Jennifer Little BSc Hons MSc RNutr PgCert
Equinutrition
Independent Equine Nutritionist

 

Coat condition – an indication of health
A healthy appearance of a horses coat, both interns of skin and coat, have long been sort after by horse owners and trainers within the showing world. However, coat condition is far more than just a pleasing aesthetic. The quality of a horses coat can be used by equine health professionals to indicate a horses overall health and welfare status [1]. So it’s unsurprising that the majority of horse owners, from those with retired ponies through to performance and racing professionals, also aspire to achieve healthy shiny coats.

Daily management to minimise stressful situations, ensuring good hygiene, providing a suitable environment and ensuring appropriate grooming, can improve coat condition and appearance [1]. But, a surprising amount of a horses coat shine comes from within. By this I mean from the choice of the horses total dietary ration. An appropriate diet should provide sufficient fibre, and this should be fed in a manner to prevent periods of 4 or more hours with nothing available to chew. In addition to the fibre, a provision of vitamins and minerals will be required. This can be achieved with a simple vitamin and mineral supplement, or with a proportion of the fibre being supplied from fortified chaffs. For horses that require additional energy for higher work loads or to maintain body condition and weight, this can be achieve by providing the appropriate feeding rate of a suitable fortified compound (hard) feed.

Even with suitable management and an appropriate diet, the health of the digestive system is critical for generating a healthy shiny coat. In the horse digestion in the foregut is driven by chemical and enzyme reactions. Whereas digestion in the hindgut is driven by the action of microbes, which include bacteria and protozoa. Collectively these microbes are known as the gut biome, or microbiota.

The role of the gut in supporting skin and coat health
These microbes convert fibre in to an energy source for the horse and they directly and indirectly interact with the cells of the digestive tract. The microbiota are involved in other functions, including the production of certain vitamins, such as Biotin. Biotin is a B vitamin that is required for keratin production, with keratin being a protein that forms the structure of hair, skin and hooves. The microbiota is also responsible for influencing both systemic inflammation and immune regulation [2]. Disturbances or imbalances to the bacterial populations within the microbiota can reduce the production of biotin, and increase the levels of inflammation within the skin. Potentially resulting in poor hair growth, and a coat that appears dull and thin. A healthy, balanced and stable microbiota is essential to achieve a healthy, shiny coat [3].

Supporting the microbiota for coat health
Ensuring a stable microbiota entails providing a consistent diet, with controlled sugar and starch intake, and of bucket feeds not exceeding 2kgs. Also if changes to a diet are required, that these are done in stages. Observing a transition period from the current diet to the new diet, taking 1 week for hard feeds and 2 weeks for forages, including hay, haylage and grazing. A transition period will allow the microbiota time to adapt and reduce the risk of bacterial death, which could result in the detrimental production of toxins and lactic acid within the hindgut.

Another method for supporting a healthy and stable microbiota is with the addition of pre and pro biotics. Probiotics are live micro-organisms that have the capacity to colonize the gut and support the diversity and function of the micro-biome. There are several types of yeast, but a yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisia is the most frequently used and has been proven to successfully colonise the horses hindgut [4].

Saccharomyces cerevisia
This yeast can increase fibre digestion, restore gut balance, support microbiota stability and even increase a horses ability to manage changes [4;5;6]. Helping to ensure consistent fibre digestion and biotin production.

Unlike yeast, Prebiotics are not living microorganisms. Instead they provide a food source for the beneficial bacteria. Ensure the beneficial bacteria are stable and present in sufficient numbers, to maintain hindgut health. Two prebiotics recognised as beneficial in the horse are Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and Mannanoligosaccharides (MOS).

FOS
Supplementation with FOS has been shown to improve the health and welfare of horses [7]. It can be effective in reducing disruptions to the microbiota and its supplementation has also been shown to limit the negative impact of changes to feeds and forages [8].

MOS
The supplementation of MOS is associated with supporting overall health. It achieves this by reducing oxidative stress and inflammatory levels. In doing so MOS helps to create a situation conducive for a healthy and shiny coat [9].

Summary
A horses healthy and shiny coat could be considered a clear indication that all the pieces of the care, management, welfare and diet are in place. The addition of Saccharomyces cerevisia, FOS and MOS could help to bring all the pieces together to support an enviable shine from within.

References

[1] Raspa, F., Taratantola, M., Bergero, D., Bellion, C., Mastrazzo, C.M., Visconti, A., Valvassori, E.,
Valle, E. 2020 Stocking density affects welfare indicator in horses reared for meat production. Animals
(10) 1103
[2] Linderberg,F, Krych,L., Kot,W., Fielden, J., Frokiaer,H., van Galen,G., Nielsen,D.S, Hansen,A.K. 2019
Development of the equine gut microbiota. Sci. Rep. (9) 14427
[3] Chaucheyras-Durand, F., Sacy, A., Karges, K., Apper, E. 2022 Gastro-Intestinal Microbiota in
Equines and its role in health and disease: the black box opens. Microorganisms (10) 2517
[4] Perricone, V., Sandrini, S., Irshad, N., Comi, M., Lecchi, C., Savoini, G., & Agazzi, A., 2022 The role of
yeast saccharomyces cerevisiae in supporting gut health in horses: An updated review on its effects
on digestibility and intestinal faecal microbiota. Animals 12, 3475
[5] Coverdale, J.A., 2016. Horse species sympposium: can the microbiome of the horse be altered to
improve digestion? J. Anim. Sci. (94) 2275-2281
[6] Geor, R.J., Harris, P.A., & Coenen, M., 2013 Equine Applied and clinical nutrition. Health welfare
and performance. Saunders Elsevier, 575-576

[7] Respondek,F., Goachet,A.G., Julliand,V. 2008 Effects of dietary short-chain fructooligosaccahrides
on the intestinal microflora of horses subjected to a sudden change in diet. Journal of Animal Science.
86 (2) 316-323
[8] Freestone, P., Lyte, M. 2010 Stress and microbial endocrinology: Prospects for ruminant nutrition.
Animals (4) 1248-1257
[9] Zhao, W., Chen, L., Tan, W., Li, Y., Sun, L., Zhu, X., Wang, S., Gao, P., Zhu, C., Wang, L., Jiang, Q.
2023 Mannan Oligosaccharides promoted skeletal muscle hypertrophy through the gut microbiome
and microbial metabolites in mice. Foods, 12, 357

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