Horse people love to see a healthy horse with a shiny coat. It doesn't matter how nice your stable, farm or arenas are if the horses in your care don't look good. Getting a healthy, shiny means working from the inside out. A great coat starts with great nutrition. Throw in some elbow grease and good management techniques and everyone will be exclaiming over how great your horse looks!
Although there are hundreds of products promising to create shiny coats, good nutrition creates a glow from within. But this isn’t a “quick fix” for a coat that’s dull, as it can take several months for good nutrition to result in healthy hair. If you have a horse come into your barn with dull or coarse hair, start a good feeding program right away. The trickiest problem might be getting the correct balance of vitamins, minerals and calories, especially for an easy keeper, says lka Wagner, DVM, of Hearne, Texas.
“This type of horse (easy keeper) may get very limited grain and may not get a correct balance," said Wagner. "In this situation I recommend a nutritional supplement that provides a daily supply of the vitamins, minerals and amino acids the horse needs with few additional calories.”
Another consideration when building healthy coats from within is the amount of fat in the diet. Wagner commented, “Sometimes diets higher in fat can improve hair coat in horses with coarse or dull coats, so this might be a consideration as well.”
Some feeds have high fat content. For those that don’t, flax seed or corn oil added to the diet can increase the amount of fat.
Granger Durdin’s family owns Magic Moments Stable in Houston, Texas, and she shows Arabians and half-Arabians across the country. She adds that a good deworming program is essential. Her veterinarian recommends a deworming regimen for all new horses she acquires. (Discuss any deworming regimen with your veterinarian before administering.) Granger said she feels that “nothing you put in their feed or on their coat will work all that well if they have worms.”
Elbow grease is another essential ingredient for a great coat, but like good nutrition, it takes months to pay off. Leah Williams, a professional groom in Paramount, California, curries horses in her care daily. That work creates a healthy shine by removing dirt and bringing natural oils to the surface. Although it might be tempting to use a metal shedding blade during the spring to quickly remove excess hair, pick up a rubber curry comb instead. The metal blade causes damage to hair that the rubber curry does not.
Williams also cautioned against over-bathing. Hosing a hot horse off after a ride helps him cool down and removes sweat that can dull the coat, but frequent baths with shampoo can break down the natural oils in the coat and leave the skin dry and flaky.
Protecting the Coat
Once you’ve created a healthy coat from within, you want to protect that coat from damage. While horses need turnout time to blow off steam and stretch their legs, the summer sun can be one of the biggest enemies of a healthy coat. Not only does it bleach hair, but the sun also dries out the coat and leaves it brittle and coarse. Instead of keeping show horses locked inside, turning out horses at night offers a great solution. Another option is to use hoods and lightweight sheets to protect their hair during daytime turnout.
Hair Coat Products
Hair care products cannot create the same healthy glow as good nutrition and elbow grease, but they can help a horse with damaged hair look more presentable. They also add the final polish to a horse with a healthy coat. However, there are so many coat care products out there that it can be tough to figure out what to use.
In order to create a shine, products like Cowboy Magic’s Detangler and Shine and Absorbine’s ShowSheen are popular with many grooms and trainers and do a great job. For the do-it-yourselfer, Durdin uses human hair care products on her horses. After shampooing, she uses Cholesterol (which can be found in the hair care aisle at most stores) diluted in hot water as an over-all body conditioner. She also applies it undiluted directly to manes and tails. She then puts a product called Hair Food in the horses’ tails before braiding them and putting them in a tail bag (or a tube sock). She says these products leave horses shiny and beautiful.
As with any product, test it on a small area of your horse first to make sure he isn't allergic to any of the ingredients. Products made for horses are more suitable, but even those can cause allergic reactions in some horses.
Keeping Whites White
For the beleaguered owners of light-colored horses, the battle to keep them clean is huge. But again, there are many great products from companies like Absorbine, Cowboy Magic and Cheval International that can be found at any tack store, online or in most catalogs.
For smaller white spaces, here are a few tips from Linda Tucker of Stephens, Arkansas. Tucker shows her Paint gelding Te Lightful Sensation at many shows each year, including the APHA World Show. Her horse has to look his best, and that means his whites must sparkle. She said, “A few days before a show I shave Andy’s white socks and his face with a 40 blade and then cover both with corn starch at the show. I pat the corn starch on with a fleece glove so that the shaved spots don’t look pink. That way if Andy gets dust or dirt on his legs, it just wipes off rather than leaving a stain.”
For white on the body, Tucker uses bluing shampoos, such as Super Poo by Absorbine or White and Bright by Farnam. After bathing and letting the hair completely dry, cover the horse with a lightweight hood and sheet to keep the dirt off until it is time to show.
Enhancing Hair Color
In addition to making whites brighter, you can make your dark horse even darker. While you might be tempted to resort to hair dyes to restore color to faded hair, some associations don’t allow their use. Instead, Leah Williams recommends Black as Knight from Cheval International. She said it not only helps keep coats darker, but it adds extra luster. She’s also has had success feeding one teaspoon of paprika a day to keep dark coats dark, although it doesn’t add shine like Black as Knight.
Before showing your horses or sending clients into the show ring, don’t forget the final touches. Tucker checks Andy’s whites before she enters the show ring and wipes any smudges off. Durdin recommends using baby wipes without alcohol to clean the horse’s face and white markings. For halter horses, she also recommends using a baby wipe to clean beneath the tail.
Creating a beautiful coat of hair takes months and requires a commitment. However, that attention to detail shows through and tells judges and clients that you care about the horses and run a good business.