Why Do Horses Have Feathers?

While some horses have sleek short-haired legs, others have an abundance of long hair around their hooves. This type of hair on a horse is called horse feathering. But why do horses have feathers?

These feathers do serve a purpose, and there is a good reason why they are only found in certain breeds. Let’s take a look at horse feathers and find out why some horses have these beautiful, feathered legs!

What Is Horse Feathering?

Horse feathering is the presence of long hairs around the lower legs and feet of a horse. The length and thickness of this feathering will vary according to the breed and type of horse. Some horse fans love to see a horse with feathers, whereas others prefer a horse with sleek short-haired legs.

Feathering on a horses’ legs does require extra cleaning and maintenance, and they can cause health problems if not looked after correctly. However, when you see a majestic horse with floating, feathery hooves you can see what the big appeal is!

Why Do Horses Have Feathers?

Firstly, we need to take a look at the purpose of horsehair itself. The hairy, dense coat of a horse has many functions. It protects the skin from physical injury and ultraviolet light damage. Hair also helps to regulate body temperature, by trapping air between the hairs.

Horsehair is waterproof, and a long, thick coat can keep the skin dry. Horses from cold weather climates often have longer hair to protect from extreme cold, rain, and snow.

Horses have longer hairs down the back of the legs, starting just below their knees and hocks. This hair helps channel water away, stopping it from running into the back of the pastern and heels. The aim is to keep the heels dry and avoid health conditions of the hoof such as thrush.

If you look at horses with longer and thicker feathers, they will normally be breeds that have come from colder areas of the world. These are generally cold-blooded breeds, who are calm and sensible in temperament. The thick feathers around the lower leg and hooves not only keep the skin and hoof dry but also protect the legs from injury.

However, even the most fine-haired horse will have a tiny amount of feathering. Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods will have a few longer hairs on the back of the fetlocks, to encourage rain to drip off the leg at the ergot rather than run down to the hoof.

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Breeds Of Horses With Feathers

Interestingly, different breed societies have varying criteria as to what determines if a horse is feathered. Some, such as the traditional Gypsy Vanner horse, will not describe a horse as feathered unless the hair touches the ground at all points around the outside of the hoof!

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular breeds of horses with feathers:

  • Friesian Horses

Friesian Horses are the supermodels of the horse world. Fans of this breed love their statuesque, proud appearance, with a showy gait and flowing mane and tail.

This breed has beautiful feathering, not particularly thick but quite long around the back of the legs. When a Friesian horse prances, the feathers will float behind the legs – absolutely beautiful!

  • Shire Horses

Often thought of as the kings of the draft horse world, Shire horses have thick feathering which extends to the floor right around the hoof. The hooves themselves are enormous and flick the feathers outwards as the horse moves. A Shire horse in the show ring is an impressive sight, with the feathers groomed and preened until they have the appearance of fluffy clouds!

  • Gypsy Vanner

As we’ve already mentioned, Gypsy Vanner horses have very long, thick feathers. These will often touch the floor all around the hoof, and the breed standard dictates that the thicker the hair is, the better.

When it comes to the Gypsy Vanner, there is no such thing as too much feather!

Gypsy Vanner
  • Icelandic Horse

The Icelandic Horse – which is actually the same size as a pony – grows an extremely long and thick coat to protect from the severely cold weather of Iceland. This includes thick feathering down the back of the legs, which is normally slightly lighter in color than the overall coat color.

How To Care For Your Horse’s Feathers

It can be difficult to keep these impressive feathers in top condition, and some horses with feathers may suffer from uncomfortable skin conditions.
Follow these tips to keep your horse’s feathered legs in great condition:

  • Lift the feathers and inspect the hooves, coronary band, and heel bulbs daily. Feathers can hide a lot of problems, so it is important to check carefully to pick them up early.
  • Give your horse’s legs and skin a thorough check over too – feel down the legs for any lumps, bumps, swellings, or scabs.
  • Horses with feathers can develop skin problems, particularly in damp, mild climates. Make sure that they have the chance to dry out thoroughly every day, either by stabling them overnight or by providing a field shelter.
  • Long feathers need as much maintenance as a thick mane and tail! You may need to shampoo and condition the feathers, especially before a show.
  • Feathers can be gently combed to remove tangles. A detangling spray can help to keep them looking sleek and shiny.
  • You may need to trim your horse’s feathers to keep them tidy. This can be done with clippers, or you can use scissors and a comb. Remember that they take a long time to grow back, so keep any trimming to a minimum.
How To Care For Your Horse’s Feathers

Summary- Horse With Fur On The Feet?

So, as we’ve learned, horse feathers are longer hairs around the legs and hooves. The amount of hair varies between different breeds and types of horses. Feathers can be quite high maintenance, but they do protect the legs from bad weather and injuries.

We’d love to hear about your experiences – have you ever cared for a horse with feathers? Or maybe you have a favorite horse breed with feathering? Add a comment below this post and we’ll get back to you!

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