External shine is a reflection of internal health. So if you want your horse to have a gleaming, glossy coat, you’ll have to start from the inside out.

Quality grooming and care have a significant impact on coat health. But no amount of elbow grease can overcome poor nutrition. Nutritional gaps in the diet will cause the horse’s coat to appear dull and dry.

Underlying health conditions such as gastric ulcers and high parasite loads also decrease nutrient absorption and contribute to coat dullness. Regular veterinary care and appropriate deworming can help your horse feel and look his best.

This article will discuss how to make your horse’s coat shiny with balanced nutrition, regular grooming, and proper health management. Keep reading to learn more about the most important nutrients for coat health and grooming tips for a stunning shine.

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Feeding for a Shiny Coat

A shiny, healthy coat starts with a balanced diet. Many nutrients directly impact the shine and health of your horse’s coat. These nutrients must be included in the diet at sufficient levels to keep your horse’s hair and skin healthy.

High-Quality Forage

Forage should be the foundation of every horse’s diet. High-quality forage is a good source of energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals required for a shiny coat. [1]

Large populations of beneficial microbes digest forage and other fibrous feed in the equine hindgut. Grains and other high-starch feeds can disturb microbiota populations, hindering digestive function. [2]

Feeding a forage-based diet nourishes hindgut bacteria and supports healthy digestion, ensuring horses get the nutrients needed to support coat health. [2]

Balance Diet

Horses need more than just forage in their diet. Horses on a hay-only diet will have nutritional gaps that must be addressed with a ration balancer or vitamin and mineral supplement to prevent nutritional deficiencies.

Deficiencies in certain amino acids, vitamins, and minerals can cause coat and skin problems in horses. [3] Often, one of the first signs of an imbalanced diet is a dull coat.

Mineral ratios are also important in the equine diet, as too much or too little of certain minerals can interfere with the absorption and utilization of others. [4]

An equine nutritionist can help you formulate a balanced diet for your horse based on the nutritional value of your hay, as well as any unique dietary needs. After balancing the overall diet, supplementation with targeted ingredients can provide additional support for coat health.

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Fats and Oils

Horses with diets that don’t provide enough essential fatty acids often struggle with poor hair quality and skin health. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids must come from dietary sources because horses can’t synthesize these nutrients in their body. [5]

Adding healthy fats from liquid oils or oilseeds can improve coat shine. These fats support the production of natural skin oils that enhance coat texture and gloss. Research suggests increasing the ratio of dietary omega-3 to omega-6 also improves coat scores. [6]

Studies show that horses with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood have shinier, smoother, and healthier-looking coats. [6] Omega-3 fatty acids also have anti-inflammatory properties that can benefit horses with certain skin conditions. [26]

Mad Barn’s W-3 Oil is a concentrated source of the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, as well as natural Vitamin E to help promote a shiny appearance.

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Zinc and Copper

Copper and zinc are trace minerals required for the synthesis of keratin, the most abundant protein in hair. Keratin helps form the epidermis, or outer layer, of hair, skin, and nails. [27]

Research suggests supplementation with these minerals can improve coat quality and colour. One study found horses supplemented with organic zinc and copper had stronger hair fibres than horses that were not supplemented. [7]

These minerals are also components of tyrosinase, an enzyme involved in melanin synthesis. Melanin is responsible for hair pigment in black, brown, grey, chestnut, and buckskin coats. Insufficient dietary copper or zinc can lead to dull, faded coat colouring and sun bleaching. [8]

For optimal utilization, zinc and copper should be provided in a 3:1 ratio in the equine diet. These minerals also interact with the mineral iron. Excess dietary iron can contribute to coat fading by reducing the bioavailability of copper and zinc. [9]

If your horse’s hay has high levels of iron, he may need additional copper and zinc to maintain the ideal 4:3:1 ratio of iron to zinc to copper. Supplementation with 3:1 Zinc Copper could support healthy hair colour for a gleaming coat.

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Biotin

Biotin is a B vitamin that is required for keratin production in the hair and hooves. Ensuring your horse gets adequate biotin in their diet will help to maintain hair, mane, tail and skin health.

Research has not established a biotin requirement for horses, but suboptimal dietary intake can contribute to poor coat quality. Forages provide small amounts of this vitamin, and hindgut microbes synthesize about 1-2 mg of biotin per day in healthy horses. [10]

Studies show adding 10-30 mg of biotin per day to equine diets improves hoof wall integrity and faster hoof growth. Horses with skin and coat issues may benefit from biotin supplementation to support coat hair strength and growth. [11]

Mad Barn’s Omneity and AminoTrace+ vitamin and mineral supplements both provide 20 mg of biotin per serving to help keep your horse’s coat looking their best.

