snowA horse’s coat is a by-product of good, balanced nutrition coupled with proper exercise and care. These factors are a necessity in allowing a horse to grow an adequate winter coat. Naturally, a winter coat keeps a horse warm; it’s thicker, longer, and secretes extra sebum. Sebum is an oily secretion that is produced by the sebaceous glands that acts as a water repellant for the skin and coat. Sebum also creates the coat’s shine. Besides the natural winter coat’s defenses, it is necessary to include the following factors:

  1. DIET

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is important for the proper functioning of the skin. It helps with the immunity of the skin cells along with the turnover of the cells. Horses are typically able to get their vitamins from fresh pasture and good quality hay. In the winter, when pasture grass is not available and the quality of hay depletes, sometimes vitamin A supplementation is necessary. It is important to remember that vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning that a horse must also have enough fat in his diet in order to absorb the vitamin A. Also because vitamin A is fat-soluble, it can be stored in the horses’ body for up to 2 months. Too much vitamin A can be harmful. Symptoms of vitamin A toxicity include decreased appetite, anemia, and poor skin/hair. Some individuals supplement 40,000-50,000 IU of vitamin A. It is always recommended to check with your vet or equine nutritionist before adding any supplements.


            Fat is also important for the coat’s condition. As mentioned above, vitamin A cannot be absorbed without the presence of fat in the horse’s body. On feed labels, fat percentages above 3% typically signify that fat supplements are being added. Fat should always be introduced slowly because horses absorb 90% of the fat within their diet. Too much fat can lead to loose manure. Common fat supplements include corn oil, soybean oil, canola oil, and flaxseed. It is important to remember that high-fat feeds spoil easily in the heat and within 3 months, decrease in nutritional quality.

Microminerals & Vitamin E    

            Pastures often lack copper, zinc, and selenium. While these micro-minerals are all important in a horses diet, zinc is important for the conversion of vitamin A.  The mineral content of your pastures depends on the mineral content of your soil, which is dictated by where you live. Similarly, vitamin E also plays a role in the absorption of vitamin A.


Grooming your horse helps stimulate circulation within the skin. You are able to distribute the natural oils released by the body throughout the horses’ coat. These oils include sebum, the natural water repellent for your horses’ coat. Using a currycomb and body brush, you will be able to lift the dirt and grease away from the skin. Finally, grooming allows you to access the weight of your horse. Often a thick winter coat can easily hide weight loss.


          Exercise increases the blood flow to the skin and coat. It additionally helps to distribute fats and oils as the horse sweats. Often during winter months, horses can become cooped up. Even a short, quick exercise can benefit the horse tremendously.

Personally, during the winter, I have developed a routine to balance the exercise and grooming of my horse. I groom before exercising to loosen dirt and grease, stimulate the skin, and prepare to put on tack. I properly warm-up and exercise my horse. Then after riding, I groom him again while his skin is warm to distribute the natural oils in his coat. Finally, I let him roll around in the indoor sand arena in order for him to fluff his coat up and create a warm, insulating layer.

In conclusion, the most important key to ensuring your horse has a healthy winter coat is that you are providing proper nutrition and accurate care. Learn how to interpret feed labels and work with your vet/equine nutritionist to create a balanced diet for your individual horse.


By Anna Hellman

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