In the hunt for healthier horsehair, researchers in Poland claim to have found basic dietary ingredients that will improve the strength and elasticity of individual strands of manes and tails. According to their new study, organic forms of zinc and copper have beneficial effects on the mechanical properties of horsehair.

Researchers in the biomechanics, electron microscopy, and mechanical engineering departments at Wroclaw University, led by Malgorzata Kania, MSc, analyzed 36 mane hairs extracted from each of 18 healthy Thoroughbred horses before and after a testing period of 110 days. During that time, a third of the horses received a feed supplement containing organic zinc and copper; a third received one with inorganic zinc and copper; and a third received no dietary supplements at all. All horses received oats and hay as part of their regular diet. Malgorzata's group found that the horses without supplement had little change in hair properties during the study, but the supplemented groups showed significant biomechanical differences.

Inorganic zinc and copper made the hair strands thicker and more elastic, but weaker, according to the study. However, organic zinc and copper caused the hair to be stronger and more elastic, albeit slightly thinner.

Even so, these results should be considered with caution, according to Holly Spooner, PhD, assistant professor and extension horse specialist, with a concentration in equine nutrition, at West Virginia University. The statistical significance levels used in the study suggest that the differences the researchers found "are more likely to occur just by chance," she said.