Amino Acids

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, which are essential for the formation of hair and skin. The amino acids most commonly deficient in the equine diet are lysine, methionine, and threonine. [12]

Other amino acids that contribute to coat health include phenylalanine, tyrosine, and cysteine. Methionine and cysteine are sulphur-containing amino acids involved in keratin synthesis, while phenylalanine and tyrosine support melanin production. [28]

Lysine contributes to the synthesis of collagen and elastin, which are important proteins found in the skin. Threonine is utilized for intestinal-mucosal protein synthesis and might benefit coat health in horses with gut problems. [14]

The best way to support your horse’s skin health is to ensure they get adequate protein in their diet. For horses that need extra support, Mad Barn Three Amigos is a pure amino acid supplement that contains lysine, methionine, and threonine.

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Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps the immune system combat disease and protects cells from damage caused by free radicals. Vitamin E deficiency in horses can contribute to dry skin, allergic reactions, and infections. [15]

Fresh pasture contains high amounts of this vitamin, but levels decline after cutting forage for hay. Horses without access to grass require supplementation to meet vitamin E requirements. [16]

Studies in humans suggest this antioxidant can help protect against UV damage caused by exposure to sunlight. Vitamin E supplementation may benefit coat quality by supporting skin health and preventing damage due to sun exposure. [17]

Grooming for Coat Health

Once a horse’s nutritional requirements are met, daily grooming will maximize his shine. Following a thorough grooming routine helps find skin problems early and supports healthy hair growth.

Quality Grooming Time

Expensive grooming products can’t replace elbow grease. Instead of quickly flicking dirt off your horse’s back before you tack up, spend at least 30 minutes per day massaging and brushing your horse’s entire body.

The secret weapon of a top show groom is their rubber curry comb. A deep curry stimulates circulation, brings dead skin and debris to the surface, and distributes oils throughout the coat.

Use a rubber curry comb with stiff nubs in a circular motion over the muscled areas of your horse’s body. A fine curry comb with soft, flexible nubs is more comfortable for sensitive areas such as the face and legs.

After currying, use a flicking motion with a stiff brush to remove the loosened dust, hair, and skin from your horse’s coat. Finishing with long strokes with a soft body brush or towel will help the coat lay flat and add a layer of shine.

Avoid Overbathing

A shiny coat is the result of naturally-occurring oils produced by the horse’s skin. Frequent bathing with shampoo can strip the coat of natural oils and dry the skin.

Choose a mild shampoo for bathing and finish with a conditioner to replenish moisture. Using a leave-in conditioner with coconut oil or other gentle essential oils can also help improve shine in show horses that get regular baths.

Thoroughly rinsing the shampoo out of the coat prevents leftover residue from irritating the skin and drying out the hair. It’s also important to rinse all sweat off horses after exercise. Salt in sweat damages keratin, leading to a dry, brittle, and faded coat. [18]

Protecting Coat Quality

UV exposure dries out your horse’s coat and can cause sun bleaching. Fly sheets with UV protective fabric and nighttime turnout can limit sun exposure to keep your horse’s coat shiny. Grooming sprays with UV protectants can also help preserve mane, tail, and coat quality. [19]

Some grooming sprays contain moisturizers that help protect the hair from drying out. Others use silicone to repel dirt, but excessive use can damage hair. [20]

Silicone oil creates a thin film around hair during application, resulting in a shiny finish. But this film becomes thicker over time with recurrent use. Eventually, the layer becomes too heavy and can cause breakage. [20]

If you want to use a grooming spray for coat shine, look for a product with moisturizing ingredients and UV protection.

Common Skin Issues

Mane and Tail Rubs

Fungus, lice, bacteria or dry skin can all contribute to itchy manes and tails in horses.

Dirt buildup on your horse’s genitals can also cause itch leading to tail rubs. This area should be cleaned several times a year by you or your veterinarian.

To relieve mane and tail itches, horses will often rub their mane and tail against their stall or other hard surfaces. This practice can result in bare, uneven skin patches that can cause further irritation over time for the horse.

To prevent mane and tail rubbing, it’s important to maintain good hair hygiene. This includes daily brushing and monitoring for flakiness, irritation or changes in hair pattern.

If your horse does have mane and tail rubs, soothing shampoos or sprays, such as those containing aloe vera or tea tree oil, can help resolve this skin condition.

Tack Rubs

Like a poorly fitting pair of running shoes, improperly fitted saddles and other tack or blankets can cause rubs for horses.

Horses who are shedding their winter coats in the spring are particularly susceptible to tack rubs as the smoother summer coat comes in underneath a brittle winter coat. Exercise also tends to increase with better weather, meaning more time under saddle.

To reduce the risk of tack rubs, thorough grooming prior to exercise, including currying, as well as hard and soft brushes, is helpful. Pay particular attention to the areas where the girth and saddle sit to make sure they are clean and smooth.

If tack rubs do occur due to improper fit, you may need to change or adjust your tack. Alternatively, adding padding can help reduce friction and mitigate future problems.

