Sunburn can be very painful for horses, and even dangerous in extreme cases. It’s common for horses with white noses to suffer from sunburn, especially during the summer months when the sun is strongest. Horses are frequently affected by sunburn, but there are a number of ways to protect them.
Types of Horses Most Prone to Sunburn
According to horse trainer and breeder Jeffrey Rolo, horses with lighter colored hair are more susceptible to sunburns. Because lighter colored horses also have lighter colored skin, they lack the high amount of skin pigment that darker horses have, making it easier for them to burn. Horses with white coat patterns such as Appaloosas, Paints and Pintos would be likely to burn easily.
The horse’s nose is very vulnerable to being burned. Rolo states that any area on the horse’s body with little or no hair will be prone to sunburn. Such areas include the eyes, the ears, the vulva and especially the horse’s nose. The nose is usually the first area to burn, and it will burn sooner if the horse has white on its face and if the skin of the nose is normally pink.
According to Rolo, the signs of sunburn in horses are the same as they are in people. The horse’s skin will turn a deep pink or reddish color. In more severe burns, the affected areas can swell and blister. The skin can also dry and crack, even resulting in hair loss.
The Use of Sunscreen
According to Lydia F. Gray, DVM, sunscreen can be a valuable tool in protecting your horse’s nose from sunburn. Although there are sunscreens made for use on horses, it is safe to use human sunscreen on horses as well. Sunscreen should be applied to the horse’s nose 1/2 hour before it will be exposed to the sun; it should be thoroughly rubbed into the horse’s skin. Sunscreen should be reapplied every 2 hours, as well as after exercising, bathing or grooming.
Additional Preventative Measures
Dr. Gray suggests that providing a physical barrier from the sun may help protect a horse’s nose. The sun is strongest between 10 am and 4 pm, so during this time white horses are safest from sunburn indoors, or at least within a shelter where they can get out of the sun. Night turnout during the summer months can mean that horses avoid the strongest sunlight. Longer fly masks, which extend to the horse’s muzzle, can also lessen the effects of the sun on the horse’s nose.