Guard Against Sunburn in HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · August 10, 2011
Horses with white or light-colored skin areas, especially areas with a thin hair cover, are likely to develop painful sunburn during spring, summer, and fall seasons. White muzzles seem especially prone to painful reddening, blistering, oozing, and cracking skin if they have been exposed to long hours of sunlight. Besides being uncomfortable, horses with sunburned skin have an increased chance of developing skin cancer at some point. With more incidents of sunburn, the risk escalates.
Sunburn is regularly seen on horses’ faces, but backs can also be affected in horses with thin or fine coats. If your light-coated horse appears uncomfortable being brushed, tacked up, or ridden in the sunny seasons, check for redness and pain on his back skin.
Blocking sun exposure is the only way to avoid sunburn. This can be accomplished by the use of a chemical sunscreen with a high SPF (such as a sunblock designed for babies) applied two or more times a day. Blocking the sun’s ultraviolet rays can also be done by putting a fly mask or summer sheet on the horse or by confining him to a barn or shady outdoor area during the day. A portable corral that can be moved around to follow the shade might be a useful solution if only a few horses are affected. Some horses, especially those that are white-faced are so susceptible for sunburn that it is best to turn them out only at night during the summer.
Don’t be too complacent if your light-skinned horse has never suffered from sunburn. Equine skin can become much more sensitive to the effects of ultraviolet light if a horse eats certain toxic pasture plants. Some types of liver disease as well as particular medications can also increase a horse’s sensitivity to sunlight.