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Posted on 04-20-2017
Most days, Dianne Welde’s gelding, Ringo, looks like he’s about to step into the show ring. The blaze down his face and all four of his stockings are bright white; his mane and tail are shiny and tangle-free; and Welde can almost see her reflection in his coat. Welde attributes Ringo’s shimmer to his diet—high-quality hay and plenty of good pasture as a foundation, along with quality feed that provides Ringo with some calories from fat. But she does not discount the fact that the horse also gets regular grooming—lots of it—from head to toe.
“Of course, I groom him before every ride, but even on days when I’m not riding, I give him ‘a spa day,’ ” says Welde, a Western and English dressage rider from Parrish, Florida. “I just want to get my hands on the horse and check him out because you never know what you’re going to find.”
Welde’s logic is spot-on, says Susan L. White, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, Josiah Meigs Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the University of Georgia’s Department of Large Animal Medicine, in Athens. White says it does take plenty of grooming to get a coat that gleams. But the true secret to shine, as is the case with any healthy skin and hair, lies in caring for what’s beneath it.
“A healthy, shiny coat starts with diet,” says White. “That means getting fat and vitamins A, D, and E.”
Like humans, horses need vitamin D to be able to absorb calcium to maintain strong bones. Also like humans, horses get vitamin D from sunlight. But while many of us drink fortified milk for the additional vitamin D we need, horses must obtain theirs from what they eat. Vitamin A helps a horse mount an immune response to infection and is important for healthy skin and for night vision, among other benefits. Finally, vitamin E is an antioxidant that horses get from eating fresh forage. Both vitamins D and E are fat-soluble, meaning they’re absorbed by dietary fat in the body.
“Fats help horses process vitamins,” says equine nutritionist Lori Warren, PhD, PAS, an associate professor in the University of Florida’s Department of Animal Sciences, in Gainesville. “So horses may need oil or flaxseed added to their diets.”
Warren says fats such as fish oil and flaxseeds are omega-3 fatty acids, which have immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory effects. Corn oil, on the other hand, is an omega-6 fatty acid, which researchers believe to be pro-inflammatory. Adding omega-3s to a horse’s diet promotes healthy skin and might also boost the immune system and combat a variety of inflammatory conditions.
In any case, owners who want to support the development of a healthy, shiny coat should ensure their horses are getting enough of these necessary nutrients. Some owners believe this means adding supplements to their horses’ diets, which isn’t always the case.
Warren says supplements should fix vitamin and mineral deficits in a horse’s diet. However, she notes that most supplements do not provide enough of any vitamin or mineral to make a difference.
“So we see a lot of supplementation because the owners want to do the right thing for their animals,” she says. “There is a psychological component on the part of the owners,” that compels them to purchase a variety of these supplements without necessarily confirming need.
Warren says the best way for owners to figure out if a supplement is providing a horse with the vitamins and minerals he needs for a healthy coat is to examine the product’s label.
“All the labels are available online and are pretty easy to find,” Warren says. “But when you study the label, make sure you get help from someone who actually knows what the ingredients mean.”
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