Owners of Appaloosas, Paints and any horse with a light muzzle, long blaze, strip or snip have likely seen sunburned skin. The lack of dark pigment in those areas contributes to potential sun damage.
?Sunburns? can also occur from photosensitization. In these cases, a horse is super sensitive to the sun?s rays from eating certain plants or taking certain medications. A horse with liver damage may also suffer from photosensitization.
Some medications may increase your horse’s risk:
Tetracycline and related drugs, such as doxycycline
Plants and herbs
to avoid include:
St. John?s wort.
Horses with true photosensitization will have severe skin damage, be painful and may show additional signs such as fever and jaundice. They will require medicated solutions to treat the affected areas and possibly prescription medications for pain and inflammation as well.
The most common sunburns in horses are around the muzzle and due to simple sun exposure. An Appaloosa with a light muzzle may actually sunburn over the entire area. A horse with a snip on a dark muzzle may just sunburn on the snip. Generally white leg markings will not sunburn, unless the horse has photosensitization.
Mild sunburn is first evident by bright pink skin. This can progress to red skin, crusting and peeling. Clear aloe gel works well for treating these areas. Sunburn?s painful, so expect your horse to avoid you touching and treating the area.
Don?t count on having shade in your pastures for sun-damage control. Your horse will spend plenty of time out in the bright sun even if he heads for the shade midday.
You can limit the hours your horse is exposed to the sunlight. Putting horses out only at night is sometimes advocated to minimize coat damage as well. Your mosquito risk is higher at night, so be sure your horse is adequately vaccinated for the equine encephalitis diseases prevalent in your area. Even with this plan, however, you probably ride your horse in daylight and he will need some protection then.
Sun blocks and sun lotions are additional ways to protect your horse’s sensitive areas. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) does not give great ratings to most of the common sun lotions available. They do suggest avoiding sun lotions with oxybenzone as this may penetrate the skin, possibly causing allergic reactions or interfering with hormones, although all of those reactions are associated with people and we?ve had good luck using these products on our own horses.
Plain zinc oxide ointment is a tried-and-true sunscreen, but it does heat up and melt off. Once it’s gone, it’s no longer effective.
Despite the EWG?s warning, we?ve found that Banana Boat Sport SPF 30, which has oxybenzone, has worked well on our Appaloosa mare for 20 years. We do lather it on thickly, but she tolerates it well and it holds up even while grazing. The sweatproof version usually stays on for a full day.
My Pony Sun Block was specifically designed for horses and is quite safe. This holds up through sweating, grazing and drinking. As long as you can see it, it’s working. It does seem thick and has a white ghostly appearance. One thorough application will stay on for more than one day, which is nice for anyone who boards their horse and may not get out to re-apply protection daily. My Pony Sun Block comes with an applicator.
Badger SPF30 sunscreen relies on zinc oxide. Our horses definitely looked white where it was applied, but it stays on for a full day, sometimes longer.
Long fly masks that cover the muzzle area are helpful. Most will cover a blaze, snip or strip quite well. A horse whose entire muzzle is white or light-colored may need more protection, however, as the sides of the muzzle aren?t always well covered.
We loved the durable Schneider?s Dura Mesh Extended Fly Mask for fly control and overall sun block, but we wish it were a bit longer to cover the entire muzzle. This did not matter with my Arab or Quarter Horse but my Appaloosa was left with some pink skin areas.
The same was true of the Schneider?s Mosquito Mesh Extended Fly Mask, which is a similar design to the Dura Mesh mask, but made of a lighter, cooler and softer material. All three of our trial horses tolerated this well, and it prevented sun burn on the snips of the Arabian and Quarter Horse.
The Cashel Crusader fly masks also provided excellent coverage with their long version. They?re extremely durable with a nice shaped fit that helps keep them in place during turnout.
For full muzzle coverage, we loved the Rider?s International Fly Mask with Ears and Long Nose. This mask covered the largest area on the muzzles of our test horses, while fitting the rest of the horse’s head well. Again, all three horses tolerated this well. The Appaloosa had just a small area of pink skin uncovered. The mask is slightly softer material than the Cashel.
If your horse doesn’t tolerate a fly mask well or tends to lose them in the pasture, sun blocks are your best bet. If your horse will wear a fly mask out in the pasture, get one of the extended-nose versions we used in this trial. Our favorite for sun protection is the Rider?s International. For a horse with a light muzzle, a combination of sun block and an extended fly mask might be your best bet for summer sun protection.