Sunburnt Horse: Symptoms and Treatment

Most horses spend the majority of their day outside, where they are susceptible to the effects of the sun. Horses get sunburnt just like humans do, suffering from many of the same symptoms that we suffer from when we get sunburnt.

So, how do you recognize and treat sunburn in horses? Your horse is sunburnt if their skin is red, hot to the touch, and blistering. This is most commonly recognized on horses with pink muzzles. You can treat the sunburn by removing your horse from the sun, cleaning the burn, and treating it with soothing ointments.

Sunburn is usually caused by overexposure to sunlight. Dealing with a horse that is susceptible to sunburn can be frustrating because we may feel that horses were meant to be outside enjoying the fresh air. I’ve dealt with a horse that got sunburnt easily, and I managed to learn which types of horses are more susceptible to sunburn and how to keep my horse from getting sunburnt all together. Today, I’d like to share with you what I learned:

Do All Horses Suffer from Sunburn?

We’ve all made the mistake of forgetting to apply sunscreen before going outside. Many times, you’ll come home with a sunburn. It’s irritating and uncomfortable and bad for your skin. The same thing can happen to horses if they aren’t properly protected from the sun.

I had a tovero pinto pony once who had a dominant white coat over pink skin. She sometimes suffered from sunburn very badly on her face, shoulders, and rump. Not all horses suffer from sunburn. The horses that are most likely to suffer from sunburn are horses that have light-pigmented skin, like the pony I had.

Many pinto horses can get sunburned because under their white coats is pink sensitive skin. To see what your horse’s skin pigment looks like, simply look through the coat to the roots of the hair.  Light-pigmented skin usually produces light-colored coats, so if your horse has a light coat, they may have that sensitive pink skin.

Horses that are solid colors but have a white blaze and a pink muzzle can get sunburned on their faces. The muzzle is the most common area that sees the effects of sunburn.

Once you know what type of horse is more prone to sunburn and what areas are most affected, you’ll be able to act ahead of time to ensure that they stay safe from the blaze of the sun.

How Can I Tell if My Horse is Sunburnt?

Sunburn on horses is like sunburn on humans; it’s painful and irritating. It can make the horse react negatively when touched in an affected area and head shy because of burns on the muzzle or other parts of the face.

The affected skin will become red and hot to the touch. It will peel and scab over. The skin can blister and hair can fall off. Severe sunburn can lead to skin damage and skin cancer in the horse.

The thing that made me first realize that my tovero pinto pony was sunburned was how much she reacted when I touched her. She had sunburn on her shoulder, and when I patted her, she winced and moved away, which was unlike her. Upon further examination, I noticed that her pink skin was a bit redder. I quickly determined that she was dealing with sunburn, due to her light coat and pink skin.

When a horse gets sunburnt on its muzzle, the skin will become scabby and it can look very painful. If the muzzle appears like this, it’s best to not bridle your horse, as the noseband could cause serious discomfort.

How Do I Treat Sunburn On My Horse?

There are a few things you can do to treat sunburn; the first thing would be to remove the horse from out of the sun if possible. This could look like stabling them during the day or turning them out in a shaded pasture. The skin will need time to heal, and if its constantly out in the sun, it’s just going to get worst.

If the sunburn is blistery and scabby, it’s best to clean the burn area to avoid infection. You can put Desitin (a.k.a baby butt cream) on the sunburned area to add relief and protection to the area. Desitin is a safe natural remedy that you can use on a number of ailments that your horse may face. If you’d like to read more about natural remedies for horses that actually work, click here.

Apply Desitin to the sunburnt area until it heals. The Desitin can also guard the area against the sun, so the horse can be turned-out again. Just be sure to reapply the Desitin a few times a day to optimize healing time.

Another thing to be aware of is that some plants and medications that your horse could be ingesting can cause your horse to become even more sensitive to sunlight. research your horse’s medication to see what side effects it could warrant, and search your pastures for plants like Buckwheat and Rye Grass. Even check the fly spray or show sheen you use to see if they could make your horse photosensitive.

As always, I recommend contacting a veterinarian if you are uncertain on how to proceed with a sunburnt horse or if your horse doesn’t seem to be getting better. Vets are trained professionals who have more insight into the health of horses than any of us ever will.

How Do I Keep My Horse From Getting Sunburnt?

Horses get sunburnt the same way humans do: by being out in the sun. If you have a horse that is prone to getting sunburnt, the best thing to do is to either stable them during the day and turn out at night or simply turn them out in an area that offers plenty of shade.

My pinto pony lived on turn-out 24/7, so when I noticed that she was getting sunburnt, I started turning her out in a field that offered more natural shade. This seemed to be enough to solve the problem.

If you don’t have another field you could turn your horse out in, you can apply sunscreen to your horse’s areas that tend to get burnt. Kids sunscreen will work and is gentle on their skin.

If this seems to be too much of a hassle, putting a fly sheet and fly mast on your horse will do the trick. These items are made to offer UV protection for your horse. You can check out the price of a UV protected fly sheet on Amazon by clicking here.

Horses will naturally tend to protect themselves from sunburn as well. If they have access to a mudhole or a puddle, horses will roll to coat themselves in the mud.

The mud has many benefits for them. When dried to the horse’s coat, mud keeps flies and bugs from irritating the skin; it also keeps them cool from the heat. Last but not least, the mud will protect the horse from getting sunburnt.

Another area of the body that can be negatively affected by too much sunlight is the eyes of the horse, especially if the horse has blue eyes. The pigment in blue eyes tends to be much more sensitive to the light compared to dark eyes. A UV protection fly mask will not only protect your horse’s pink skin but their eyes as well.

Mild sunburn in horses is something that’s easy to treat, but a nuisance to solve. By following some of the tips above, I hope that you’ll have success with keeping your horse safe from too much sun. Another thing to consider about sunny days is the heat that comes with them.

Hot days where the sun is glaring down can put your horse in danger of becoming too hot. If you’d like to know how to recognize if your horse is overheated, click here to read my article, How to Tell if a Horse is Too Hot.



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