Your horse sheds twice a year to coincide with the seasons: a very obvious shedding of his winter coat in the spring, and a not-so-obvious shedding of his summer coat in the fall. Your horse's coat condition is a convenient indicator of his overall health, so pay attention to its condition, and contact your veterinarian if his shedding seems unusual, such as falling in clumps with bare skin exposed underneath; appearing dull and lackluster; or growth that doesn't coincide with seasonal changes.
Your horse actually grows two types of winter hairs that make up his cold-weather coat. If you look closely, you'll notice a layer of longer hairs that stick up over a shorter, thick layer of hair.
- These longer hairs appear to "stand up," forming air spaces that provide him with a layer of insulation to protect the shorter, thick layer from cold and moisture.
- When these winter hairs shed in the spring, they are replaced with shorter, thinner hairs that give a healthy horse a sleek and shiny coat. These short, fine hairs protect your horse from overheating in the warmer weather.
What Dictates Hair Growth
Your horse's hair grows in response to changes in daylight hours. As the days get longer with the onset of spring, this triggers a hormonal response in his pituitary gland that controls the shedding of his winter coat and growth of his warm-weather hair. Similarly, shorter daylight hours command the hormones responsible for the shedding of the spring and summer coat, triggering the growth of his winter hairs.
Some owners who work and show their horse year-round choose to manipulate this winter hair growth by altering the amount of light. Blanketing your horse in the fall can delay or minimize his winter hair growth, as can exposing him to more light in his stall. You can also vigorously groom your horse to facilitate shedding, or give him a full or partial body clipping of his hair. This clipping also prevents him from overheating during cold-weather exercise.
Clipped horses need to be blanketed to provide them with cold-weather protection to replace the insulation that their natural coats would normally provide.
The condition of your horse's coat is a good indicator of his overall health. A dull coat can be a sign of poor nutrition, internal parasites or a thyroid problem. Contact your veterinarian if your horse's coat looks dull or if you notice abnormal shedding, such as clumpy hair loss.
Frequent grooming in the spring removes excess winter hair that can lead to overheating.
If you allow your horse to grow a natural blanket of hair during the winter, he likely won't need a blanket as long as he has access to a shelter and gets plenty of hay to eat. However, if you clip your horse, you are removing his natural defenses against cold weather, so blanketing is essential.
Young, old, ill or thin horses may need a blanket during the cold winter months, even with a natural winter coat.