Under the Sun: How to protect your Horse from Sun Damage and Sunburn
After the ravages of winter, the sun is a welcome sight to both owners and their horses. The sun makes us and them feel good. It’s important for the production of Vitamin D, which helps ensure proper functioning of the bones, joints and muscles. However, getting too much sun can create some problems for your horse as well.
Common Sun Problems
Sunburn occurs most often on horses with light-coloured coats, such as greys, skew or piebalds. Horses with white blazes or pink noses are also highly prone to it. Without protection, sun exposure to these areas can lead to sunburn, just like you may have experienced yourself – the skin turns red, may blister or peel and is sensitive to the touch. This usually occurs on the muzzle and possibly around the eyes. Some horses can sunburn on other areas as well.
The greatest concern regarding sun exposure is “photosensitisation”. This is a condition that causes skin sensitivity to ultraviolet (UV) rays. It primarily affects horses, sheep and cattle, but other species may also be susceptible.
The condition can be divided into two categories - primary and secondary:
* Primary photosensitisation occurs due to the ingestion of lush green plants containing “photodynamic” agents, such as St John's Wort or clover
* Secondary photosensitisation is the most common type of photosensitivity seen in animals and occurs due to liver or bile duct damage. It’s most often because of ingestion of hepatotoxic plants such as Senecio Jacobea more commonly known to horse owners as ragwort.
Sun exposure can “bleach” the colour of some horses’ coats. This is more common for black, dark brown and dark bay coats but it can actually happen to coats of all colours. The most commonly affected areas are the saddle area and around the face which is where sweat tends to accumulate. Although coat fading isn’t really a health problem, you do want your horse to look and feel his best.
Preventing Sun Damage
Although you can’t keep your horse stabled 24/7, there are a few things that you can do to help minimise the chances of your horse getting sunburned.
Time management is a key component to keeping your horse safe from sun injuries. Start by regulating the time your horse is out in the bright sunlight. Plan your horse’s outdoor hours so that they coincide with times of lower sun exposure, such as early morning, evening or overnight.
If possible, ensure that there are shaded areas in his field, so that your horse can take breaks from the sun. Check your field for any plants that can cause photosensitisation, and remove or at least fence the areas or plants off from access.
Apply sunscreen to the muzzle and any white markings on your horse. Use a high-SPF sunscreen, such as the Gold Label Sunguard and remember that it requires regular reapplication for complete coverage. Don’t be stingy — put on a thick layer. This will help when your horse grazes in the dew-covered grass or dunks his muzzle in the drinking trough.
Consider using fly sprays and/or coat conditioners that include UV protectants and apply regularly.
If you can’t manage your horse’s time in the sun and you have limited or no shade in your field, consider using a sun protection fly rug and a face mask with UV protection for additional defence against harmful sun rays.
If your horse gets mild sunburn on his muzzle or face, apply a soothing ointment such as aloe. Then put a heavy coating of sunscreen over that to minimise further damage. Make sure your horse has access to plenty of fresh, clean water - hydration helps heal damaged skin. If the symptoms are severe or don’t resolve, consult your vet.
Shop First Aid.
Help is at Hand
Remember that prevention is easier than cure, and that the best and healthiest way to manage sun damage is often to get help in the form of a product with built in UV Protection.
Visit our collection of Sun Protection for Horses to get what you need.
Vitamin D is important for your horse’s overall health. He needs sunlight, but you just need to make sure it’s the right amount!