Written by Rachael Kraft (Last Updated 3/9/2023)
It’s springtime! For most people, this means that the birds are chirping and the leaves are budding. For horse owners, this means something a little bit different: horse shedding - and horse hair is probably EVERYWHERE around your property.
Dealing with the natural cycle of horse shedding and hair growth is a regular part of caring for your animals. However certain things you do as an owner can help speed up this process and keep your animals more comfortable.
In this article, we’re going to break down the most important ways you can care for your horse during shedding time. Plus, we have a few tricks to help make the shedding process go even faster!
Longer hair growth corresponds to colder temperatures. We all know that. But did you know that it’s actually the amount of daylight that can trigger a change?
According to Michigan State University, as daylight hours decrease in the fall, your horse starts to grow a longer winter coat over their short summer coat. Then, springtime days get longer and the increased daylight hours trigger horse shedding.
It all comes back to the pituitary gland. It recognizes these daylight hours, and produces hormones to cause the coat to change.
During the Springtime, your horse is experiencing increased hours of daylight and their bodies are signaling the release of winter coats. But there are still plenty of days to make your horses shiver with cold.
After a vigorous ride, you may find yourself with a very sweaty horse and a half-there winter coat soaked through to the skin. That’s why we talked with veterinarians Dr. Lauren Powell and Dr. Bonny Henderson of Henderson Equine Clinic in Avon, NY about dealing with this situation.
First, you need to understand how that longer winter coat keeps your horse warm. The vets explained how horses who have experienced cold winters in the past without blankets will typically grow a decent coat starting in the fall. “Air is trapped in-between the layers of hair and insulates the horse, similar to insulation in a house,” they shared.
“However, when you place a blanket over that hair, it weighs it down and flattens the hair. This means it cannot trap the air between the hair strands, thus preventing the natural insulation.”
Dr. Henderson went on to say, “When you clip a horse, you are removing the hair strands, so again they lose the ability to trap air between the hair strands as insulation. Horses that are usually in warmer climates or have been blanketed in previous years, will typically grow a more fine or thin hair coat. This might not be suitable for some winter weather, without blanketing.”
Understanding how the coat works is important because sweaty or wet horses in cold spring weather can suffer from hypothermia if the temperatures are extreme enough. Sweat evaporating from their skin actually has a cooling effect. And if they are not able to insulate due to wet hair, your horse will get too cold.
This is especially important to be aware of if you take your horse to an event and try to load them back on the horse trailer to return home before they are dry and cool.
Dr. Powell and Dr. Henderson went on to provide their recommendations for how to cool out your horse on chilly Spring days before their coat has shed out.
“Riders should spend an adequate amount of time cooling down their horses after exercising. This can be anywhere from 10-20 minutes, or even longer depending on the horse. The horse should have stopped sweating, their heart has returned to normal, and the sweat is dry. Blowers and cooling blankets (coolers) will help to keep them warm, while their sweat evaporates.”
Horses have a natural wicking system with their coats. When they get wet, their body heat pushes the moisture out towards the tips of the hairs so it can evaporate. You’ll even see droplets of moisture sticking to the ends of the longer hairs to illustrate this process.
Placing a cooler over your horse while his body goes through this natural process will keep him warm while the sweat dries off completely. Make sure you don’t over blanket the horse or he can actually break out in a second sweat.
Also, if he is extremely wet to start, you might need to use something like microfiber towels to soak up some of the moisture before you progress to the cooler blanket phase. Always check back with your horse later in the day to remove the cooler and make sure he is 100% dry again.
If you do need to transport your horse while he’s in the final stages of drying off, make sure you provide him with a cooler blanket. Close all of the windows in your horse trailer, as well as vents, so he does not have to deal with excess air flow. And definitely do not transport in an open-sided stock trailer in chilly weather if your horse is still not cooled off and dry.
Dr. Henderson added,"Depending on the length of the trailer ride, the temperature outside, and how exposed the horse is to the wind in the trailer, it might be necessary to layer up on coolers. This can be done by using a combination of Irish knit coolers and Wool coolers, to keep the horse warm for the duration of the ride."
Although horse shedding is completely natural (and necessary), it can be a pain both horses and horse owners. Here are a few tricks you can try to help speed up the process for your horse:
Remember how we talked about light and its effect on hair growth? Well, you can actually add additional artificial light to your horse’s environment to trigger faster shedding. Just remember, you are still responsible for keeping your horse warm if his coat is thin and the temperatures are cold. The added light source can be turned on to produce a total of 16 hours of daylight for your animals. The intensity should be comparable to a 200-watt bulb for one 12x12 foot stall. More light than this won’t do your horse any good so don’t overdo it. It will take the horse about 60 days before you start to notice increased shedding.
Bathing is a neat trick to speed up your horse’s shedding time (provided the weather is warm enough!) Use a conditioning shampoo to moisturize your horse’s new summer coat as it’s growing in.
Hot oil treatments can work well to provide deep moisturizing for horses with dry coats. It will also help loosen the shedding hair. Be sure to dry your horse off very well with towels after their bath.
Finally, a spring body clip can also speed up the process. But again, remember to provide your horse with extra blankets if you decide to rob him of his coat before the temperatures are warm enough.
Vigorous grooming can also help get your horse’s coat to shed faster. For this, think about using some serious elbow grease and tools designed specifically to shed out their coats.
Here are some great tools to stock in your tack box:
A curry comb is great for removing dirt, old hair and debris from your horse’s hair. Use it in a circular motion, but be careful using it around their face and legs where there is little muscle and sensitive areas.
Grooming mitts and gloves work well for the entire body including faces and legs because they are less stiff with flexible rubber knobs to pull off the hair.
Shedding blocks and shedding blades can also be used. Or, if it comes down to it, you can always use a nice brush with stiff bristles.
Read more here: Revealing the 6 Best Grooming Kits for Horses
Remember, horse shedding is a natural part of owning a horse. But if you use the right practices, you can help speed up this process and keep your horse comfortable and healthy.
We'd like to say a special thank you to Dr. Lauren Powell and Dr. Bonny Henderson of Henderson Equine Clinic in Avon, NY for their help with this article.
During the Springtime when the daylight hours increase and the temperatures begin to rise, horses winter coat starts to shed. This is caused by the horses pituitary gland that reacts to the longer daylight hours and releases hormones triggering the release of the winter coat.
Most horses start to shed in the end of February/beginning of March.
Horses normally only shed in the Springtime, which is why the Spring is known as horse shedding season. Although horses shed the most noticeably during the Spring, hair shedding and regrowth happens continually which is why you should groom your horse on a regular basis.
Horses have to shed and horse owners cannot stop the process of shedding. However, there are things that can be done to make horses shed out faster such as brushing and combing regularly and using a shedding blade.
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