As we wave a welcome goodbye to January, we hope that warmer, finer weather is just around the corner.
If your horses weren’t clipped over the winter, you may find that they are already shedding their coats, which is a great sign that spring isn’t too far away!
But how does the horse’s skin and coat work? And what can we do to keep it in excellent condition? Our friends at Carr & Day and Martin give us some insights…
Understanding the skin and coat
The skin is the horse’s largest and most visible organ and is on average around 1cm thick. The skin is made up of the epidermis – the outer dried cellular layer, and the dermis – the live portion of the skin, which contains the nerve endings, hair follicles, blood vessels and sweat glands.
Hair grows from follicles that originate deep in the dermis layer and pass through the epidermis to the skin surface. Hair is made up of a protein called Keratin, which is the same protein that makes up the hoof. As it requires energy to replenish itself, poor nutrition has a significant effect on both the quantity and quality of hair growth.
There are essentially two layers of hair that make up your horse’s coat; the primary coat known as the outer or “guard” coat and a secondary inner one. Here there are approximately 800-1,200 primary and 1,200-2,000 secondary hairs per square inch of skin.
Although hair itself is lifeless, it is moisturised by the sebaceous gland connected to the hair follicle, which produces a lubricating oil called sebum. Hair life has two phases; the active or anagen phase when it is growing, and the resting or telegen when it is not growing.
In cold weather, a horse’s hair grows longer for added insulation and the hair follicles move into a resting phase. As springtime approaches, they are stimulated into activity and new hairs are produced, dislodging the old ones. The horse’s coat is thereby renewed annually, with the exception of the mane and tail, which grows all year.
This is why one of the downsides of spring, from a horse owner’s point of view, is the incessant grooming required to rid your horse of this excess hair, most of which transfers to us humans all too readily!
Shedding Tools… an essential for every grooming kit
There are lots of great products available from your local tack store designed to help the shedding process (and by this we mean helping your horse to lose this unwanted winter hair – we’re not setting up a new DIY help group here!).
One of our favourites is a trusty metal shedding blade, which is dragged carefully across a horse’s coat to pull out the winter hairs that have been pushed nearly to the ends of the follicle by the growing summer coat.
Another essential is the good ol’ rubber curry comb, which has the added advantage of giving you a great upper body work out as you groom!
Shampooing your horse’s coat
Even with daily grooming, your horse still needs a good bath to get him really clean and a spring time bath on a mild day can really help to shift that unwanted hair.
It is not always ideal to wash a horse with a regular shampoo, as this will dry out the skin. The horse’s skin has a high acidic pH in the range of 6-7, so alkaline soap will denigrate the skin’s natural acidic protective layer.
Gallop Conditioning Shampoo is pH balanced yet mild enough for daily use. As the name suggests Gallop Conditioning Shampoo will gently clean the coat and nourish the hair and skin to prevent dryness and damage. Ideal for rinsing out sweat and dirt after riding, it has a very low foaming formula so is quick and easy to rinse out.
When a more intense clean is needed, Gallop Extra Strength Shampoo is great for really dirty, greasy and light coloured coats. This extra thick, concentrated shampoo has double the level of active ingredients of its sister product, Gallop Conditioning Shampoo.
So now’s the time to check your grooming kit and see if you have the things you need to make spring time shedding a piece of cake.