Horse Winter Coats: Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

If we want to better manage our horses’ winter coats, we need to understand what they are and how they grow.
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horse winter coats
Our horses handle cold much better than we do. They have several unique ways to stay comfortable in severe weather and do well if allowed to adapt to colder temperatures gradually. | Photo: iStock

When it comes to winter coats, most of us think of the long hairs that end up down our shirts, up our noses, in our mouths and eyes, and all over the floor during springtime shedding. However, there’s more to a winter coat than shedding aggravation. If we want to better manage our horses’ winter coats, first we need to understand what they are and how they grow.

Hair functions as an important structure involved in thermal regulation, sensory perception, and as a barrier to chemical, physical, and microbial injury to the skin. The discussion of winter coats for horses must start with skin and hair growth/ composition in general. As we will see, the cycle of hair growth is complicated and influenced by multiple factors.

The skin is obviously the structure containing the hair follicles and is actually considered a body organ. A horse’s skin thickness varies from roughly 1.5 to 4.5 millimeters, depending on anatomical location. The horse’s thinnest skin is located in the external inguinal canal (i.e., the area around the sheath or udders) and parts of the face, while the thickest skin is on the back of the pasterns and lower back

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Written by:

Michael A. Ball, DVM, completed an internship in medicine and surgery and an internship in anesthesia at the University of Georgia in 1994, a residency in internal medicine, and graduate work in pharmacology at Cornell University in 1997, and was on staff at Cornell before starting Early Winter Equine Medicine & Surgery located in Ithaca, New York. He was an FEI veterinarian and worked internationally with the United States Equestrian Team. He died in 2014.

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