Principal Body System: Integumentary
Definition: The skin and structures derived from it, i.e. hair, sweat, oil glands.
Function: Helps regulate body temperature; protects the body; eliminates wastes; synthesizes Vit.D; receives certain stimuli, i.e. temperature, pressure and pain.
The horse's skin is incredibly sensitive - look at the way they flinch when a fly lands on them. Shampoos, fly repellents, midges, toxic pollens (buttercups), mud, bacteria, and poor health. All potential irritants to the skin, causing an abundance of intense conditions that affect thousands of equines.
As the saying goes, 'Beauty comes from within'. If your horse has skin problems, it's usually a sign of something else going on in the body. The way to healthy skin is about what nutrients we feed into the body - not about what we put on the body.
A quick digress to the human world, and the cosmetic industry seems to be a wholesale dumping ground for just about every single type of chemical that exists. From lead compounds, mercury compounds, compounds made from horse urine (urea); there are multiple different synthetic compounds that make it into the cosmetic industry, such as SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) and other foaming agents that are used in detergents, shampoos, body lotions … the list goes on.
And as for those beauty creams, the range is almost too huge to mention, and they’re also loaded with toxic chemicals, most of them containing fragrance chemicals too. There’s a report on a lab analysis carried out on a popular perfume which had 21 different potentially carcinogenic toxic chemicals in it’s composition, none of which were listed on the label.
The skin is the largest - and most visible - organ of the body, so understandably it's all too easy to slap on topical creams or oils to make it allegedly shine, or inject steroids or feed antibiotics in the hope that these will fix a skin 'problem'.
Thing is, unless the immune system is strong enough to deal with any chemical residue in these products, the problem will be buried even deeper, as well as adding more toxins into an already overburdened system.
Skin health goes much deeper than this. Gut imbalances, food intolerances and nutrient deficiencies all contribute to the health of the whole body, yet present outwardly on the skin. So, what we see as a skin issue is more likely to be a whole body, poor immunity issue, and a major part of immunity is the lymphatic system, upon which skin, and the lungs, rely entirely upon to drain toxins and congestion away. Which means, if the lymphatics are overburdened and clogged up, the skin will be too.
Think of the lymphatics as the body's drainage canal, with the lymph (the clear fluid) as the canal, which after filtering through the lymph nodes, then drains the impurities into the inbound bloodstream which heads onwards to the kidneys to dump them off.
The kidneys then filter the waste out from the blood, draws water from the body into the mix and shuttles them off and out via the bladder. Without the lymphatic system and the kidneys working healthily together in harmony, skin's going to have a problem.
The way to healthy skin is about what nutrients we feed into the body, and not about putting anything on the body, especially a topical oil which suffocates every pore, so the body can't even sweat to evaporate the toxins out. Cue the poor skin cycle beginning all over again.
Then there's itchy skin, usually caused by biting insects, as well as topical skin bacterials, where the skin on the heel, fetlock and pastern can be affected, mainly occuring during the wet autumn/winter months, although it can be just as bad during the summer months. Straw beds can affect pasterns which may be sensitive to the chopped edges of the straw, which can also be covered with various bacterium.
The main cause in this type of response is thought to be caused by an opportunistic bacterium, Dermatophilus congolensis, getting into the skin via breaks in the skin, which can lead to the skin swelling, stretching and weeping, cracks appearing, hair falling out and hard scabs forming. Horrid. And very sore for our horses. Again, it's usually due to poor diet, lowered immunity and mineral deficiency, with zinc and copper deficiencies linked with poor wound healing, and mud derma issues being linked directly with a lack of copper in the diet.
Whether itchy or infected skin, at the heart of a skin condition is a toxic imbalance in the internal detox organs and circulatory systems, specifically the two circulatory systems - lymphatics and blood, and the kidneys and liver. They all need to be functioning healthily and in perfect harmony with each other to sustain glowing, nourished skin.
I know how I'd prefer to achieve healthy skin, and that’s treated with nutrition from the inside out. Not coated with petrochemicals, toxic chemicals, and artificial fragrance chemicals, applied on the outside which are then absorbed in, which then get into the liver, the heart, the kidneys, the brain, and cause disease.
Clean up the immune system, address the causes and fortify the body with appropriate feeds, nutrients and lifestyle. The body’s natural intelligence will take care of the rest.
- Check the labels on your feedbags - dump sugar in the diet and eliminate food sensitivities - alfalfa and soya are two prime examples. See our FEEDING OUR HORSES chapter for more info.
- Fix gut imbalances - including a probiotic into the diet will help improve gut microbiome levels.
- Dry, itchy, scaling, or flaking skin could signify a fatty acids deficiency; add Linseed (Micronised) into the feedbowl for it's high omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs).
- Nourish! A variety of nutrients play a role in healthy skin. Balance forage minerals, with zinc deficiency known to contribute to poor skin. Vit.D is also important, so that's plenty of skin exposure on our all-too-rare sunshine-y days. See MINERAL SOLUTIONS.
- Exercise and sweat - when the body temperature rises, i.e. during exercise, skin blood-flow transfers heat from the core of the body to the skin. Sweating is good - it helps excrete toxins from the body to the outside, but remember to get the toxins off the skin after sweating with a hose-down, not a shampoo with chemicals in, i.e. SLSs, parabens, petrochemicals etc. See our SHAMPOO SOAPS.
- Stress and rest - overwork, lack of quality rest and anxiety stresses gut health which has a profoundly negative effect on the immune system which directly diminishes skin integrity. See our C.A.R.E. IMMUNITY PROGRAMME.
- Check the ingredients in topical skin products - parabens and petrochemicals feature highly and can overload the toxicity levels of the system, meaning the liver has to work overtime to metabolise and clear them out.,
From a personal point of view, I've had my share of skin issues with my horses. My gut-sensitive connemara, Murphy, used to explode with mud fever and cellulitis when winter arrived. Our early winters together were a constant battle with sore infected heels.
I originally designed what became our DermaClear blend for him, and at the first sign of the dreaded sores, in went the herbs and on went aloe-vera gel with appropriate essential oils, now our DermaClearGel. The final piece of the jigsaw was introducing forage balanced minerals for all my horses in 2007 - once his internal system was cleaned up, the dreaded mud issues vanished and he's been clear since then. I don't even think about Murf and mud now.
Then there was our adorable Kelso, without whom there wouldn't be an EquiNatural. He came to me as a known chronic sweet itch sufferer; fully hogged and with suppurating sores over his mane, tail and rump from where he'd rubbed himself raw. I witnessed first hand how stressful this was for him, and it was heartbreaking to watch.
I originally designed what became our herbal SkinTonic and our aloe SwItchGel for him, after watching him repeatedly trash his eye-wateringly expensive, specialist sweet itch rugs. Within three months on the herbs on the blend, he grew a full mane and tail for the first time in his life - he was 17 at the time.
Then, in 2017 I adopted a chunky native boy, MacAttack (named appropriately as his mission in life is to attack humans!). Mac has chronic sweet itch as well - the reason why I adopted him - and he's also on the same regime as Kelso was. You can see his story in our CASE STUDIES page.
Skin conditions can put a halt on everything and force management changes that weren't necessarily on the agenda. However, with a clean diet and a detoxed immune system, there's an excellent range of appropriate herbs to help get coat and skin health back on track, alongside balanced minerals and micronised linseed in the feedbowl for the super-beneficial Omega 3 fats.
NB. Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research, October 2002 - Linseed was found to help control itchy skin symptoms as a result of the Culicoides midge bite.