Burnt Ends, or Preventing Your Horse from Getting Sunburned

As a redhead with fair skin and freckles (I’ve been known to sport the nickname of “Magnesium” and to wear it well), I go through a LOT of sunblock. Neutrogena UVA/UVB Helioplex SPF 100 is my general go-to bottle, and I use the Neutrogena Wet Skin sunblock when I go out paddle boarding on Lake Austin. It adheres directly to wet skin, making it possible for me to enjoy outdoor water sports in the summer. If it weren’t for Neutrogena, I’d have to sport a neoprene burqa to survive summers in Texas.

But what about horses, particularly those with pink noses? What about Appaloosas and Paint horses? Can horses get sunburned?

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Sadie Shows Off Her Sunburned Nose –photo credit Marti Bering (Sadie’s momma)

As you can see, the answer to that is a resounding yes, as poor Sadie here so aptly demonstrates.

Preventing Sunburns for Your Horse

Horses with pink skin, particularly Appaloosas and Paints, are especially susceptible to sunburns. However, before you start slathering your sunblock on your horse, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Sunblock–Human-grade sunblock–and there are any number of good sunblocks available–can be used on horses. Ensure that you’re using a good, wide-spectrum sunblock for both UVA and UVB rays, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions on usage and how often to reapply.
  • Long-nosed fly masks–These rather ingenious face coverings provides sun protection for both the eye and pinks skin around a horse’s eye area. Because Appaloosas and Paint horses can have glass eyes and pink skin around their eyes, they are at a greater risk for this type of cancerous growths and damage.The Cashel Crusader seems to be a popular option, blocking as much as 70% of the sun’s UV rays. As an added bonus, if you decided to go to the Renaissance Fair later that evening, your horse is already dressed and ready for action!
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The Cashel Crusader (TM) Long-Nosed Fly Mask

But My Horse Already Has a Sunburn…

Despite best efforts and good intentions, sunburns happen. If there anything to be done once your horse is already sunburned? Fortunately, there is, and different ideas have been collated here. Before using any of these remedies, remember to test the cream or diluted oil on a test patch of skin to ensure that your horse will not have an adverse or allergic reaction.

  • Wintergreen oil–When added directly to mosquito bites and smaller burns, it will take the sting out almost immediately and make a mosquito bite a bit more tolerable (meaning you won’t scratch yourself to death). For your horse, add a few drops to an ounce of water and spray on an affected area.
  • Hydrocortisone cream–Cortisones are a topical steroid, and using a 1% hydrocortisone cream can help with the pain and swelling of sunburned areas. (Note: using a stronger cortisone cream is not recommended.)
  • Desetin or Burt’s Bees Baby Diaper Creme–These thick, rich creams work quite well to soothe crispy, sunburned noses. Burt’s Bees Diaper Creme also has zinc oxide in it for sun protection.

I also found these rather interesting natural recipes for sunburned horses at www.heavenlygaitsequinemassage.com. To be honest, they look like they would work pretty well on either horses or people. (So yes, I may try this the next time I miss the middle of my back when I’m out paddle boarding.)

Nan Martin’s Sunburn Spritzer

  • 1 oz. – purified water
  • 2-4 drops – lavender essential oil
  • 1 drop – helichrysum essential oil
  • 1/2 tsp – pure organic aloe vera
  1. Combine all ingredients in a dark-colored glass spray bottle and shake well.
  2. Test the mixture on a small area of your horse’s skin. If there is no allergic reaction, spray the mixture on affected areas.
  3. Store the mixture in a cool, dry place.

Apple-Cider Vinegar Cooling Soak

  • 1 cup – purified water
  • 2 drops – peppermint essential oil
  • 2 tbsp – apple cider vinegar
  1. Combine the above ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Soak a washcloth in the solution and then test the mixture on a small area of your horse’s skin. If there is no allergic reaction, soak the washcloth again and place it directly on the sunburned area.
  3. Repeat as needed. Alternatively, pour the mixture in a dark-colored spray bottle and spritz onto the affected areas.

LavaDerm Cooling Mist Spray

For those of us that are not used to making our own at-home remedies, LavaDerm is a mix of lavender oil, aloe vera, and different trace minerals that help with skin hydration. It comes highly recommended, plus I bet it smells fantastic. If you need a good online supplier of high-quality oils, you cannot do much better than Mountain Rose Herbs.

What About Legs?

Horses with white stockings and pink skin can get sunburns on their legs, but this is generally not as common. The skin on a horse’s leg is thicker and has more hair than that of the muzzle. Sunburns on a horse’ leg are generally seen as part of a secondary, plant-based reaction to grasses such as clover. If your horse has sunburns on its legs, be certain to talk to your veterinarian about your horse’s diet and any herbicides that may have been used on the pasture.

Horses enjoy sunny days and nice weather just like we do, but a little preparation and planning can help you to ensure that both you and your horse enjoy these long, lazy days without adverse effect.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Greg says:

    Thank you a lot for sharing this! I recently learned that cats with a light color can get sunburn, progressing to cancer. This fact shocked me! And now I come across this article. Summer is coming and now I’ll be more responsible for the health of my horses’ skin. (I own a farm near Dallas, so this problem is also relevant to me.)


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