How to Bring Out the Dapples in Your Horse’s Coat
Updated August 10, 2023
It’s hard not to take a second look when you see a horse with a striking dappled coat. Those gleaming dapples stand out in the barn and are sure to catch the judge’s eye in the show ring. Some people say dapples are a sign of good health, and there may be some truth to this.
Dapples are rounded areas of hair that are a deeper or lighter shade in color compared to the rest of the horse’s coat. They’ are about an inch in size and typically appear on a horse’s hindquarters, barrel, shoulders, or all over the body.
While they may be beautiful, it’s important to understand that not all horses can have them, and some horses may not have them all the time. We’ll discuss what causes some horses to develop dapples and provide tips on how to bring them out in your horse’s coat.
Ask the Vet Video All About Dapples
What Causes Dapples on Horses?
Variations in the red and black pigments in a horse’s individual coat hairs can result in dapples. So, while generally there are lots of grey horses with dapples, they can also occur in other coat colors like palomino or bay!
Even if your horse is genetically predisposed to dapples, it’s not always a guarantee that he will develop them. Bringing them out depends on a combination of your horse’s genetic predisposition to dapples, feeding a diet with proper nutrition, and maintaining optimal health.
Genetics play an important role in determining a horse’s likelihood of developing dapples. Certain breeds, such Hanoverians, Dutch Warmbloods, Andalusians, and Thoroughbreds more commonly have dappled coats. Although not all horses of these breeds or with the same bloodlines will have them. For example, you could have brothers with the same sire and dam and one of the boys has dapples but the other’s coat does not. So, while many of us would love to see our horse covered in dapples, without the right genetic makeup, there is nothing we can do!
Coat color also impacts the development of dapples. Grey, bay, palomino, and buckskin horses are more likely to have them. While, theoretically, horses of any coat color can have the gene for dapples, it is rare to see them in chestnuts.
Like spring flowers blooming, many horses’ coats will dapple seasonally. When your horse is shedding out his winter coat in the spring, his dapples might begin to show. They may last from a few weeks to a couple of months and then fade away. Other horses might be prone to dappling in the summer, fall, or even year-round. Your horse’s coat and when it dapples is just as unique as he is.
Give Your Horse His Best Chance for Dappling
If your horse has the gene and you occasionally see a dapple here or there on his coat, there are things you can do to increase his chances of dappling.
Make Proper Nutrition a Priority
Feeding a high-quality diet that meets all your horse’s daily nutritional requirements is key to his dappling potential. You should feed him a balanced diet of protein, vitamins, and minerals to promote healthy skin and a shiny coat. First, focus on forage – whether hay or pasture - as the foundation of your horse’s diet which fulfills the bulk of his daily required nutrition. It may be valuable to work with an equine nutritionist to address any shortcomings in his diet and fill those gaps with the right nutrients as needed.
Some essential vitamins and minerals that contribute to healthy coat growth include vitamins A and E, biotin, collagen, zinc, and copper. Omega-3 fatty acids fed through pellet or oil supplements help to support healthy skin, which is necessary for quality hair growth.
Daily Care and Grooming
Exercise and grooming can also help improve your horse's overall health and appearance. Both activities increase blood flow, stimulating muscle and hair growth.
Daily grooming with a curry comb and body brushes is essential for maintaining a healthy coat by removing dirt and bringing out the natural oils in his coat. Spending a few extra minutes thoroughly currying the body will produce a beautiful shine—and hopefully some dapples. Remember to clean your brushes frequently so you’re not putting dirt back onto his coat.
Regular bathing will also help keep your horse’s coat healthy and clean; however, overbathing or excessive use of shampoo will strip the hair’s natural oils, resulting in a dull, dry coat devoid of dapples. So, be careful to not do too much.
Taking a comprehensive approach to your horse’s health in partnership with your veterinarian is your best bet at ensuring he’s in the best of health. Medical conditions, such as gastric ulcers, can affect your horse’s skin and coat health, and need to be addressed first. Consider other aspects of care such as dental exams and floating to ensure your horse can properly eat and digest the high-quality, balanced diet you’re feeding him.
A parasite control program is also very important, as internal parasites can consume essential nutrients and deprive your horse regardless of how much high-quality food he ingests. One of the most common side effects of parasite infestations is a dull coat, which makes it difficult—if not impossible— to bring out those stunning dapples. Fecal testing and appropriate deworming practices with your veterinarian’s recommendations are vital for any horse, regardless of dapples.