Horses’ Skin in Autumn

This week Leslie Williamson of the NCTM Senior Lecturing Team talks about the variable functions and health aspects within our horses’ skin from the perspective of Equine Myofunctional Therapy.

In light of Autumn arriving slowly this year and in particular for those affected by the drought, it’s wonderful to see in some areas the paddocks are showing the revitalisation of grass peeping through. As the days and nights become cooler, we’re seeing the shedding of the dry summer coat, so let’s consider the aspect the horses’ skin and coat play in the health of our horses. Although the grass will come through and naturally enhance the nutrient uptake within their diet, the health of their skin and coat can be overlooked and often treated topically with product rather than considering diet, grooming and massage.

Let’s consider the skin is the largest organ of the body and has many important functions

1. Protection: against sunlight, trauma, and invasion of microorganisms, chemical agents and loss of fluid.

2. Secretion: the skin allows for the secretion of oil or sebum (smegma) from the sebaceous glands via the glandular pores, which has antifungal and anti-bacterial qualities. Sebum also keeps the skin surface lubricated, which leads to a shiny coat and supple skin. It also protects the skin from moisture and heat. The sweat glands collect fluid containing water, salts and waste products from the blood and carry it away in canals that end in pores on the skin where it is released as sweat, via the glandular pores. This regulates of body temperature by aiding the cooling process as sweat evaporates. This process also aids detoxification.

3. Sensation: the various sensations such as touch, pain, heat, cold and pressure are felt through sensory nerves and sensory organs/cells, which extend through the dermis. It is interesting to note the role of massage and the effects on the skin. Often the masseur approaches massage to affect the muscle. Equine Myofunctional therapy acknowledges the skin plays a significant role in effective physiological effects of massage.

4. Precursor: to vitamin D is present in the skin, which assists with the development and maintenance of bone tissue and proper utilisation of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D increases intestinal absorption of calcium and enables proper mineralisation of bones, and may have calcium-sparing effects on the kidneys.

5. Thermoregulation: this vital function is controlled by the hypothalamus in the brain. Temperature changes detected by the skin are transmitted via sensory nerves and organs/cells to the hypothalamus in the brain. The hair also assists with thermoregulation by remaining flat when the horse is hot and standing up when cold. The fluffed up hair traps the heat being lost from the body surface. In the horse, the loss and regrowth of coat hair according to its environmental temperature and the length of daylight with seasonal change also assist thermoregulation. Even when the horse is rugged, the sensory mechanisms in relation to thermoregulation still stimulate the shedding of hair via the endocrine system, in order for new growth to take place.

Understanding the functions of the horses’ skin can put the ‘health aspect’ of this system into a clear perspective.

With the grass coming back and cooler nights, let’s not forget to consider our horses’ health from the inside-out, including diet, grooming, exercise and massage, all playing an important physiological role in contributing to optimum health and function of the whole horse.

The next Equine Myofunctional therapy course starts May 17th, 2016. In this course you will learn about each of the systems and the powerful physiological effects massage has on all of the systems considering the equine body as a whole entity in itself.


Rogers, Dr Sandi 1999. The National College of Traditional Medicine © Equine Anatomy and Physiology Certificate; Practising Certificate in Equine Myofunctional Therapy; Diploma in Equine Naturopathy.