Give your horse time for tack rubs to heal before continuing with exercise to prevent more serious skin irritations from occurring.

Girth Itch

Girth itch is a fungal infection caused by dermatophytosis (similar to ringworm), which can spread between horses through shared tack, brushes or other equipment. [21]

Girth itch occurs in the horse’s elbow or axilla and is often exacerbated by tack and exercise. Prevention is key when it comes to dermatophytosis infection: keep your tack and grooming supplies clean, and don’t share equipment between horses to avoid spreading this condition.

If your horse does contract girth itch, use a chlorohexidine-based shampoo to remove dirt and crust. Salves such as those containing aloe vera or calendula can improve healing and comfort.

Mud Fever

Mud fever is particularly common among horses in spring or in horses housed long-term in wet environments. The first signs of mud fever include swelling or soreness in the horse’s heels, which eventually leads to scabs or skin cracking.

This condition is most prevalent in horses with white socks or light-coloured legs and occurs between the fetlock and the heel. It can spread up the lower leg, causing heat, swelling, pain and, in some cases, lameness.

Once mud fever develops, keeping your horse’s legs as clean and dry as possible is an important first step to resolving this condition. Take steps to reduce moisture exposure and prevent mud formation in your horse’s paddock.

If left untreated, mud fever can progress to more severe complications such as cellulitis, which can affect an entire limb.

Summer Itch (Sweet Itch)

Summer itch occurs during warm months when flies and biting insects appear. This condition is characterized by an allergic reaction in the horse’s skin to the saliva produced by biting flies.

Summer itch is now a well-recognized allergic disease affecting approximately 10% of all horses worldwide [22] It can result in skin lesions, which are often hairless, weeping, and in some cases, ulcerative (non-healing).

Prevention of summer itch involves keeping horses away from flies. This can include stabling horses overnight to minimize turnout when flies are most active, avoiding wet areas for turnout, using mesh blankets to keep insects from biting and using insect repellents to protect susceptible horses.

Horses affected by summer itch may benefit from adding spirulina to their feeding program. Spirulina is a blue-green algae that has been studied to reduce itchiness and hypersensitivity to allergens.

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Supporting Overall Health

High internal parasite load, poor gut function and other equine health problems can also reduce coat shine and negatively impact your horse’s well-being. A balanced diet and regular grooming will only go so far if your horse has underlying health conditions that must be addressed.

Skin Diseases

A thorough grooming routine allows owners to check the horse’s entire body for minor wounds hidden by hair or dirt. Without proper care, these wounds can become infected and pose a risk for overall immune status. [23]

Infected wounds and skin diseases directly affect coat health. Common skin conditions such as rain scald and pastern dermatitis can lead to hair damage and loss. But early identification and treatment can prevent minor problems from progressing to chronic issues. [24]

Deworming

Internal parasites can infiltrate the horse’s gastrointestinal tract and cause inflammation, ulcers, and poor digestive function. A heavy worm burden impacts coat shine by interfering with nutrient absorption, resulting in a dull, rough hair coat. [25]

A fecal egg count can help determine if your horse has a heavy parasite load. Work with your veterinarian to develop an effective deworming program and management strategy to control worms and prevent coat dullness. [25]

Digestive Health

One of the best ways to improve coat quality in your horse is to support their gut health. Digestive issues, such as gastric ulcers, gut dysbiosis, and colitis, can hinder the absorption and synthesis of nutrients needed to support optimal coat health.

A healthy gut ensures that your horse can extract nutrients from their feed and supports microbial production of biotin and other nutrients involved in skin and hair growth. Feed a forage-based diet and provide adequate water and salt to support hydration and gut motility.

Contact your veterinarian to determine if your horse needs treatment for a gastrointestinal problem, especially if your horse’s dull coat is accompanied by weight loss. [26]

Consider feeding digestive health supplements, such as probiotics, prebiotics, yeast, digestive enzymes and toxin binders. Mad Barn’s Optimum Probiotic support a healthy gut microbiome to reduce the risk of digestive issues contributing to a dull coat. [26]

For horses with a history of gut issues, including ulcers, feed Mad Barn’s Visceral+ to help maintain a healthy gastrointestinal lining and support the immune system. [27]

Regular Veterinary Care

A healthy horse is a shiny horse. Proper nutrition supports overall wellness, and thorough grooming helps owners find minor skin problems before they become big ones.

Preventative veterinary care is another essential part of maintaining coat health. Coat problems often accompany other health conditions, which need to be addressed by a veterinarian.

Owners might also notice a dulling coat as senior horses age. Regular veterinary exams and blood work help identify what’s happening inside to explain the issues owners see on the outside.

