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Types of Horse Hair
 By Winniefield Park   •   2nd Jan 2018   •   2,478 views   •   0 comments
Types of Horse Hair

A horse’s shining coat and flowing mane and tail is a source of pride for most horse owners. Grooming time is a good bonding time, and it helps keep your horse’s hair clean and polished. As you brush, you draw the naturally occurring oils that the skin produces out onto the shaft of the hair. This makes your horse’s coat cleaner, shinier and also can help with natural waterproofing as well. Shampooing and some grooming sprays may interfere with your horse’s waterproofing.

As we groom, we’re probably aware of the different types of hair our horses have. There are basically three types. Here’s a look at what they are, and why they are important.

Temporary
Most of the hair on your horse’s body is temporary. This is the hair coat that covers your horse from the tip of the nose to its haunches. This hair can have different textures depending on where it is on the body. On the face, there are patches with very fine, velvety hair. Some horses have slightly longer hair on their legs, and hair under their chins that is coarser and longer. This may have some protective value. Ear hair is longer and is there to keep the bugs and dirt out.

The body hair should lay flat and is sleek. This is the hair that covers most of your horse’s body. A horse’s hair plays an essential role in keeping its body temperature at its proper level. It’s built-in waterproofing and insulation. It also helps protect the horse from sunburn, bug bites and also holds pheromones and other chemical scents, those smells that make a horse smell like a horse, especially to other horses. This hair is rooted in a way that allows a muscle to contract and make the hair stand away from the body. This is called piloerection. It’s an involuntary reaction and its function is to hold warm air against the horse’s body when it is cold.

The body hair has some variance, depending on where it is. In the fall, some horses will grow long, slightly coarse guard hairs over most of their bodies, and some will grow a downy undercoat.

But all of this hair has something in common. It is temporary. In the late summer, your horse loses its short, sleek coat, and it’s replaced by a thicker, coarser coat. We’ve looked at how and why this happens in What Causes a Horse to Shed. This is why it is called temporary hair.

Permanent
Permanent hair includes your horse’s mane, tail, eyelashes and feathering on the legs. This hair isn’t affected by seasonal changes. It does fall out eventually. Some horses never seem to grow very long manes or tails. The hair falls out and is replaced relatively quickly compared to some horses that can grow very long manes and tails. It will depend on the individual, and some breeds like Morgans or Andalusians will have longer thicker permanent hair than others. Breeds like Arabians and Appaloosas will have thinner and perhaps shorter permanent hair. But, none of the permanent hair follows the same growth and shedding cycle as the body hair.

This permanent hair has a protective function. Feathering protects a horse from its own hooves and from things that could scrape its legs on the ground. The mane protects the horse from the weather, and also provides some protection to the major blood vessels that run up the neck to the brain. Eyelashes, of course, prevent dust and debris from getting into the horse’s eyes.

Tactile
Another type of hair on your horse’s body is tactile hair. We may call them whiskers but the scientific name is vibrissae or sinus hair. These long hairs grow around the muzzle and eyes of the horse. They are more like bristles than hair. They are more deeply rooted and at the base of each one are nerve endings. There haven’t been a lot of studies to learn the exact function of these whiskers, but we know they are the first hair to start growing on an embryonic foal. A pilot study theorized that because a horse can not see exactly in front of its nose, that these hairs were important for the horse to sense things near its face, especially foals looking for their mother’s udder. Studies done on sea mammals have proven that whiskers help the animal find the size and shape of an object, without actually seeing it. Rats deprived of their whiskers are ‘severely disabled’. The pilot study, conducted by Dr. Machteld van Dierendonck did not provide any solid insight into the function of horse’s whiskers.
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