Forget bluebirds and daffodils—a sure sign of spring around the barn is horse hair on everything. Don’t just curse the layers of hair covering your saddle pads and truck seats, however. Pay attention to it. How your horse loses his winter coat can reveal important information about his health.
Hair growth and shedding is governed by photoperiods—the length of sunlight in each day—as opposed to temperature. This means that no matter where you live in the country and no matter how warm it has been, by now your horse will have begun dropping his winter coat.
Slow shedding can be a sign of Cushing’s disease (pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction), a hormonal imbalance common in older horses that can lead to laminitis. If your horse isn’t shedding as readily as he has in the past, or if he’s still significantly more hairy than his barn mates, call your veterinarian to discuss testing for Cushing’s. If your horse has already been diagnosed with the condition, still make the call: His medication may need to be adjusted. In the meantime, consider a body clip to ensure he doesn’t get overheated during the first warm stretch of the year.
On the other hand, patchy shedding can be normal, particularly if the horse does it year after year. It’s not uncommon, for example, for a horse to lose hair from his neck first, then his belly and finally his rump. You don’t need to do anything to help a patchy shedder, but if his looks are just too awkward for you, consider a full body clip.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #451, April 2015.