There’s nothing else quite like it: We’ve all done a double-take when a horse goes by with a blindingly shiny coat. Whether or not you show your horse, you’d probably rather he have a shiny coat than a dull one. So what makes a coat shine? Read on to find out.
Is There a Doctor in the House?
If your horse is well-maintained and you still have concerns, talk to your vet about screening him for ulcers or metabolic problems that can result in the symptom of a dull coat.
We all want to feed our horses beautiful hay and/or pasture, but it can be easy to miss out on certain vitamin and mineral requirements if you’re not careful. Even one deficiency could result in a less-than-glowing coat.
Good pasture grass is full of vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids during the growing season. Mineral content, however, depends on the soil in your location. Hay starts to lose health-enhancing omega 3s and certain vitamins after it’s cut and dried, and maturity at time of harvest can affect protein and other nutrients.
To make sure your horse is getting everything he needs, always provide a salt block and either concentrate (grain) formulated for your horse’s needs or a ration balancer.
If you feed a concentrate, you must feed the amount recommended on the label for your horse’s body weight to meet his vitamin and mineral needs. If he’s an easy keeper who can do without the calories, use a ration balancer instead. These contain complete vitamins and minerals in a much smaller serving size.
Adding Fat to the Diet
Horses have a very low fat content in their natural diet, but over the years, horsekeepers have noticed that adding oils or high-fat products in small amounts adds an undeniable luster to the coat.
Flax seed, stabilized rice bran or vegetable oil can be used to boost shine. Many people swear by black oil sunflower seeds (BOSS) as well. Adding a quarter cup of high-fat product twice a day is enough to improve coat quality.
Daily grooming will maximize your horse’s natural shine. Always start with a deep curry. For best results, use the classic black rubber curry comb. Make sure to replace it when teeth start to dull—getting down to the skin is crucial. Use some arm strength and go in a circular motion over the large, muscled areas of your horse’s body. This will bring dead skin and hair to the surface while distributing natural oils throughout the coat.
Use a hard brush for dried mud or extreme dust, a medium brush for normal post-curry brushing, and a soft brush as the final step to remove small dust particles. Brushes made of natural instead of synthetic bristles are great for bringing out shine.
To save time, curry with one hand while brushing with the other. Flick the brush to remove dirt and hair, and run the brush across the curry frequently to clean dust off of it as you go.
It’s important to clean your brushes regularly. Soak them in hot water with diluted dish soap or use a splash of Lysol to disinfect them; rinse well and dry them in the sun.
Aim to groom your horse for at least 30 minutes a day. It’s great exercise for you and will keep your horse looking his best.
If you really love to groom and want to maximize your results, grab a rub rag as a final step to dust and polish the hair.
There are plenty of great products on the market that you can use to enhance your horse’s glow.
Most coat polish sprays contain conditioners to moisturize and protect the hair, much like our own hair conditioner. Sprays containing silicone add shine and repel dirt, but take care not to apply to the saddle area. They are slippery! For maximum shine, apply immediately after bathing. Re-apply once a week to keep up the effects.
Don’t Fade Away
There are no two ways around it: Keeping your horse turned out in the daytime during the summer dries and fades the coat hair. Going to a nighttime turnout schedule or using a fly sheet with UV protection during the day will prevent this.
Excessive shampooing or harsh detergents can strip natural oils and dry the coat. Use shampoo formulated for horses, and be sure to rinse well. Leftover soap in the coat dries the skin and dulls the coat.
If you bathe frequently, use an equine body wash. These are gentle and designed for frequent use. Finish with a conditioner to strengthen and smooth the hair. The smoother the hair’s cuticle, the more shiny the horse will look.
A simple rinse with the hose will do the trick if your horse works up a sweat while exercising. Thoroughly removing all the salt from the coat is a very important step to keep it from drying out, fading and looking dull.
Are you ready to go for the glow? Armed with these tips, you can go forth and conquer the quest for a shiny coat.
Managing Editor Holly Werner Caccamise has a master’s degree in equine nutrition and worked as a professional groom on the eventing circuit.
This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!