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Sunburn in horses

Posted on 01 July 2015 by Kim

Sunburn in horses

Summer means Sun, and Sun means Sunburn. We know this and we protect ourselves accordingly, but because horses are big and strong, we sometimes forget about the effect that the Sun has on them.  Read on to learn more...

What types of horses are prone to sunburn?  

It’s not a breed-related problem as white facial and leg markings are possible in nearly all breeds.  Owners of horses with white or light coloured skin or even horses with a thin coat need to be particularly careful.

What areas are susceptible?

The face and heels are most commonly affected because these often have non-pigmented patches and less hair coverage.  However sunburn around the eyes and over the back is also possible as well as the protruding areas of the ears or the white areas on their legs.

How will I know when my horse has got sunburn?

The skin becomes pinker or red and the skin will blister and peel, just like yours does when you get a burn.

How can I prevent it?

Prevention is obviously better than cure. Following a few simple tips can greatly reduce the likelihood of sunburn:

  • Limit turnout when the sun’s rays are the strongest. Alternatively turn out at night when it’s sweltering during the day.  Also consider hacking out early in the morning or in late evening when the light is still good, the sun is cooler and there are fewer flies
  • Provide a shady spot, e.g. a tree or shelter where your horse can stand during the day. Put water and hay in the same area
  • Apply sunscreen where needed. Remember the rules about applying sunscreen? Apply half an hour before sun exposure and reapply every two hours.  Reapplying every two hours at will be difficult for most but definitely reapply after exercise, rain, a bath or grooming
  • Cover sensitive areas on the face and body. Preventing sunburn around the eyes is fairly simple. All you need to do is use a fly mask.  Some fly masks have an extension that protects the end of the nose from getting sunburned.  This is worth having if you have a horse with a pink nose.  Equally a fly rug will help to protect your horse’s back from a painful burn if you have one.

How do I need to treat it?

Treatment for sunburn for a horse is pretty similar to that of the sunburn treatment for humans: while the horse's sunburn is healing, frequent applications of a dedicated potion can soothe the skin immensely.

If the burn is around an eye it's best to not apply the sunburn treatment and allow nature to run its course.

Sunburn can be really painful for a horse as the more severe burns will blister and take time to heal.  So after it has healed, ensure you take the necessary precautions to prevent it from occurring again.

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Author

Kim Horton

Co-Founder of EQUUS and a keen equestrian, when Kim's not at her desk she's with her horse, Waldo.

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