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Long shaggy Hair Coat
Long shaggy Hair Coat

PREPARING FOR WINTER

Winter presents several conditions for which we should prepare our horses.  It is cold, wet  and often windy.  While we all prepare for these conditions, rarely do we welcome them.  Horses prepare for them as well, but the ones I know are not any happier about winter than we are.

The heavy and long hair coat so many of our horses now have is an obvious attempt to provide an insulated cover as well as a buffer against the wind.  Factors such as body condition and external parasites will have some effect on that coat.   If the horse is normally in good body condition, the winter hair coat will be soft and thick.  When you see it at a distance it has a lush healthy appearance.  The hair has grown long over a short period of time and is uniform in appearance.

If the horse has seen hard times and its body condition is or has been marginal, there will be a different look to the hair coat.  This is the horse that has been maintained on meager rations and is possibly loaded with internal parasites (worms) and external parasites (lice and ticks).  When you lay your hand over the rib cage, the ribs are easy to feel and are hard to the touch.  The skin does not move freely, all because of a shortage of fat under the skin.  We have all seen these horses and perhaps have purchased them.  The very old horse will occasionally be in this category, not because of neglect but because it is more difficult for them to maintain themselves.  Ponies will also look this way and for them it is perfectly normal.

The point of all this depressing profile is to explain the long shabby haircoat we see on these horses.  The hair grows slowly, and may not even totally shed off from the previous winter.  It feels coarse because of the length and unevenness, and may be very long.  When the body has been thin and cold, it puts every effort into growing the hair long for more protection.  If there are external parasites present the hair will have a coarse and brittle feel. The presence of the parasites inflames the skin, which thickens it.  This makes the hair follicles stand up and the hair shaft brittle and often broken.

What does all this mean to you when your biggest worry is taking fifty pounds off your horse before your next visit?  If you should see a horse with the hair coat described above, you will recognize that it has a history that may have an influence on its future.  It may not have been fed adequately, which you can certainly correct.  It may have a high level of parasites, which may take several treatments to correct.  There may be a medical condition for which we will help you diagnose and suggest treatment.

The appearance of the haircoat tells us a groat deal about the health of the horse. Once you are familiar with that of the healthy well conditioned horse, you will recognize these other horses as needing some help.  This help usually starts from within: with parasite control and good nutrition.

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