The Effects of Nutrition on Hair Coats and Skin Condition
Many managers of horses and grooms place a lot of time and effort into getting their horses’ hair coats to look nice. There are a million products on the market today that claim to help with shine on a horse. But what about bringing it back to the basics? And what do you think one of those basics is…you guessed it…nutrition! Skin condition is what is affected when you feed your horse a good or bad diet. You are what you eat…what your horse’s skin condition is says a lot about what is going into its body.
Dull and thin hair coats are often a result of dietary deficiencies. Every horse’s needs will be different depending on its age, activity level, breed, etc. Knowing how to feed your horse for its requirements is the first step in developing a feeding program that will not leave him void of nutrients. Vitamin deficiencies like Vitamin A, E, and Biotin and mineral deficiencies like Copper, Zinc, Sulfur, Selenium, and Iron are often to blame for poor hair coat. You might be thinking your hoof supplement has a lot of these ingredients…and it probably does! Hoof health and skin condition are often linked because the same vitamins and minerals that help keep skin healthy also help hoof growth. Water soluble vitamins, like Vitamin B, are in your hoof supplements because they help hooves grow strong and healthy. The best place to start determining if your horse is receiving these in appropriate levels is to analyze your forage. Send it off to a lab after someone comes out to take a core sample so you know exactly what is in your hay. Vitamins and minerals in your feed and hay will decrease in quality and availability the longer your hay and feed are stored. Try to keep your feed and hay as fresh as possible for that reason.
Protein is another component of your horse’s diet that will impact its skin. A horse’s skin and hooves are both made up of protein. Make sure your older horse is getting a senior feed with added protein if you think his coat is starting to look dull. Older horses don’t metabolize protein as efficiently as their younger counterparts, so an added level for them is appropriate.
Fat is also something to consider when looking into your feeding program. Some people add vegetable oil or rice bran oil to their horses grain ration in order to put more “shine” on them. Fat helps the horse absorb fat soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K), thus helping coat quality. Look for feeds that utilize high quality fat and protein sources like soybean meal in their ingredients list.
All this being said…even if you make sure your forage and grain have good levels of vitamins, minerals, protein, and fat…if your horse cannot absorb these nutrients then it really does you no good. Make sure your horse’s teeth are done regularly and he is not dropping large amounts of grain or hay due to not being able to chew it properly. Also, your de-worming program needs to be up to par with your veterinarians recommendations. How you worm and with what product will depend on your geographic location, the time of year, etc. Ulcers are another component to management that affects absorption of nutrients. Make sure if you suspect ulcers that your horse is getting adequate turnout time, limiting stress factors, plenty of water, and medication if recommended by veterinarian. If all of these boxes are checked off, then feeding a quality horse feed with quality hay should produce a nice looking coat on a horse. If you are feeding hay exclusively, get it analyzed and after the results come back, determine what nutrients are too low. You might need to add some supplements to their diet or a ration balancer, which is grain that provides vitamins and minerals and protein without the added, unnecessary calories.
Just like we desire to have nice, healthy looking hair and skin, your horses need it too for the show ring! Don’t skimp on nutrition and hope to make up for it with grooming and products out on the market. Feed a quality ration that reflects the horse’s activity level, breed, and age and your horse should be looking ready for the winners circle.