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Mirror KB Equine Article Series


Glossy Coats: Shine From a Bottle
Article and Photos by Kim and Kari Baker

 Many grooms contend there is nothing better than a little "elbow grease" to bring out the lustrous shine of a healthy coat. Beautifying your equine friend certainly does begin with good grooming, but there are a number of products on the market today that will promote healthy hair growth and can actually enhance your horseís natural glow.



     During routine visits to your local feed and tack store you canít help but notice the abundance of products meant to clean, moisturize or enhance the horseís coat. Chances are youíve tried more than one of these products, and more often than not, youíve chosen those that have the most eye-catching package or convincing name. With so many products to choose from, discovering your horseís true cosmetic needs can literally be a matter of trial and error.

Getting that Shine from the Inside Out

     A shiny coat reflects a nutritionally balanced diet, while a dull coat is often an early response to many nutritional deficiencies. With almost all of the more than 50 nutrients in the diet associated with supple skin and shiny hair, a healthy coat is indeed nourished from the inside out.





     But take "todayís horse." Available forage, generally due to poor hay management as well as over grazing of pastures, rarely satisfies the minimum requirement of several important nutrients. Even many commercial feeds that are used to take the place of the horseís natural foodstuffs frequently donít fill the bill, yet they claim to be "complete or balanced." For this reason, fortifying the horseís provisions with various proteins, fats, vitamins or minerals are at times necessary to promote a vigorous animal that will exhibit a healthy, shiny coat.

      Hair, like hooves, is composed of protein (keratin.) A sufficient supply of amino acids such as methionine, lysine and cystine (which link together to form protein), must be present at the hair follicle site for adequate hair growth to occur. An inadequate supply of these amino acids result in dry brittle hair. Acceptable levels of lysine, which is typically deficient in pastured equine diets, can be obtained by feeding alfalfa and high grain diets.

     Besides protein, fat also is significant in producing a healthy shiny coat. Fats, consumed by the horse help with the absorption of fat soluble vitamins and contribute to the production of sebum, the natural oil found in skin and hair follicles. Fatty acids, which are essential for hair growth include oleic, linolenic, linoleic, palmitoleic, nervonic and eicosadienoic. Flax seed, rice bran oil, corn oil, linseed oil and wheat germ oil are some of the more common products that are available to horsemen that supply concentrated forms of fat. Soybean meal is another source of fat with the added benefit of also providing all of the necessary amino acids.

     The oil producing capability of the sebaceous glands and the structural growth of the hair also depends on an adequate intake of many vitamins and minerals. Adequate amounts of zinc and biotin aid the integrity and structure of the hair itself, while a deficiency in either vitamin A or C will result in dry dull hair which easily breaks. Other vitamins closely associated with healthy hair include the B vitamins 6 and 12, folic acid, and pantothenic acid. In addition, copper, iron, sulfur, and selenium are among the minerals that are necessary for the development of a shiny coat. However, careful supplementation of both vitamins and minerals is recommended. Mega doses of many of these nutrients may actually cause more harm than good.

Cleansing the Coat

     Now that weíve established the special dietary needs that nourish glossy coats, how do we choose a topical product that will support the protective needs of our horseís coat? Not all shampoos are created equal. Some are milder and contain conditioners, while others will strip away too much of the natural oils. To some extent, all shampoos wash oils out of the coat. Thatís part of their job. However, the more alkaline a shampoo is the harder they work to clean the hair, extracting more of the natural oils and "glues" that help hold the hair shaftís cuticles together. By adjusting the shampoos pH value between 4.5 and 5.5 with the addition of citric acid or phosphoric acids, manufactures attempt to bring their product closer to the slightly acidic pH level of the skin.

     A good shampoo should be strong yet gentle, with the ability to cleanse without removing too much of the sebum and should be easy to rinse from the coat. In the pursuit of a clean shiny coat, we often apply more shampoo than necessary in an attempt to accumulate more bubbles in our belief that more bubbles means extra cleaning power. In fact, many manufactures add foam boosters to their shampoos in an effort to satisfy the buyers need for bubbles. Bubbles do lift and separate dirt and grime from the hair , but the more lather the harder it is to rinse the shampoo from the coat. Any shampoo residue left in the horseís coat will irritate the skin and dull the hair.

