Is it possible for horses to get a sunburn, just like humans do?  Of course!  Keep reading for information on equine sun burns and more summer skin issues in horses.

summer skin issues in horsesFor horse riders, the summer sun brings perfectly tanned arms and embarrassingly pale legs. We can protect our skin from the harsh rays by applying sunscreen, but what about our horses’ skin? There is no doubt that summer affects their skin in many ways.  Flies cause irritation, sweet itch can make a horse rub until their skin is raw, white muzzled horses are at risk of sunburn, damp weather can create rain rot, and many beautiful coats are bleached every summer by the sun. Thankfully, there are ways to treat summer skin issues in horses and still enjoy our equine time in the sun.

  1. Prevent Pesky Fly Bites – One of the most common skin issues our horses encounter in the summer is pesky flies. The best preventive measures for irritation from fly bites is to keep the horse barn extremely clean and to frequently use fly spray, blankets and fly masks. These items should be readily available at feed and farm stores for affordable prices. The least expensive option would be fly spray, just look for one that offers all-natural ingredients! For the holistic, do-it-yourself riders, there are multiple homemade recipes which can be easily made and work just as well.
    If your horse does get bitten, there are a multitude of topical skin products that will help to heal and protect bites (with some addressing other summer skin issues in horses, as well).  Even rubbing petroleum jelly on the skin will help prevent fly bite attacks!  Good compliments to fly spray and ointments include fly strips in your barn and the areas your horses frequent,  regular cleaning of the horse stalls, and destruction of fly breeding grounds, such as any stagnant or standing water that may be nearby.
  2. summer skin issues in horses

    Watch for behavioral changes that could indicate summer skin issues in horses.

    Steer Clear of Sweet Itch – In addition to ensuring your horses’ comfort, avoiding severe bites can also help prevent harmful skin conditions, such as sweet itch. Sweet itch is an equine skin condition that causes irritated skin due to collective insect bites, allergic reactions, or infections. Some people say it can also be related to horses eating too much sweet grass, hence the name. In attempts to soothe the itch, horses will rub and scratch at their skin, potentially inflicting harm on themselves. You can tell your horse has sweet itch if there is some hair loss along the mane, back, tail, and ears. In order to treat this, your horse should be washed once a week with medicated shampoo to kill any bacteria that may be on the skin. ​You should also use fly spray on your horse twice a day and consider keeping them under a high powered fan.  The fan will will keep flying insects away while the damaged areas are healing and help prevent other summer skin issues in horses. Some horse experts recommend massaging liberal amounts of coconut oil once a day to promote healing in the case of scabs or hair loss.

  3. Sunburned Sweet Spots – According to TheHorse.com, many people wait too long to apply sun protection to their horses and sunburn recovery in a horse can take months. Being aware of the harmful effect of the sun’s rays is just as important as knowing how to treat sweet itch. When riding on a sunny day, we usually bring a trusty bottle of SPF skin protectant for ourselves but may forget, or don’t realize, that certain horses and sensitive horse parts, can sunburn as well. Similar to humans, horses with white or pale skin will burn more easily than those that are darker, though even darker horses that are clipped can be burned. To prevent sunburn, there are horse sunscreens available, or you can use a fly mask with a muzzle flap. If a horse is already burnt, there will be small red bumps where the skin is irritated. This is treatable by applying zinc or other medicated ointments that will be available through a horse supply store or your veterinarian. Aloe Vera gel is used by some but others advise against it, saying it can quickly evaporate without being absorbed.  If you’re in doubt, please contact your vet to help make your horse comfortable when treating equine sunburn.
  4. Avoiding Rain Rot – Not only should we be concerned with the heat of the summer rays, but also keep an eye on the dampness of the summer rain showers. Brought on by moist, humid climates, a condition known as rain rot is caused by an organism that affects a horse’s skin. It is rather easy to identify because there will be some hair loss and noticeable scabs. It grey dapple horsecan be spread between horses that share saddle pads, brushes, wraps, etc. Although rain rot itself is not harmful to the horse, the scabs can cause discomfort and infection when they are removed. To prevent this infection, try to keep the horse as dry and clean as possible. If a horse already has rain rot, bathe it to loosen the scabs and then gently remove them.  Apply an antiseptic ointment afterwards to kill any bacteria that may have been left behind. The hair should start to regrow within the next few weeks. Once the hair has grown back, remember your steed is still susceptible to damage from the bright summer sun and other summer skin issues in horses!
  5. Sun-Bleached Sorrels - Sun bleached coats are a common problem that equestrians have to face during summer. The struggle to keep black, bay or sorrel horses their natural color in the fierce summer sun is a difficult one. The sweatier areas on a horse, such as underneath the saddle pad, are at higher risk of losing their color to the sun. To save these areas, rinse the sweat off after a ride with a water hose. This will not only help cool down your horse, but a clean coat without any sweat won’t attract as much sun. Other ways to maintain a horse’s color include daily grooming and a well-balanced diet. Putting a thin, light fly sheet over the horse will also help protect their hair from the sun. Although all these methods take a little extra effort, it is worth it to retain the horse’s natural beauty for the duration of the summer.

The warmer season of the year should be enjoyed as much as possible, even if there are different skin-related issues that come with it. With a few simple steps, flies can be kept at bay, sweet itch is preventable and curable, and horsey sunscreen is available for our paler friends. Rainy days don’t have to destroy a horse’s hair, and sun bleaching can be subdued and prevented with a little extra work. What does all this tell you… get outside!  Sure, take steps to avoid summer skin issues in horses (and humans) but don’t forget to have fun!  Enjoy the summer and feel at ease in the sun because, after all, isn’t that what the season is truly all about?