Hi, what can I do to stimulate hair growth? When I first got my horse, his main was long and soft. I've been struggling ever since to get it back that way. secondly, how do I keep it soft?
This is something that can drive horse owners mad! The horse with scraggly, horrible mane and tail that just will not plait for shows and looks horrid. There are a number of factors that need to be looked at with manes and tails which I will attempt to explain.
Firstly, manes and tails are a matter of genetics. No matter how well you treat it, what you feed your horse or how much you wish for it, if his genetics say thin mane and tail, there is not too much you can do about it! Thinner skinned breeds such as the Thoroughbred, Arabian and even some Appaloosa’s tend to have thinner manes and tails than some other breeds. No amount of potions or concoctions will suddenly make him sprout hair where there is genetically none! What you can do is to ensure that his hair growth is as healthy as possible and that it lives up to his genetic potential.
Next, the secret to healthy hair growth is not so much what goes on the outside, but importantly what goes into your horse that can make all the difference! One of the tell-tale signs of good nutrition and a healthy animal is a shiny, well looking coat and hooves. The make-up of hair and hoof is practically the same, so if the horse’s hooves are of a poor quality, chances are his mane and tail won’t be looking too great either.
Supplementing with oils (especially the Omega 3 oils) have been proven to have a wonderful effect on the quality of the skin and coat. I would add at least a cup of oil to his meals every day. In fact, supplementing with oils often results in a much finer and healthier looking winter coat after one or two seasons! A fuzzy, dull winter coat is often a sign of a dry coat. All of my horses that have been supplemented with oils for over a season have much better looking winter coats the second year around. The second vital ingredient to a healthy hair growth is biotin. Originally called Vitamin H, (from Haut, the German word for skin) biotin is a B vitamin so essential that it is manufactured in the gut naturally. Even though an extreme deficiency could result in death, those cases are very rare. A deficiency will generally appear in the form of a dull, lackluster coat, and/or cracked, brittle hooves. An important fact to remember is that if you are feeding high oil diets, or supplementing with oils, often incorrectly stored fats will go rancid. Rancid fats will inhibit the uptake of biotin in the system. Biotin will also improve the quality of hoof growth and thus is a major ingredient in all hoof supplements. With a horse suffering from a poor coat and hair growth, I often supplement with a hoof supplement containing Biotin, zinc and methionine –all proven to improve the quality of growth of the hoof, and by extension, the hair. Cider vinegar has been shown to improve hair growth and is a close second to biotin in terms of supplementing. Garlic and Echinacea have been used in the past to prevent itching, assist the body during changes of season and are great for immune function as well as a host of other benefits to the horse. Garlic will help repel some nuisance insects too, which will decrease scratching.
Once you are happy that your horse is getting the best nutrition and feeding you can give him to promote a good quality coat and hair growth, you need to look at reasons for him causing damage to his mane and tail. The most common reason is scratching. A horse will often scratch his mane or tail because of parasites – ticks, mites or internal parasites such as worms will cause the skin to itch and the horse will scratch. Go hunt out in the paddock and see if you can spot stray hairs on trees, fences or mangers and that may be a sign that your horse is scratching his precious tail or mane away! A skin fungus will also itch, causing the horse to scratch, especially horses that are often wet. Sweating during exercise or hot weather will cause the horse to itch, and often after a hard workout I will hose a horse down to prevent this. No need to wash with soap, just hose all the sweat off. I have always tried to have a hot water geyser at my yards so that warm water is available for this. Deworming is a vital and often overlooked part of good horse-keeping, and often incorrectly done. In fact, worm resistance is becoming more and more a problem in Africa, mostly because if incorrect deworming practices.
If horses are outside together in paddocks, make sure that the other horses are not grooming your horses mane and tail away. It is normal for horses to groom each other, but often this can lead to some hair loss, although usually not too significant, unless your horse did not have too much hair to begin with! Tail chewing is also a common reason for hair loss, especially amongst youngsters who will chew their mother’s or each other’s tails! Daily wear and tear can also cause damage to a horse’s tail – long tails get stepped on sometimes or caught in the shoes while exercising. Horses kept in bushy paddocks often get their tails caught in bushes and trees as they play and run about. It is common in showing yards in the US that horse’s tails are braided and placed into special tail bags, to prevent breakage. I was amazed at how well that worked. (Some horse owners incorrectly say that it is the weight of the mane and tail braids and bags that cause the hair to grow out faster – this is not true – it is the fact that the hairs are not damaged by the external environment to as great an extent that causes the improvement often seen.) Finally, incorrect brushing of manes and tails often cause great damage. Some people say that tails and manes should not be brushed at all, and that only the fingers should be used, however I have found that using the correct brushes/combs and the correct techniques prevents hair from being pulled out as is so common when combing recklessly. I prefer a wide toothed human brush or comb and always start at the bottom and gently work my way up the tail in sections. A very successful showing personality in the UK says that she brushes her horse’s tails and manes regularly and has no damage as a result, once again, it is the technique that is important.
Lastly, to ensure a healthy mane and tail, some washing will be required. Dirt, grease and sweat gather on the skin and will cause itching, so it is important to keep the skin clean. Too much washing, on the other hand will strip the skin of vital oils and cause it to dry out, again, causing it to itch. It is advisable to wash the mane and tail only about every 2-3 weeks, or as required. Inspect the base of the tail and if there is a lot of dirt and grit, it may be time for a wash. If you notice the horse scratching the base of the tail or mane it may also be time for a wash. When washing, it is important to get the skin clean, not so much the actual hair, so make sure you wash right on the base of the mane and tail well. Next, it is important to provide some external moisture to the hair, which is often dried out due to exposure to the elements and can make the hair brittle. A good rule of thumb is to remember that conditioner or hot oil treatments work best, but also gather dust and dirt, so use a conditioning treatment on the loose hair only, keeping it away from the skin and base of the mane and tail. Human products can work very well, especially those made for babies, as they have a mild formulation and better pH than normal human products. Refrain from using mane and tail shine and detanglers that contain silicon, which has been proven to dry hair out, and only bring them out when needed, like for shows. When all else fails, and your horse is still scratching no matter what, a Betadine wash can work wonders to stop the itching. Word to the wise – the iodine may cause your grey to go a bit brown! Hibiscrub also works as well and will not cause as much discolouration! Remember to leave it in for at least 5 minutes so that it can do its job before rinsing it off! I worked at a top class Arabian showing yard in the US, and they believed strongly in using Listerine (yes, the mouthwash) sprayed on to the skin to stop itching and tail rubbing. It works in a similar way as the other Antiseptics I have mentioned I suspect… and the horse’s behinds smelled lovely and minty too! J Might be worth a try if all else fails!(there are better products though, I believe, like Hibiscrub!)
I hope this information has been of use – it is a matter of trial and error and going out to determine exactly what the problem is. If your horse is really losing hair badly and it is sudden, it may be wise to call in the VET to check for any obvious health issues surrounding hair loss.