     Rinses comprised of warm water with additives such as vinegar, mineral oil, and baby oil or even a dash of pine-sol cleaner, lemon juice or blueing will help rinse soap residues from the hair. Many of these homemade preparations will additionally counteract the drying effect the shampoo has on the coat or will add shine to the hair, while others are aggressive sweat removers or whiteners.

     If your horse isnít too dirty you might consider just washing the hair with plain warm water. It causes no damage and effectively cleans the hair. For cold weather bathing, rinse-less shampoos are a good choice. Another alternative to completely bathing the horse when the coat isnít entirely dirty is to use a spot remover.

Conditioning the Coat

     As weíve learned, bathing our horse can strip his coat of important oils. However, applying a hair conditioner enables us to conceal some of the damage done to the hair. Many coat conditioners even incorporate ingredients to repel insects while others include sun screens for UV protection. There are finishers that even contain fragrances that are believed by some, to relax the horse. All in all, conditioners fall somewhere into the four following categories, depending on their design to rejuvenate or add luster to the hair.

Moisturizers: Concentrated with humectants (lipids) that will replace lost moisture as well as attract and hold moisture in the hair. Moisturizers are effective in reducing static charge caused by cold weather grooming while also alleviating itchy dry skin, reducing tail rubbing and breakage of hairs.

Acidifiers: Lower the pH which temporarily closes the cuticle layer of the hair resulting in a more elastic shinier hair.

Oils: Attempt to replace the natural oils with agents such as lanolin or emollient gels. Close to reintroducing the real thing, they protect the hair from more cuticle damage, adding softness and shine.

Glossers: Synthetically seals the hair with silicones and protein additives. Glossers add shine to the hair and smooth frizzy hair. The coating also reduces static and prevents tangles.

     In any event, conditioners never can really make damaged hair healthy again. Damaged hair stays damaged until it grows out and is replaced with healthy hair, but conditioners can make the hair appear healthy and more manageable.

Complementing the Coat

     Whoa, you didnít think you were finished did you? There are more ways to define and shine that equine coat, including applying final touches with high-lighters, coverups, and coat enhancers.

     Want to add a little sparkle? Recently glitter gel products hit the market and are becoming popular. Easy to use, you simply brush into the coat and let dry. Removing is just as easy. Just brush or rinse out. There are even glitter preparations for the hoof.

     How about adding a little definition to his handsome mug. Baby oil, Vaseline or a commercial high-lighter can be used on the fleshy areas around the eyes, muzzle and ears. They can also be applied to the horseís chestnuts and the fleshy areas under the tail. Though these products add a sense of presence to the horseís features, they also can turn your horse into a dust magnet. Furthermore, oily areas tend to become itchy, triggering rubbing. For this reason these products should be used sparingly. Gently cleansing the skin of excess oil following use is recommended.

     No need to worry if your show mount has a scrape, scar or ding in his otherwise perfect horsehide. There are cover up products on the market that come in a variety of colors to match almost any horseís coat color. Just spray it on the blemish and blend it into the surrounding hair.

     For white leg markings try a little cornstarch or baby powder to intensify the whiteness. Rub the powder into the clean white socks then lightly brush out. However, if you plan to daub a coat of hoof polish on to your horseís hooves be sure to finish up enhancing his white markings before moving on to the hoof.

     Applying a clear or black polish to the hoof adds definition and a deep luster. Most commercial hoof lacquers on the market are not recommended to leave on so be sure to lift with a polish remover after use or better yet, use a wax based shoe polish instead.

     Good grooming is essential in keeping your horseís coat in top condition, but whether you want to dazzle the judge with your horseís shimmering coat or you just want your horse to shine above his trail mates, there can be salvation in a bottle. Any wise equine beautician armed with a bottle or two of shine can turn a "bad hair day" into a day with "not a hair out of place."




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