April 28, 2021 4 min read
Your horse’s skin is a wonder of biology. Not only is this organ so sensitive that it can feel the miniscule weight of a single fly, but it protects your horse from infections, bacteria, and insects. The skin aids in temperature regulation, perceives heat, cold, pain, itchiness, touch, and pressure. It even gives your horse’s hair coat its pigmentation.
Unfortunately equine skin is a poorly-researched field and one that few equestrians give much thought. Proper horse skin care is crucial to avoiding infections and keeping your horse in peak health. Understanding our horse’s skin can change how you care for your four-legged partner on a daily basis.
Equine skin is composed of the outer epidermis and the underlying dermis. It may help you to think of your horse’s skin like a house. The strong dermis forms the basic supporting structures (walls, support beams, siding, flooring, etc) and the epidermis is like the roof (a thin layer that protects the integrity of the rest of the house).
The epidermis controls skin and coat color, touch perception, and even helps with immune regulation. It has an outer layer of dead skin cells as new cells migrate from the base of the epidermis to the outer layer. These dead cells hold in fluids, electrolytes, and nutrients. The thin layer also contains the nerve-endings necessary to detect pain.
The much-larger dermis is made of dense connective tissue, collagen, elastin, and reticular fibers. Embedded within the dermis are hair follicles, blood vessels, lymph vessels, nerves, sebaceous glands, and sweat glands. Most skin issues originate in the dermal layer, so when looking for a product to manage infections like rain rot or summer sores, look for one that focuses on nourishing connective tissue.
Your horse’s skin is their first line of defense. It’s the organ most likely to come into contact with potentially harmful substances (irritants, bacteria, viruses, insects, etc.) and has the important job of protecting the rest of the body. If the skin is breached, then the rest of the immune system steps in to defend the body. If your horse’s skin isn’t healthy enough to do its job, then the health of the entire horse is compromised.
Luckily, there are a few easy ways to tell if your horse care routine is fostering healthy skin. The hair coat should be shiny and soft, instead of rough and dull-looking. Be watchful for signs of dandruff when grooming. You may find more dandruff in your horse’s mane and tail so it’s important to check these areas carefully.
Dapples have long been thought to be a sign of good health and, according to Kentucky Equine Research, there is some truth to this old adage. However, keep in mind that a lack of dapples doesn’t mean your horse is unhealthy. Dapples are just less likely to develop on certain coat colors and due to some genetic factors.
Every time you groom your horse, check their skin thoroughly for signs of issues such as rain rot and scratches. These are sure signs of poor skin health.
Most equestrians groom and bathe their horse frequently in hopes of avoiding skin issues like rain rot. But if your horse skin care routine has you bathing more than once a week, you could actually be weakening your horse’s epidermis. While bathing is necessary to remove dirt and oil build-up, over-bathing depletes your horse’s natural oils and dries out the skin. This leaves it in a weakened state and susceptible to infections. Try to bathe only when necessary. Consider skipping the shampoo for a quick rinse or just bathing your horse’s mane and tail.
Grooming has big benefits for your horse’s skin. Unlike bathing, it’s a good idea to try and groom your horse on a daily basis or, at a minimum, three times a week. As you groom, you’re increasing blood flow to the surface and encouraging the production of natural oils. This strengthens the skin barrier and makes your horse less susceptible to infection and the growth of fungus.
Be careful what grooming products you use in your horse’s skin care routine. Very fragrant products may cause irritation, as well as products that are dyed. Avoid any shampoo or spray that contains a high amount of alcohol as this will dry out your horse’s skin and remove natural oils. Search for products that are antibiotic and steroid-free.
Any nick, cut, or scrape in your horse’s skin breaks their natural protective barrier. Part of your daily horse skin care routine should be to search for these weak links and apply a barrier cream, like Zarasyl. A barrier cream prevents external agents from breaching the skin and compromising your horse’s health.
Zarasyl is not only a protective layer, but is also tailored to provide sustained delivery of orthosilicic acid to the skin. Orthosilicic acid is the bioavailable form of silicon associated with healthy growth of connective tissue, which composes the dermis layer of your horse’s skin.
Horse owners and veterinarians alike have reported great success using Zarasyl to manage skin health. Hear what they had to say about Zarasyl here.