Horse Sun Protection
Sun protection for horses
You probably use sunscreen to protect yourself from the harmful rays of the sun. You will doubtless have had days when you forgot to use it and ended up with painful sunburn. Exposure to the sun can damage your skin and will increase your chances of suffering from skin cancer. You should also be aware that your horse can get burned too and so requires sun protection.
Horses are particularly vulnerable in areas of exposed light skin around the nose and muzzle and also in areas where they have white body markings. Excessive exposure to the sun can lead to Squamous cell carcinomas which are small tumours that can form on pink skin. They are most likely to form around the eyes.
Protecting Your Horse From The Sun
It is important that you protect your horse from the sun but this requires a little thought and the right accessories. Obviously it is best to keep you horse out of the sun if at all possible. It really helps if your paddock had a shady area or a covered area to which your horse can retreat. You should also consider dressing your horse in a fly mask as many feature a flap to cover the muzzle and/or UV protection. A summer sheet will also be useful for greys or horses with light markings on their body.
Ways to Protect your Horse this Summer
With a long hot summer forecast in the UK, you're probably planning on riding your horse as much as possible in the coming months. Whilst this is understandable, it's important to take steps to ensure that he is safe and comfortable. Managing horses at this time of year can be a challenge, as you'll need to provide extra care in order to decrease stress and maintain the health and wellbeing of your animal.
How to Reduce the Effects of Heat
There are various ways in which you can reduce the effects of heat during the summer months and keep your horse comfortable.
- Provide turnout during cooler periods of the day, such as early in the morning or late at night
- Provide relief from the sun through shade from buildings or trees
- Reduce riding intensity and length
- Clip horses that have long hair coats as this will promote cooling
- Use fans to improve airflow
- Provide your horse with access to cool, clean water at all times
- Clean water buckets/tanks more often in hot weather. Algae and bacteria grow at a quicker rate in warm water.
- Provide access to salt, which will encourage your horse to drink more. Loose salt is preferable to a salt block.
- Transport horses during the coolest times of the day and make sure that trailers are well ventilated. Offer water frequently.
- Keep in mind that horses with anhidrosis have little/no ability to produce sweat. This means that these horses are most at risk of heat stress.
Don't Horses Cool Themselves by Sweating?
Yes, they do. The evaporation of sweat from their skin has a cooling effect. A horse that is working hard in high temperatures can lose as much as two to four gallons of sweat every hour. However, less evaporation occurs during times of high humidity.
Making Sure Your Horse Eats Enough
Heat stress can impact negatively on feed intake. Just like humans and other livestock, horses won't voluntarily consume as much food on hot days. This can lead to body weight loss, including muscle protein. As a result, it's vital to track feed intake as well as your horse's weight and body condition during periods of hot weather. This is particularly important for thin, veteran and very young horses.
Horses and Sunburn
Extreme temperatures are rare in the UK, indeed sunny days of any kind can be a little thin on the ground. This makes it easy to overlook the possibility of your horse getting burnt. But they can suffer from sunburn, particularly if they are at pasture throughout the summer months. It is the pigment in hair and skin which protects horses from harmful UV rays so areas of white are vulnerable to sunburn, particularly hairless areas. It is a horse’s face and heels which are at the greatest risk.
How Harmful is Sunburn?
In many cases sunburn merely causes discomfort, redness and possibly peeling. In these cases the damage will clear up fairly quickly. But repeated episodes may result in long term issues which are best avoided. Here, the skin can thicken and this can then lead to skin cancer.
Prevention Is Better than Cure
As with most health related issues, it is far better to prevent sunburn than to be faced with treating it. So what can you do? Always ensure that your field features a shady area where your horse can escape the sun. Unfortunately some horses will keep grazing even in extreme heat and so further protection may be necessary. It will help if you apply sun lotion but that can be easier said than done! If lotions prove tricky to apply then try using sunblock sticks. If you use coloured sun blocks then it is easier to see if you have missed any areas of exposed skin. Head and muzzle masks are a good investment as are rugs if your horse has vulnerable areas on its body.
What Should You Do If Your Horse Does Get Burnt?
If your prevention measures fail and your horse does suffer from sunburn then you should bring them inside until their skin has healed. If the skin is blistered then you must seek help from your vet. They can prescribe antibiotics if infection sets in, otherwise treatment will usually involves bathing and the application of emollient creams.
If your horse seems prone to skin issues despite your best efforts then they could be suffering from photosensitisation. This is an abnormal reaction to UV light. Photosensitisation is a condition which afflicts horses when there are certain reactive compounds in their circulation. These compounds can be found in some drugs, dyes and plants including St John’s Wort, buttercups and cow parsley. If the underlying cause of the problem is removed then the condition can be effectively addressed.
However, photosensitisation may also be the result of liver damage and that is often caused by ingesting ragwort. If your horse’s liver is damaged then its prognosis will likely be poor. It is always best to seek veterinary advice if you spot damages skin as it may not prove possible to improve your horse’s condition until the cause of the problem has been identified.
Invest in a Good Horse Sun Cream
Investing in a good horse sun cream is essential for protecting your horse whilst out in the hot sun. You can also find sunburn soothing cream which absorbs quickly and helps to repair sore areas at the same time as providing sun protection.
The aforementioned vulnerable areas greatly benefit from the application of equine sun cream or sun block. This can be a little messy but it is well worth taking the trouble to provide this protection. No matter how careful you are accidents do still happen and so it is always good to have after sun lotions on stand-by.
At Equi Supermarket we offer both barrier sunburn soother and Nettex sun block. The good news is that you can use the sun block yourself! These carefully formulated products could save your horse from a great deal of pain and from developing more serious health issues after exposure to the sun.
The Blue Cross has an excellent article about looking after your horses in the summer sun