With the return of sunny weather, you’ll want to protect your skin from damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays. Don’t forget to do the same for your horse, especially if he has pink skin with sparse hair covering---on the muzzle and around the eyes, for example.
Sunburn would not only make your horse uncomfortable, it could increase his risk of developing certain cancers and tumors in that area.
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The most reliable sun protection for most of your horse’s face is a fly mask made with UV-blocking fabric. As long as he wears it regularly, you won’t have to worry about sunburn around his eyes. Some models even incorporate muzzle flaps to protect pink skin on the nose.
If a mask doesn’t work for your horse, you can use human sunscreen on his vulnerable patches of skin. If possible, store a tube just outside his stall so you’ll be less likely to forget to apply it when you turn him out. Be careful, however, to avoid getting sunscreen in his eyes, which can be painful.
Another option is a zinc oxide cream, such as Desitin. Because these ointments are much thicker than conventional sunscreens, they are less likely to be rubbed off as a horse grazes. And, because of their white color, it’s easy to see when they have worn off and need to be reapplied. The downside is zinc oxide ointments can be greasy and messy.
Remember that sunburn affects only hairless or near-hairless areas of your horse. If an area of skin fully covered by white coat suddenly becomes tender, blisters or peels, your horse may be suffering from photosensitization. This condition is much more serious than sunburn and requires veterinary attention.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #465, June 2016.