Ask Horse Journal: Equine Birthmark?

I have attached pictures of a supposed birthmark on my horse’s neck. I’m skeptical. It may be my imagination, but I think it has grown bigger since shedding out. It is slightly raised. My horse is 12, and apparently he’s always had this, but who knows for sure? I’ve had him 1½ years.

He’s not prone to allergies. However, his skin is easily injured but not by insects. Scars tend to take a long time to regrow hair. Last winter he had a few rain rot spots, but they eventually healed. It just took a long time for the hair to regrow and, when it did, it came in slightly raised so he looked like he had polka dots along his back. Now they’re settling down even with the rest of his coat. Do you think this is a birthmark?

Contributing Veterinary Editor Deb Eldredge DVM response: It is difficult to tell from the photos, but it does appear that the “birthmark” areas are raised, not flush with the rest of the hair on the neck. The hair is a different color as well. If it was flush to the skin, I would think it was just an unusual coloring effect or the result of an injury that caused the hair discoloration. It almost looks like an injury or reaction from a spray. I would not be concerned though it is unusual. But if it’s raised, and you want to know for sure, consider a skin biopsy to rule out any fungal infection, unusual parasite tract, etc. But if he has always had it, I would not be concerned and am not sure the biopsy is worth the expense.

Head & Shoulders For Horses 

My horse had terrible dandruff in her mane. I tried a couple of horse shampoos with no results. A friend said to try Head & Shoulders, so I did. It worked great.

Then she got what looked like dandruff on her skin but turned into fungus. The same friend said Head & Shoulders will do the trick, so I used it again and it worked great again.

I’m wondering why it seems no one else knows about this and what in the product might be working? Are there any concerns with using Head & Shoulders on my horse?

Contributing Veterinary Editor Grant Miller DVM responds: Flaky manes are pretty common during certain times of the year. Many people find that feeding ground flax or linseed reduces the problem. Sometimes using canola oil or omega 3s in the diet can help, too, but it won’t fix things overnight. For those who have tried those remedies, or perhaps do not want to use those supplements, topical treatment with shampoos or conditioners can help.

Although Head & Shoulders shampoo has emulsifying agents that reduce dandruff, its use is not recommended in horses. In fact, most human shampoos are not a good idea for horses. This is because the pH of human shampoos tend to run on the acidic side. On average, human skin has a pH between 5.2 and 6.2, making it slightly acidic. On the contrary, horse skin falls between a pH of 7 to 7.4, making it neutral on the pH scale. Therefore, using acidic hair products on an ongoing basis is not ideal for the health of horse skin. A better choice is a high-quality horse shampoo or conditioner.

Here are some recommendations:
Mane N Tail Shampoo and Conditioner, Shapley’s MTG, Corona Shampoo, Orvus, Canter Mane and Tail conditioner spray.

Remember: Do not overbathe your horse! One to two baths per week are more than sufficient. Daily grooming and currying will help to keep your horse clean and his skin healthy and moist since grooming encourages sebaceous glands to secrete oil.

I Can’t Catch My Horse!

My horse is turned out in a field at our boarding stable with six or seven other mares, and it’s usually a frustrating experience trying to catch her. Sometimes I can’t get near her at all, and other times I’ll think she’s letting me catch her, and then she’ll just spin away from me. If I take a bucket of grain or carrots with me, then all the other horses crowd around me, and I can’t catch her then either. What can I do?

Performance Editor John Strassburger responds: Attempting to catch a horse who doesn’t want to be caught is one of the most frustrating experiences around horses. Solving it requires you to be patient, to outwit your horse, and sometimes to address issues that seem unrelated to the problem.

The first thing you have to do is keep a halter on your horse. You’ll have no chance of solving this problem if the horse isn’t wearing a halter you can grab when you get close. But make sure it’s a leather or breakaway halter, in case she gets it caught on something.

As you’ve experienced, when a horse is turned out with others, it’s generally counter-productive to try to lure him with treats. You usually just get the other horses, and they may fight over it—a potentially dangerous situation for them and for you.

Instead, evaluate what happens when you do catch your mare and bring her in. Is coming in from the field a rewarding experience for her? Give her a treat when you get to the barn; perhaps even feed her a light meal. Do something that rewards her for allowing you to catch her. 

Try to be sure your mare’s experiences once you’ve caught her are positive and rewarding, whether under saddle or not. Make her want to come in, because it’s interesting and fun. 

Most of the time, we’ve found this problem is peculiar to mares, particularly young mares. It also tends to be more common with mares or geldings who don’t have a job, who have nothing to look forward to when they’re caught. Horses who live undisturbed except for things like hoof trimming or vet care are often disinclined to allow you to catch them. Can you blame them? 

But once they have a job, once they start to enjoy the mental and physical stimulation of working, it’s the rare horse who won’t walk up to with a look that says, “What are we going to do today?”

So the biggest suggestion I’d make is to give your horse a job and work diligently to ensure that all her experiences with you are ones she enjoys, so she wants to be in your company. But it will take time, with setbacks likely.

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