Survival Tips for the
Shedding SeasonHere it comes …… the muddy barn clean-up season, and best of all, the shedding season. Even if you are not a horse owner, and simply are at the barn for your weekly lesson, you will begin
And as you ponder your horse, who in his winter shagginess more resembles a hold-over from the Paleolithic era, it may occur to you that maybe his ability to adjust to the seasons does have more in common with his ancestry than with the sleek modern-type riding horse you recalled owning just a few short months ago. The change of the haircoat is indeed an ancient biological process, a circannual cycle (biological cycle that takes one year to repeat) that is active throughout the lifetime of the horse. The coat change-over is triggered by the summer and the winter solstices, when the brain’s pineal gland, via the horse’s eye, registers the sunlight present on each of those days. It is at that moment that the coat prepares for the upcoming warm or cold months, a good two months before there may be even a touch of a spring breeze or a hint of a chill in the air. The density of the coat is determined by the ambient temperature, that is, the air temperature the horse experiences. The colder the air, the thicker the coat will become.
Frequently, for many horses, the shedding “deluge” comes in stages and can explain why your horse inexplicably is shedding come the end of January! This is not a cause for alarm, since this initial stage ceases after a week or so. Brush out what loose hair you are able to remove, especially if your horse is blanketed – that loose hair makes for an itchy horse. (If necessary, add a blanket if you experience a bitter blast of winter when your horse’s coat has become less dense.) Several weeks later, the shedding will resume, this time in earnest.
If with shedding comes a re-surfacing of your allergies or you dread the real inconvenience of having handsful of long horse hair cling to your clothing and finding their way into literally all aspects of your horse clothing and gear, even your car and home, here are some tips to manage this ‘fly-away’ hair season:
-Dress in nylon. Wear a outer shell or any other smooth material as your outermost layer when working around the horses or when grooming. A high-necked, extra-long top is very helpful, and source yourself a pair of nylon pants, even rainpants, if possible. Hair may cling, but it cannot ‘weave’ itself into the fabric.
-Avoid (at all costs!) wearing any clothing with pile or texture as the outside layer, as the hair will embed itself and be difficult to remove. Apply lip balm well before you visit the barn, as any loose hair will adhere readily.
-For hair removal, use the serrated edge of a shedding blade, or just use a long-toothed curry comb. Usually the horse sheds in stages, so curry away as much as can be removed that day, and be prepared to repeat the process a few days later. Don’t forget to curry under the belly, as it can’t be reached with rolling or self-grooming. Lower legs are well treated with the ‘pinch’ approach: just use your fingers to take large pinches of winter fur and pull away.
-Groom your horse out of doors. The breeze helps considerably by carrying away much of the loose hair, and birds will make use of it for their seasonal nest building.
-If your horse is blanketed, allow him to be out of doors as much as possible without it (blanket for overnight chill only, say). This, again, will allow the breeze to carry off much of the dead hair, and allowing your horse to roll unblanketed, with direct contact with the ground, is one of the swiftest ways to loosen and pull away large amounts of hair at a time.
-Consider body clipping. This will reduce the size of the loosening hair. Instead of one- to two-inch hair coming away, after clipping, that dead hair will be just one-quarter or one-half inch in length. This approach can make the shedding season more tolerable for anyone facing the task and especially so for those with allergies.
-If you find your clothing, or yourself, coated with horse hair, rub lightly with a damp towel to remove it. Of course, there is always duct tape or any other type of to collect hair from your clothing.
-During this season, your horse’s stable sheet will become matted with shedded hair, so take some time to brush out the clumps. A long-toothed currycomb or rubber grooming mitt, or even a stiff-bristled brush, work well for this barn chore. Try to do it out of doors, although sometimes the breeze can blow the loosened hair every which way, including onto you!
An interesting note: Some of you who own white-coated or pinto/paint horses will notice the profuse amount of shedding of the white hair in comparison to horses of other colors or compared to the colored patches on the multi-colored coats. There seems to be no explanation for this. Readers, if you know the reason behind the profusion of shedding or why hairs on a white coat seem more numerous and fluffy than those of a dark coat, please send your information to us!
The reward for all of your efforts will mean a new summer coat, which is often very beautiful. It is glossy, soft to the touch, and rich in color, yet to be marred by exposure to the elements or dulled by dirt and sebum. As well, the coat often takes on dappling during these change-over times, making your horse appear to burst with health and well-being.
On the other end of the health spectrum, however, are horses suffering from Cushing’s syndrome, a disturbance of the pituitary gland. These (usually older to elderly) horses often do not shed their winter coats well come spring time, and owners must plan to clip these seniors at that time, should they find that their equine charges are retaining their winter coats. If you find that your horse is not shedding in a timely manner, talk to your vet about the possible implications.
A second interesting note: Be aware that if you use spurs, you may suddenly see spur rubs during this time, when in any other season, your horse’s sides are unmarked. Usually, these rubs are because of the shedding coat, so rest assured that your leg aids are as controlled as they’ve always been, and that the marks will disappear once the spring coat has grown in!
A shedding horse is also a healthy horse and another demonstration of Mother Nature’s ability to provide. For those of you who find the shedding season a test of your patience and of your allergy medicines, the shedding season, too, shall pass! Your horse will soon be a shining, clean animal ready for the upcoming season. Hang in there!
Disclaimer: This article is not a substitute for qualified veterinary advice and care. Consult your veterinarian on this and any equine health care issue.
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