Skin and coat care for your horse in summer

Text by Mandy Schroder

We all love to have sleek, shiny and healthy-looking horses. However, South Africa, with its beautiful sunny climate, can wreak havoc on our horses’ coats. There is nothing worse than a beautiful dark bay looking all bleached and ‘burnt’ with a coat that has lost its silky texture.

Dark horses commonly bleach in the sun

There are, thankfully, a number of ways to protect your horse from the sun – both internal and external. First of all, however, we need to understand how their skin and coat work and grow.

The basics

Skin and hair are epithelial tissue, which protect the horse as well as making him look beautiful. Hair grows out of a follicle originating in the dermis, the tissue layer below the epidermis (the 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 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 those glands.

Internal health

Always ensure that your horse is well hydrated and that his vitamin and mineral levels are at an optimal level. Just like us, their bodies need to be healthy for their skin and coat to be too.

Oil

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. A safe form to feed is cold-pressed linseed oil such as Aktiv Equine Flax Seed available atWestern Shoppe. Linseed/Flax Oil is high in omega-3 for optimum results.

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.

Oil can be bought in large quantities in tack-shops

Supplements

There are many herbal products available on the market the profess to help maintain coat condition. One that has shown very good results is Honeyvale Herb’s Fenu’Shine. Using fenugreek seed, garlic, deep sea kelp, rose-hip and nettle, it increases weight, promotes a deep and lustrous gloss which encourages dappling and also strengthens and stimulates healthy hoof growth. You can buy Fenu’Shine at Midfeeds.

External care

You can feed your horse the best food and supplements in the world, but if you don’t take care of his coat and protect it from the sun you won’t see great results.

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 themarket 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 hypoallergenic suncream 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 it 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 silocone-based sprays, the silicone prevents bleaching and sun damage of coats. For many years showing people have used Pledge Furniture Spray as a spray for their dark show horses to prevent bleaching and sunburn. In recent times this has been replaced by specialised products designed specifically for horses.

Shade and shelter

Providing your horse with an area of shade or bringing him into his stable in the hottest parts of the day can also help to maintain a wonderful coat.

Horses need places to shelter – not only for their coat, but also to keep them cool in our hot climate.

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 for being proactive in preventing it are worth all of the effort.