horses when exposed to the sun.

UVA and UVB Resistant Sheets and Fly Masks

Many of the Fly Sheets and Masks on the market today incorporate a wide variety of features, from reflective material to keep your horse cooler to mesh weave to prevent sunburn as well as specific UVA- and UVB-resistant properties.

Sunscreen

Greys and horses with white markings on their faces may be prone to sunburn that can end up blistering and peeling which can be incredibly painful for them. Consider using a hypo allergenic sun cream with a high SPF. One suitable for babies is probably safest, but to be safe, test it on a small portion of your horse’s skin before applying to large areas. As in humans, it needs to be applied regularly during the day, and gently rinsed off at night to avoid blocking the pores and coating the skin in too much dirt as dust sticks to the cream.

Coat sprays and conditioners

There are many coat sprays and conditioners available on the market. The theory is that in many of the silicone-based sprays, the silicone prevents bleaching and sun damage of coats.

Grooming

Regular grooming promotes a healthy oil content on the skin and coat; this also helps to prevent the coat from burning. Sun Care for your horse involves attention to detail and care on a daily basis. There is no quick fix for a dull burnt and bleached coat, but the rewards in being proactive are worth the effort.

Text: Mandy Schröder