Organic Zinc, Copper May Help Horsehair Health

In the hunt for healthier horsehair, researchers in Poland claim to have found basic dietary ingredients that will improve the strength and elasticity of individual strands of manes and tails. According to their new study, organic forms of zinc and copper have beneficial effects on the mechanical properties of horsehair.

Researchers in the biomechanics, electron microscopy, and mechanical engineering departments at Wroclaw University, led by Malgorzata Kania, MSc, analyzed 36 mane hairs extracted from each of 18 healthy Thoroughbred horses before and after a testing period of 110 days. During that time, a third of the horses received a feed supplement containing organic zinc and copper; a third received one with inorganic zinc and copper; and a third received no dietary supplements at all. All horses received oats and hay as part of their regular diet. Malgorzata's group found that the horses without supplement had little change in hair properties during the study, but the supplemented groups showed significant biomechanical differences.

Inorganic zinc and copper made the hair strands thicker and more elastic, but weaker, according to the study. However, organic zinc and copper caused the hair to be stronger and more elastic, albeit slightly thinner.

Even so, these results should be considered with caution, according to Holly Spooner, PhD, assistant professor and extension horse specialist, with a concentration in equine nutrition, at West Virginia University. The statistical significance levels used in the study suggest that the differences the researchers found "are more likely to occur just by chance," she said.

"Certainly, we can expect healthy, well-fed, well-conditioned, and well-groomed horses to have a glossy, dappled coat," Spooner said. "But beyond such observation, there is little sound, scientific research in this area. The fact that so many other things can influence hair quality, including genetic and environmental factors, make this a complicated research area, and sound correlations between diet and hair coat are difficult at best."

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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