Horses and Sun Safety: Don’t Let Your Horse Get Sunburned

Horses and sun can be a dangerous combination that leads to sunburn — not on you but on your horse. That’s right, your horse can get sunburned. The summer sun can be strong, so as you slather on the sunscreen remember that even your horse is susceptible to sunburn.

Have you ever noticed a horse with a pink, peeling nose during the summer? Look closely because sunburn on a horse’s back means you’ll have to wait to ride until that burn heals. Never put a saddle on top of a painful burn. It is cruel, may cause unpredictable behavior in your horse, and can cause permanent damage and infection.

The lighter the horse (grays or pintos with white or pink noses) the more likely it is that it will become sunburned. A horse’s skin blisters and peels just like human skin when it gets sunburned. Especially horses that are thin coated or have pink skin may become sunburned on their backs. Horses may also get sunburn on their face, ear tips, and legs.
horses and sun
Masks and sun sheets are just a few ways to protects your horse from the sun. Photo by Sheri Hooley, Unsplash.

Horses and Sun Protection are Priority in Hot Climates

Preventing sunburn on your horse means keeping them out of the sun when it’s at its strongest. It’s important to provide a shady place such as a line of trees or a run-in shelter. Some people keep their horses in the stable during the day and turn them out to pasture at night. This strategy, for example, prevents show horses from getting sun-bleached coats.

In addition, you can use baby formula sunblock to protect your horse’s vulnerable areas like its nose. However, because your horse has its head to the ground to graze, the product wipes off quickly so it needs to be reapplied several times a day. Products made specifically for horses are bright colored. You can easily see when they’ve worn off. Another idea is to use inexpensive zinc oxide both as a sunblock and to help heal irritated skin. It has antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-dermatophyte properties.

Finally, you might consider sheets and masks to help prevent sunburn on your horse. An excellent choice for protection is the full face mask such as the Absorbine Ultra Shield Fly Mask with Ears. It covers your horse from the top of its nose to its ear tips. The mesh-like covering over the eyes reduces glare from the sun and provides excellent eye protection.

Pale-colored fly and sun sheets give horses a little protection on their backs and necks. Be sure to match the sheet with your climate to ensure it is suitable for airflow and sun protection. Since sheets are made with mesh, don’t consider them to be total protection. Also, be sure that your sheet fits well so that it doesn’t irritate your horse at the shoulders and whithers.

It doesn’t take much sun when your horse is photosensitive. Photo by Jacob Jolibois, Unsplash.

Beware of Photosensitivity When it Comes to Horses and Sun

What your horse eats and what you apply to its skin can make it more sensitive to the sun. Several plants can cause photosensitivity in horses. One of those is St. John’s Wort. Another example is Alsike clover which causes photosensitivity as well as liver failure, gastric and neurological disorders. As a horse grazes through patches of wet alsike clover, it gets a type of sunburn known as Dew Poisoning on its nose and lower legs. A few other plants that cause photosensitivity are buckwheat and ground elder, also known as snow-in-the-mountain.

Some medications have been known to cause photosensitivity. Be sure to check with your vet. Also, carefully read the warnings on grooming sprays and fly sprays as they may worsen a sunburn. When in doubt, play it safe and avoid using these sprays when your horse is sunburned or exposed to the sun for any length of time.