It takes a healthy hair coat to sparkle in the show ring.
The quest for the perfect show appearance can take its toll on a horse’s skin and coat. Over-grooming, harsh products and the side effects of intense training can leave the coat a little dull. Learn better methods to create a show ready appearance that also keeps your horse healthy.
In Part 1, you learned that proper nutrition is crucial to develop healthy coat and condition from the inside out. Now, Dr. Rosanna Marsella, a professor of veterinary dermatology at the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida, shares tips and advice on keeping your show horse’s skin in top condition by managing chemical damage and common skin problems.
What’s in the Bottle?
To help our horses look their best, we use a wide variety of topical grooming aids, such as detanglers, stain removers, coat polishes, highlighters and fly repellants. If not used with care, they can negatively affect the skin.
“Alcohol is a prevalent ingredient, particularly in fly sprays. It can damage the skin and hair, making it dry and vulnerable to sun damage,” Dr. Marsella says. The insecticide ingredients in chemical-based sprays may be too caustic for horses if they are applied too heavily, too often or on horses with sensitive skin.
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Silicone is another culprit. It is common in hair polishes and conditioners, and it tends to dry the hair shaft and skin. It creates a coated layer above the hair that makes it appear shiny and feel soft. But, much like a varnish, it also prevents the coat from absorbing moisture. With excessive use, the hairs become weak and are easily damaged and broken. Fortunately, there are a number of silicone-free brands available that perform equally well without the negative effects.
Petroleum, wax and powder can also cause drying. If you use a product that contains these ingredients, apply a rehydrating spray to moisturize the skin and coat.
And realize that “all natural” doesn’t necessarily mean “always safe.”
“Just because it’s labeled ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a better choice,” Dr. Marsella says. “Most of them are safe, but some individual horses can have reactions.”
Tea tree oil, eucalyptus, henna and cedar are the most common offenders.
When checking the ingredient list, look for moisturizers such as aloe vera, wheat germ oil, lanolin, jojoba oil and propylene glycol; emollients like ethyl oleate and lignoceryl erucate; and gentle herbs like chamomile, lavender, calendula and comfrey.
Before applying any new topical on a large portion of your horse, use it on a test spot first and wait 24 hours to be sure it does not cause an irritant reaction. If you see redness, swelling, hives, scaling or if your horse’s skin becomes itchy or overly sensitive, you probably don’t want to use that product. If you think a horse is having a reaction to a product, immediately rinse as much off as possible with water.
Suited for the Show
Infections and sunburns can be unsightly, keeping a horse from looking his best in competition. Judges will have a hard time overlooking untreated fungal infections or a sun-burned, blistered muzzle, even if the horse performs well.
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Bacteria, fungi, yeast and other microorganisms live in a beneficial balance on healthy equine skin. But assaults such as poor nutrition, physical disturbances to the skin and long-term dampness can disrupt that balance, allowing some organisms to overgrow.
Stress from travel or exercise and excessive moisture from sweat and bathing can upset this balance.
Itching, pain, hair loss, crusting, dandruff and scaling are signs of a bacterial infection.
“It’s precipitated by high temperatures, high humidity, and frequent bathing,” Dr. Marsella says. “Any trauma to the skin, especially if it’s constantly wet, will lead to over-colonization of the bacteria on the skin.”
Treatment includes topical therapy and perhaps antibiotics for severe cases.
Mud fever, cinch itch and ringworm are all fungal infections that can occur in horses, among others.
Sunburn is especially prevalent during the hot, summer months of competition and can be a frustrating reality for many showmen. The pink skin beneath blazed faces and white leg markings is the most susceptible, particularly if the skin has been subjected to other stress, such as excessive drying or improper nutrition. Symptoms of sunburn include redness, pain, swelling, blistering, cracking of the skin and hair loss.
Sun exposure can also break up the hair protein, resulting in an overall dry and brittle coat, which won’t impress the judges.
Awareness of skin sensitivity will keep the coat looking show ready and the horse in optimal health. Products that increase shine may also be a necessity for a show horse, but learning how to use them correctly and not overusing them will save headaches later into the show season.
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Proper grooming starts with the appropriate supplies. Check out this video, “Farm and Ranch 101,” provided by our partners at Tractor Supply Co.