Your horse's winter coat provides essential protection from frigid temperatures, biting winds and snow and ice. When the temperatures rise, breezes turn balmy and the rains warm up with spring, however, that same coat can be uncomfortable and unsightly as it begins to shed. Shedding is natural, but the process can take several weeks and in the meantime your horse will look shaggy and the extra hair may attract unwanted dirt, bacteria and insects. Fortunately, it's easy for you to help your horse shed that winter coat and look its best for spring.
Helping Your Horse Shed
There are several safe, easy ways to help your horse lose its overgrown winter coat, including…
Adjust Light Periods
The daily photoperiod – the amount of daylight each day – is a biological trigger that signals the shedding cycle to your horse. If you increase the amount of daylight with extra lighting, you can trick your horse to begin shedding sooner, ensuring that the bulk of the winter coat is already shed before seasonal conditions become uncomfortable.
Blanketing in Late Winter
Blanketing your horse in late winter will help improve circulation to the skin, which will in turn help speed up the shedding process by encouraging the hair to loosen more quickly. Once you begin using a blanket, however, you will need to continue blanketing to be sure the effect is not reversed if the temperatures dip and the skin cools off.
Groom With the Proper Shedding Tools
Grooming does more than just make your horse look nice, it can help accelerate shedding a winter coat. Spend extra time and elbow grease with a currycomb to loosen winter hair, and consider using shedding blades or other specialized tools to remove dense hair. Be gentle, however, especially on horses with sensitive skin or when there may be hidden sores or other concerns beneath that winter coat.
Consider Seasonal Clipping
If you want to let your horse shed out its coat naturally but don't enjoy the shaggy look, some judicious trimming can help. A partial trim around bridal paths or areas where straps lay on your horse can minimize sweating and keep the animal more comfortable, or an allover trim can also be used. Be sure to trim gently around the eyes, ears, fetlocks or other areas where longer hair may be a problem in spring.
Provide Good Diet and Exercise
The healthier your horse's skin and coat is, the easier shedding a winter coat will be. Provide a nutritionally balanced diet, plenty of water and adequate exercise to your horse, and its overall circulation will improve and the shedding will go more quickly. If your horse is having trouble shedding or sheds in clumps that create bald patches, consider consulting a veterinarian to check for any health issues that may be impacting the coat.
Winter May Not Be Over
Even though your horse is shedding and you are helping the process along, winter may not be quite over and your horse may still need the protection of a heavier winter coat in case of a late spring freeze, storm or general cold snap. Keep a thick blanket handy to use if necessary, and be sure your horse has protection from the weather such as an open shed or windbreak in the corral or pasture. Also be prepared to bring your horse back into the stable if needed in especially turbulent spring weather.
Shedding is a natural, seasonal process for your horse to renew its coat, and while it may seem like a messy process, there are easy ways you can improve shedding and keep your horse more comfortable from one season to the next.