Summary

  • The appearance of your horse’s coat reflects his overall health. A dull coat can indicate an underlying condition, such as a heavy internal parasite load or gastric ulcers.
  • Proper nutrition, thorough grooming routines, and regular veterinary care help maintain a healthy, gleaming coat.
  • Feeding a balanced diet supports a shiny coat by ensuring horses get the vitamins, minerals and amino acids they need for healthy skin and hair.
  • Currying encourages the production of the natural oils responsible for a shiny coat while over-bathing strips the skin of these oils and dries hair.
  • Frequent groomingallows owners to identify skin problems before they significantly impact coat quality.

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References

  1. Eduoard, N. et al. Voluntary intake and digestibility in horses: effect of forage quality with emphasis on individual variability. Animal. 2008.
  2. Julliand, V. et al. The Impact of Diet on the Hindgut Microbiome. J Equine Vet Sci. 2017.
  3. Hensel, P. Nutrition and skin diseases in veterinary medicine. Clin Dermatol. 2010.
  4. Schryver, H. et al. Calcium and Phosphorus Inter-relationships in Horse Nutrition. Equine Vet J. 1971.View Summary
  5. Sales, J. et al. A meta-analysis of the effects of supplemental dietary fat on protein and fibre digestibility in the horse. Livest Sci. 2011.
  6. Goh, Y. et al. Plasma n-3 and n-6 fatty acid profiles and their correlations to hair coat scores in horses kept under Malaysian conditions. J Vet Malaysia. 2004.
  7. Malgorzata, K. et al. Effect of diet on mechanical properties of horse’s hair. Acta Bioeng Biomech. 2009. View Summary
  8. Jachimowicz-Rogowska, K. et al. Seasonal Changes in Trace-Element Content in the Coat of Hucul Horses. Animals. 2022.View Summary
  9. Ramin, A. et al. Evaluation of serum copper, iron, and zinc concentrations in horse and mule of Urmia. J Anim Sci Res. 2017.
  10. Destrez, A. et al. Dietary-induced modulation of the hindgut microbiota is related to behavioural responses during stressful events in horses. Physiol Behav. 2019. View Summary
  11. Buffa, Eugene et al. Effect of dietary biotin supplement on equine hoof horn growth rate and hardness. Equine Vet J. 1992. View Summary
  12. Mok, C. et al. Amino acid requirements in horses. Asian-Astralas J anim Sci. 2020. View Summary
  13. Ekfalck, L. et al. Distribution of Labeled Cysteine and Methionine in the Matrix of the Stratum Medium of the Wall and in the Laminar Layer of the Equine Hoof. J Vet Med. 1990.
  14. Mastellar, S. et al. Effects of threonine supplementation on whole-body protein synthesis and plasma metabolites in growing and mature horses. The Vet J. 2016.
  15. Finno, C. et al. A Comparative Review of Vitamin E and Associated Equine Disorders. J Vet Intern Med. 2012. View Summary
  16. Thafvelin, B. et al. Vitamin E and Linolenic Acid Content of Hay as Related to Different Drying Conditions. J Dairy Sci. 1966.
  17. Keen, M. et al. Vitamin E in dermatology. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2016.
  18. Jirka, M. et al. Some observations on the chemical composition of horse sweat. J Physiol. 1959. View Summary
  19. Slominski, A. et al. Animals under the sun: effects of ultraviolet radiation on mammalian skin. Clin in Dermatol. 1998.
  20. Reis Gavazzoni Dias, M. Hair Cosmetics: An Overview. Int J Trichology. 2015.
  21. White, S. et al. Diagnosis and Treatment of the Pruritic Horse. AAEP Proceedings. 2006
  22. Fettelschoss-Gabriel, A. et al.Treating insect-bite hypersensitivity in horses with active vaccination against IL-5. J Allergy Clin Immunology. 2018. View Summary
  23. Freeman, S. et al. BEVA primary care clinical guidelines: Wound management in the horse. Equine Vet J. 2020. View Summary
  24. Pilsworth, R. et al. Dermatophilosis (Rain Scald). Equine Vet Ed. 2007.
  25. Love, S. Treatment and prevention of intestinal parasite-associated disease. Vet Clin Equine Pract. 2003.
  26. Schoster, A. Probiotic Use in Equine Gastrointestinal Disease. Vet Clin Equine Pract. 2018. View Summary
  27. Cipriano-Salazar, M. et al. The Dietary Components and Feeding Management as Options to Offset Digestive Disturbances in Horses. J Equine Vet Sci. 2019.
  28. Hess, Tanja. et al. Omega-3 Supplementation in Horses. R Bras Zootec. 2014.
  29. Betram, J. et al. Functional design of horse hoof keratin: the modulation of mechanical properties through hydration effects. J Exp Biol. 1987.View Summary
  30. Rzepka, Z. et al. From tyrosine to melanin: Signaling pathways and factors regulating melanogensis. Postepy Hig Med Dosw. 2016.