While altering your horse’s diet to avoid deficiency, it’s also important to look out for any underlying health issues. For example, dental disease, intestinal parasites, pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID) and ulcers can all have a negative effect on his coat and skin.
Spring and summer can bring additional challenges, such as bleaching of your horse’s coat due to sun exposure and sweet itch. While sweet itch can’t be cured – and preventing midges from biting is the most successful strategy – promoting good coat and skin quality through your horse’s diet can help to reduce damage caused by itching.
What to feed?
An essential starting point for any horse’s diet is their forage. Even when tempted to reach straight for specific supplements, you should always supply sufficient grass, hay, haylage or an appropriate forage replacer.
As well as providing plenty of fibre to promote gut health, there are other, specific nutrients you should include to promote a healthy coat and skin…
- protein is a key component of both your horse’s coat and skin, as well as his hooves. His coat consists of millions of hairs that’re largely made up of keratin, which is a structural protein. Keratin is particularly rich in sulphur-containing amino acids methionine and cysteine, and these should be included in the diet. High-quality protein, such as those from soya and linseed, supplies essential amino acids that must be provided by a horse’s diet as he can’t make them himself
- fatty acids help maintain supple skin. Essential Fatty Acids, including omega-3 and omega-6, like essential amino acids must be provided in your horse’s feed. Omega-3 fatty acids in particular is believed to play a role in the management of inflammatory skin conditions, such as sweet itch
- biotin, which is perhaps more commonly thought of for improving hoof quality, is a B vitamin that’s involved in certain metabolic pathways, including the metabolism of fatty and amino acids. The level of biotin proven to promote good hoof quality (15mg/500kg horse/day) is also recommended to maintain a healthy coat and skin
- copper is an essential micronutrient needed to improve the strength and structure of keratin, and the enzyme responsible for its production is also dependent on copper. Melanin is the first line of defence against sun damage to the coat
- zinc’s role in cell membranes makes it essential for the maintenance and repair of your horse’s skin, plus it’s involved in the formation of keratin.
- iodine, which is an important hormone co-factor for growth, must also be considered alongside the anti-oxidants vitamin A, C and E. Vitamin E works together with selenium, however, be careful not to over-supplement it as the difference between requirement and toxicity is small
Copper and zinc are often low in UK pastures, so speak to a nutritionist about whether your horse will need extra.
The best way to give these nutrients, and ensure your horse’s diet is fully balanced, is by feeding a top-specification feed balancer or multi-supplement. A conditioning balancer is ideal for horses who need to gain weight, while a low-calorie balancer or multi-supplement is likely to be more suitable for good-doers.
The addition of a blend with a high proportion of linseed, such as a linseed mash, is also beneficial. This will supply omega–3 fatty acids and mucopolysaccharides that support an elastic, supple skin.
For more information, visit topspec.com