A horse’s skin is highly resilient, but you might be surprised at how sensitive it can be. In general, most horses require daily grooming and the odd bath, but there are precautions you can take to ensure your horse’s skin stays strong and healthy. Simple things like a change in routine, damp weather or illness can leave your horse more prone to skin problems so it’s good to have some knowledge and be pro-active.
Protect skin from the sun
Horses are at their healthiest and happiest when outdoors, but during the summer, as with humans, it pays to use sun protection. Sunburn is experienced by horses just like humans, especially pink skin under white markings. Sunburn will look the same, inflamed, hot, red and sore to touch.
Protect your horse from the sun by supplying plenty of shaded areas where your horse turns out. Trees or a shed to run in will make a lot of difference. They might not all take advantage of the shade, but they will benefit from the cooler temperatures brought by the shade. Sunblock can also be applied, especially where a horse has pink skin. Zinc oxide creams are a good choice, as are sunscreens specially designed for horses. Garments to shield from UV rays are also available, such as fly sheets with UV protection and leg wraps for covering up white legs.
Let it dry
Whilst this isn’t possible all the time, continually wet skin is not good for your horse. A little bit of rain never hurt a horse, but constantly damp skin is more susceptible to infection.
Problems associated with wet skin include scratches which chap the skin and when moist through contact with wet grass, can lead to infection. The infection is a combination of fungi and bacteria which is tough to resolve. Signs include oozing or cracked skin, crusts or scabs. Rainrot is another condition caused by infection of the hair shaft and is commonly seen as bumps along the back and withers.
During particularly wet weather, make sure your horse has somewhere dry to walk. Areas where your horse goes will need to drain well, mats can be placed by the water trough and keep bedding as dry as possible.
Protect against bugs
Insects are a big nuisance for horses, particularly during warmer weather. Insects are normally just an annoyance, but their bites can sometimes lead to worse skin conditions. An allergic reaction to the saliva in biting insects can cause a condition known as ‘sweet itch’. It causes irritating itchiness and inflammation, often making a horse rub itself raw looking for relief.
Using a fly repellent is a good place to start, but if your horse already has sweet itch, try https://www.stinky-stuff.co.uk/sweet-itch/ You will need to keep your horse inside away from midges during their peak feeding times which are dawn and dusk normally. Providing a stall with screens and installing a fan are further preventative measures you can take.
You could consider fly sheets to create a barrier between your horse and the insects. A custom-made outfit covers the most sensitive areas such as the tail and belly, to help your horse avoid an itchy and uncomfortable summer.