Do Horses Have Fur? What You Need to Know

Horse with long hair

Do Horses Have Fur? 

Fur, hair, wool – why are there so many names for the coats of horses and other animals? While some people assume that it has to do with the length of the coat, this is simply not true. We are here to settle the debate once and for all. 

Do horses have fur? While hair and fur are terms that are used interchangeably for some animals, you will never hear an equestrian refer to their horse’s coat as fur. A horse’s coat is known as hair, however, it is often referred to as simply their coat.  

In this post, we will dive deeper into the differences between fur and hair. We will also share some interesting tips about your horse’s coat and how the condition of your horse’s hair can provide you with insight into their health. 

Understanding a Horse’s Hair

A horse’s hair serves many purposes. At a very basic level, the hair of a horse serves as protection against wind and cold and helps your horse maintain stable body temperature. Additionally, your horse’s coat helps to keep flies and other pesky insects at bay. 

Understanding the anatomy of your horse’s hair and the many purposes that it serves will allow you to practice proper grooming techniques while caring for your horse.

Horse Hair vs. Fur: What is The Difference?

Horse hair

Dogs and cats have fur, large mammals such as bears have fur, but what about horses? At a very basic level, fur is dense enough to be used to create garments and other items. Hair, on the other hand, is less dense and often much shorter.

However, outside of the usage of the words, hair and fur are rather similar. Both hair and fur are made of keratin and grows through follicles in the skin. When referring to the coat of the horse, equestrians use the term hair, although many horse lovers simply refer to their horse’s hair as a coat.

The Anatomy of Horse Hair

In order to properly care for your horses’ hair, you must understand the anatomy of each hair. The hair on your horse is quite similar in structure to your own hair. Each strand of hair contains three unique layers, each serving a different purpose. 

The innermost layer of the hair is called the medulla. This layer contains loosely packed cells that shink when they are not properly hydrated. The diameter of the medulla determines how thick that individual strand of hair is. Thinner hairs on the body of your horse have a thinner medulla while the thick hairs of the mane and tail have a more prominent medulla.

Surrounding the medulla is the cortex. The cortex contains keratin, water, and fats that contribute to the strength of the hair. Keratin is the same protein that makes up human hair and fingernails! Melanin, which dictates the coloring of your horse’s hair, is also found in the cortex.

The layer of hair that is visible to the eye is known as the cuticle. The shine or dullness of a horse’s coat is often dictated by the health of the cuticle. When the cuticle is rough, dehydrated, or unhealthy, the coat will appear dull and brittle. A healthy cuticle, however, will appear shiny, luscious, and healthy.

Understanding the anatomy of the hair on your horse will allow you to better address grooming issues. In many cases, the issue causing your horses’ coat to lack shine is due to a problem within the cortex, or middle layer, of the hair.

Do Horses Shed Their Coats?

Horses have three distinct coats: a light summer coat, a short winter coat, and a long winter coat. Because of this, horses most certainly have a shedding season. Your horse’s shedding is naturally controlled by photoperiods. This means that the presence or absence of daylight hours trigger a response in your horses’ brain, signaling coat growth or shedding.

Some horse owners choose to manipulate the natural growth patterns of their horse’s coat. One of the most common ways that horse owners delay the growth of a thick winter coat is to keep their horse in a lit barn after the sun goes down.

Some horse owners also manipulate photoperiods as summer begins to approach in order to accelerate the shedding of a horse’s winter coat.

Why Is My Horse Losing Hair?

The appearance of your horse’s coat can provide you with incredible insight into the overall health of your horse. While practicing proper grooming techniques can help to increase the overall shine of the coat, certain conditions make it nearly impossible to attain a lustrous coat using external techniques alone.

When a horse has a coat that is dull or brittle, it is most often caused by a lack of proper nutrition. If you are noticing that your horse’s hair is beginning to lose its shine, it’s important to review the vitamins and minerals that they are receiving to address any insufficiencies in their diet. 

It is never a good feeling to realize that your horse is losing hair. If hair loss is taking place during a change in the seasons, routine shedding is likely to blame. However, certain types of illnesses or diseases can also be responsible for hair loss in your horse. 

Two of the most common conditions that can cause hair loss in horses are anagen defluxion and telogen defluxion. Both conditions can be triggered by an illness or disease and can cause your horse to lose hair for up to three months following the incident. If you are noticing excessive hair loss in your horse or bald spots, it is important to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to eliminate the possibility of an underlying condition.

Taking Care of Your Horse’s Coat

girl grooming horse

The health and condition of your horse’s coat have a huge impact on their overall appearance. There is nothing more beautiful than a horse with a healthy, lustrous coat. However, achieving this goal often takes hard work and dedication. Here are a few ways to promote the overall health of your horse’s hair.

Provide Proper Nutrients

Nutrients are key to the health of your horse’s hair. It is important to make sure your horse is receiving the necessary vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C, zinc, iodine, and copper. To achieve a lustrous coat, your horse also needs adequate amounts of protein and fat in their diet.  Your horse’s diet will lay the foundation for a beautiful coat.

Encourage Circulation

Healthy skin encourages healthy hair. The natural oils that exist in the skin of your horse play a large role in keeping each hair healthy and hydrated. A great way to encourage healthy hair is to increase the circulation to the skin, promoting oil production. This can be done using a cactus cloth, currycomb, or even through professional equine massage.

Address Underlying Concerns

As we discussed previously, sometimes dull and brittle hair is the result of an underlying health condition. If you have assessed your horses’ diet and implemented proper grooming techniques with no positive results, it might be time to seek professional help. Many conditions can contribute to a dull coat including parasites, glandular issues, and fungal infections, to name a few.

Take Care of The Skin

The health of the skin greatly impacts the overall appearance of the hair. While it is certainly important to groom and bathe your horse, it is equally important to maintain the natural oils that promote a shiny coat.

In most cases, it is not necessary to use shampoo on a regular basis. Plain water is often sufficient for rinsing sweat and dirt off our your horse’s coat. When you do use shampoo, be sure that you are using a shampoo that is designed for horse hair. Far too often, horse owners resort to low-quality shampoo, or even dish soap, causing more harm than good to the health of the hair.

Using a coat conditioner is also an excellent way to restore the natural oils that are stripped from the skin during shampooing. After using any product, make sure to thoroughly rinse your horse until the water runs clean to eliminate the potential for irritation or residue.

Benefits of Grooming a Horse

In my years as an equestrian, I have gained many valuable grooming tips and an appreciation for this sometimes mundane task. Here are just a few of the reasons why I now see grooming as one of the most valuable aspects of horse ownership:

Grooming Promotes Good Health

Grooming not only keeps your horse’s skin and coat healthy, but it also helps you to ensure that they are not showing signs of illness or injury. When you are grooming your horse, you are carefully inspecting every area of their body. During this time, you can assess for any areas of soreness or pain. 

Grooming also helps prevent bacterial or fungal infections that may begin to form on their coat or in their hooves.

Grooming Provides Ground-Level Interaction

One of the most important things you can do as a horse owner is to develop a relationship of trust with your horse. Through grooming, you are able to spend time with them, allowing them to become familiar with your presence. Grooming is also a great way to desensitize a horse to human touch, building trust and acceptance.

If you’d like to learn more, you can find my entire horse grooming guide here.

As an equestrian, I have learned to love the many aspects of horse ownership from riding to caring for their hair. By perfecting your grooming techniques, improving your horse’s diet, and looking out for signs of illness, you can achieve a lustrous, shiny coat that is the envy of the barn. 

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Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

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