A life on the competition road presents a number of challenges to a horse’s skin and coat. Dampness from sweating and baths, the demands of training and showing, and harsh substances in some grooming products all contribute to skin problems such as flaking, itching, a dull coat and infections.
In this two-part series, learn how to keep your show horses looking their best by providing proper nutrition, avoiding harsh chemicals and recognizing the signs and symptoms of over-grooming.
Beauty From the Inside Out
A balanced diet is vital to keeping your American Quarter Horse’s skin healthy. Skin and hair lacking necessary nutrients will not function properly. They are also more susceptible to damage and infections.
There are some specific vitamins and minerals that will ensure that your horse feels and looks his best.
Biotin helps metabolize the fats and proteins essential for skin and coat health. Inadequate biotin levels may result in dryness, flaking, fungal infections, a fine and brittle coat or hair loss.
Niacin and pantothenic acid (vitamins B3 and B5) help release energy from food for a sound skin and coat. Riboflavin (Vitamin B12) aids in healing skin trauma. Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6) facilitates hair growth and reduces skin inflammation.
Vitamin A (retinol) is an antioxidant that supports the immune system and is critical in promoting good skin and hair. Vitamin E, another antioxidant, retards cellular aging, fights stress and supports the immune system, as well as contributing to thriving skin tissues.
Minerals also play an important role; imbalances and deficiencies are a common cause of coat-related complaints. Selenium contributes to the efficiency of the immune system and also works with vitamin E. But don’t over-supplement selenium, as it has a narrow safety margin.
A zinc deficiency may cause slow hair growth and shedding, delayed hair re-growth, flaking skin, poor wound healing, increased susceptibility to skin irritations and infections, and a dull coat color. Copper is another key mineral for the production of dark coat pigments; inadequate copper is often why a horse’s coat and mane bleach out from sun exposure.
Protein and amino acids are also crucial for skin and coat health. Although a deficiency in protein is rare, some amino acids might be lacking in a horse’s diet. Sulfur amino acids originating from methionine are the most abundant in hair, but the coat also requires generous levels of lysine.
If your horse is getting a balanced diet and still has skin problems, consider adding fat. It’s what gives the skin and coat a soft texture and forms a protective waterproof seal between individual cells and around the shaft of the hair.
The most important fats are the ones the horse can’t make themselves: the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Fresh grass contains high amounts of these fats, but they are lost when grass is dried and baled into hay. A variety of oils and other foodstuffs have these nutrients, but flax seed contains them in the balance that is most beneficial and with fewer calories.
“Flax is a very good source of fat,” says Dr. Rosanna Marsella, a professor of veterinary dermatology at the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida. “It is also an anti-inflammatory and antipruritic (itching). It really improves the quality of the skin and coat.”
Ground flax seed provides the greatest benefit. Ground flax, common in many skin and coat supplements must be handled with care and be “stabilized” to delay rancidity. Whole seeds may also be purchased, but you should prepare them before each feeding in a coffee bean grinder.
Continue reading at America's Horse Daily to learn about the effects of stress on the coat and how to maintain an effective grooming program for your show horse.