Dapples on a horse are textured rings of color with a darker outer ring and a lighter color on the inside. I’ve heard them called “money spots” in the US and in the UK, they’re sometimes called “hammer marks” like the marks a hammer might leave on copper.
Dapples are partially controlled by genetics and your horse may or may not have the potential to show them. Grey dapples can be an intermediate step between the dark grey of youth and a lighter grey as they age. For brown, black and chestnut horses it can be a sign of very good, maybe slightly overweight, health. Dapples are created by variations of red and black pigment along the hair shaft. Genes that respond to changes in nutrition control how the pigment is distributed along the length of the hair. Chestnut horses, and those with colors in the chestnut family, may not display strongly pigmented dapples.
Here are a few thoughts on how you can bring out the dapples in your horse;
- Feed. Offer the best-quality forage you can with adequate quality protein and amino acids lysine, methionine and threonine (these three are most commonly deficient in a horse’s diet). Amino acids are the molecular building blocks of proteins. Horses that have inadequate protein or amino acid intake might experience poor hoof and coat quality, fatigue, slow healing and loss of muscle. Legumes such as alfalfa and soybeans are typically higher in protein and provide more lysine, threonine, and methionine. Some horses may benefit from supplementation. Trace minerals zinc and copper are needed for melanin production and directly impact coat color. Fatty acids such as Omega-3 oils help condition the coat and are may help with problems associated with itchiness and insect hypersensitivity.
- Ulcers, worms and other parasites will negatively influence overall health and the health of their skin and hair. Many veterinarians recommend microscopic fecal examination so deworming schedules can be tailored to individual horses. Manage insects to minimize allergic reactions, hives, and insect bite hypersensitivity. Physical and mental stress can wreak havoc on a horse’s wellbeing and will be reflected in their coats.
- Grooming is as important as feed. Try spending at least 20 minutes grooming your horse 4-6x a week. When I was a working student at internationally competitive barns we groomed every inch of every horse 2x/day/6 days a week and it showed! Start with a soft rubber curry to bring up the dirt, exfoliate and bring healthy circulation to the skin. Brush the dirt off with a medium firm brush and then polish the coat with a soft brush to smooth the natural oils along each hair for a natural shine that no amount of bathing or product can reproduce.
- Regular exercise with as much safe turn-out as possible helps keep your horse fit, healthy and more capable of withstanding injuries and infection. Exercise keeps skin supple and toned and increases circulation to bring nutrients to the skin for healthy tissue development. Exercise also helps channel excess energy and reduce glow killing mental and emotional stress.
- Massage therapy is a unique way to improve your horse’s overall health and well-being and that will show in their coat. Massage stimulates circulation bringing nourishment to the skin and hair follicles, reduces physical and mental tension, boosts the immune system, improves digestion and releases endorphins that reduce pain and leave your horse with a sense of well-being.
Whether your horse has the potential for dapples or not, these tips will help it feel and look it’s best.
noun – a patch or spot of color or light.
verb – to dapple is to dot with blotches of color or light, the way sunlight dapples the leaves of trees in the summertime.