Good Eats, Glossy Sheen, Part 2

Keeping your horse’s coat clean and shiny is a crucial part of your horse show presentation.

Your horse’s glossy coat is a crucial part of your horse-show presentation. Evaluate his diet to achieve that glossy sheen with Part 2 of these tips from Eleanor Richards, an equine nutrition consultant in Bulverde, Texas. Want to review Part 1?

Hoof Quality
Healthy hooves are also a key identifier on whether or not the horse is receiving the nutrition he requires, notes Preston R. Buff, former extension equine specialist at Mississippi State University. Yet if you are feeding a balanced diet, then most horses should boast healthy hooves.

“There are some horses that do have some poor hoof quality, and you can supplement, on a pharmacological level with biotin, and it has been shown by research that it improves the health of a hoof,” he says. “If a horse already has a healthy hoof, then supplementing the biotin is not going to be effective in trying to improve the hoof.”

“Some of these supplements are really high in Omega 6, and you have to watch out for that,” Eleanor says, citing black oil sunflower seeds as an example. “Horses don’t need that many Omega 6’s, and if they eat too many of them, it can cause some problems with arthritis. You want to avoid black oil sunflower seeds. Corn oil and soy oil are fairly high in Omega 6 fatty acids as well.”

Omega 3’s are the better option, and Eleanor notes that stabilized flax is the best source of this fatty acid.

Remember, however, that the purpose behind feeding supplements is to provide what is lacking. If a horse is on fresh, green grass and being given enough salt and water, the chances of him requiring a supplement is relatively low, because grass usually contains everything that he needs. If he's only on pasture part of the time, and the other source of his forage is hay, have the hay analyzed to see what nutrients are in it, and which ones you have to supply through other sources, such as a commercial feed.

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The danger with supplements is that if you’re not able to pinpoint whether your horse actually has a vitamin or mineral deficiency, you may indeed cause one by feeding him a supplemental product, even with the best of intentions.

“When you start adding all sorts of supplements, you run into a problem of disrupting the balance and potentially creating a nutrient deficiency,” explains Preston. Preston suggests that in addition to good quality forage and/or hay, commercial feeds formulated specifically for horses do a good job of balancing out the horse’s diet.

“All of the horse feeds that are specifically formulated are enriched with all of the vitamins and minerals that the horse needs, and they are balanced properly to do that,” he says.

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Eleanor underlines that the feed must be designed for the horse you are feeding: Young, working horses, for example, have different requirements than elderly, retired ones. Once you choose a feed, make sure that you are following the directions. Otherwise, the horse won’t be receiving the benefits of all the nutrients that it contains.

“If the feeding directions say to feed five pounds a day, but your horse is obese and you only feed him one pound a day, in addition to cutting back on the calories, you are also cutting back on the vitamins and minerals that are supplementing what the hay is lacking,” Eleanor says. “If you can’t feed the amount that the manufacturer is recommending, you need to find another product that you can feed in a lesser amount. It might be just a vitamin or mineral supplement.”

Even if you are sure of every vitamin and mineral that a horse is receiving, the more elements you add into the mix – such as supplements – the more difficult it is to determine what’s working, and what’s not doing much at all.

“As we approach show season, that’s when we start to feed supplements so that the horses look better,” says Brian D. Nielson, professor of equine exercise physiology at Michigan State University.

Show season and the increased feeding of supplements often coincide with springtime, when the horse starts to shed his winter coat, undergoes a deworming – which improves rough coats considerably – and spends an increased amount of time on fresh pasture.

“You have all of these other factors, and trying to separate out what is causing the improvement in the hair coat is really hard,” Brian says.

While providing a balanced diet is integral to a healthy, shiny coat and strong hooves, a lot remains to be said for the application of good, old-fashioned elbow grease.

“Keeping a horse clean and keeping the dirt off of a horse’s body is going to help keep the coat shiny,” Preston says.

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Sunlight can dull a glossy sheen or at least bleach out the coat if your horse doesn’t have access to shade. Preston suggests that for those trying to keep their horses in show condition, limiting the time the horse spends in the sun is one way of keeping the coat vibrant.

“You can do things like turning the horse out in the pasture at night or providing a shady paddock to minimize the amount of sun.”

Flysheets also help protect the hair from being directly exposed to the sun.

When the elbow grease wears off, Brian reminds horse owners that there are a number of products designed to temporarily bring out that glossy sheen, such as Farnam’s Vetrolin Shine.

“I look at that as cheating,” he jokes, “but it works.”