July 15, 2021
Your horse's skin has a lot of critical functions! The skin is the first line of your horse's immune defense system; it helps your horse's body thermoregulate and provides sensation. The skin also stores blood and is involved in vitamin D production.
The critical components of the horse's skin are the follicles, the sebaceous glands, and the sweat glands. The hair follicles create and grow hair. After a set amount of time, the hair is released for a new coat to come in. Attached to each follicle is a sebaceous gland. This magic gland makes sebum, whose only job is to provide anti-microbial protection for the skin and hair. Sebum is the natural oil that your horse makes, which also adds shine. The sweat glands release sweat, water, electrolytes, and latherin to help your horse cool off.
Skin Conditions and Fungal Infections of the Skin in Horses
Your horse's skin is susceptible to many types of skin infections, all caused by different pathogens. The best course of action is to consult with your veterinarian before tackling a skin problem. You will only waste time and money, and in some cases, cause your horse discomfort or itching for longer than necessary by experimenting. Find the root of the issue first!
Let's look at some common skin conditions in horses:
This bacterial skin infection causes small scabby spots with tufts of hair that can fall out. Rain rot may, or may not, be itchy.
Damp conditions are the perfect petri dish for these microbes to thrive. Examples of ideal rain rot situations are the sweaty horses with long coats, the clipped horse in a blanket that's too thick for the temperature, or the horse standing out in bad weather that has soaked to the skin.
It's contagious from horse to horse by sharing grooming tools, saddle pads, and blankets. You will also want to wash your hands. It's not infectious to humans, but you might pass it along to other horses in the barn.
Most horses clear up the infection with some daily grooming and skin health products.
Scratches or Mud Fever
The scabby sores on a horse's lower legs have many names - usually scratches, mud fever, greasy heel, or pastern dermatitis. While the specific bacterial culprit can vary, there's also the chance that fungal infections and other secondary infections can come along.
Dry and cracked skin, mud, and stripping away sebum with detergents is a formula for scratches to appear.
For most horses, keeping the legs clean and dry is the first step to healing. Your vet can direct you to leave the scabs alone or pick them in some rare cases. Skin heals under scabs, and revealing open sores can allow in more bacteria.
This skin condition produces sores and blisters, most commonly on chrome legs and other places with white hair and pink skin. Horses may accidentally eat a weed or plant, and the components of those weeds trigger a photosensitive reaction to UV rays. In other cases, a horse may have liver problems that trigger photosensitivity. This is painful, and many horses will start to burn in the first few minutes of turnout.
Photosensitivity looks a lot like scratches and sunburn. Blood work and some experimenting with UV-blocking products can help differentiate between photosensitivity and scratches.
Keep your horse's white areas covered! Better yet, provide turnout overnight instead of daytime hours. Cover your horse with fly sheets, masks, and boots.
Shoo Fly Leggins Fly Boots, 4 Pack
Made from flexible, plastic mesh to allow air circulation, Shoofly Leggins are easy to attach, comfortable to wear, and will not sag due to their unique sewn-in plastic stays.Shop This Product
Cashel Quiet-Ride Long Nose Fly Mask with Ears
The Cashel Quiet Ride Fly Mask offers comfortable, durable, and safe protection from flies. This mask can be worn over or under a bridle, and thanks to a lightweight, translucent mesh, your horse will be able to still see clearly while staying protected from flying pests.Shop This Product
Horseware Ireland Mio Flysheet with Attached Hood
Ensure your horse is protected and comfortable in this Horseware Ireland Amigo Mio Fly Sheet with Attached Hood. The soft-knit polyester mesh protects against flies while also providing breathability for superior comfort. Includes an attached hood for extra coverage.Shop This Product
It's rare for horses to get an actual fungal infection! Ringworm is one type of fungal infection and makes circular patches of hair loss. It is transmitted from horse to horse, and also from your horse to you! Isolate infected horses from the herd to prevent transmission.
You will need to clip the area around the lesions, clean them with chlorhexidine, and use topical or oral medications from your vet.
EQyss Micro-Tek Equine Shampoo
EQyss Micro-Tek Equine Shampoo is ideal for horses with sensitive or irritated skin. This pH balanced formula promotes healing and provides itch relief without irritating sensitive skin. EQyss Micro-Tek gently cleans without causing irritation, leaving your horse feeling refreshed and ready to ride.Shop This Product
Wahl Arco Equine 5-in-1 Clipper
Enjoy the convenience of having five blade sizes in one easy-to-adjust blade with the Wahl Arco 5-in-1 Cordless Equine Clipper. This lightweight, true cordless horse groomer makes it easy to precisely trim your horse's ears, muzzles, and bridle paths.Shop This Product
There are seemingly endless possibilities of things to trigger a horse's allergies. Horses can have food allergies, and they can also be allergic to topical products, insects, fabrics, and even detergents for washing horse laundry.
With the help of your vet, develop a plan for elimination testing. Remove all possible sources of irritants from your horse's life, then slowly add them back in every week or so. This may reveal the allergic reaction trigger!
Some horses are hypersensitive when it comes to a few midges, also known as gnats or no-see-ums. The bite from a few of these guys on your horse's topline creates an overdramatic allergic reaction and severe itching.
Most horses react by scratching until sores form, while more midges are biting and continuing the cycle.
The best treatments come from your vet in topical or oral form. Keep your horse inside under fans around dawn and dusk when these bugs are most active.
Prevention is Better Than a Cure
When it comes to preventing skin problems in horses, prevention goes a long way. Go back to the basics - focus on proper daily grooming, stimulating your horse's natural sebum to do its job as an anti-microbial barrier.
Curry more than you think you should. Only use mild shampoos designed for horses; stay away from Orvus, detergents, and dish soap that strip your horse's skin of sebum. Harsh products also create dry and brittle hair that will happily latch onto stains.
HandsOn Grooming Gloves
Your horse will find the grooming routine much more enjoyable when you handle the job wearing HandsOn grooming gloves. Used in place of the usual curry combs, mitts, and shedders, these horse groomers are designed with scrubbing nodules that thoroughly clean and de-shed the coat.Shop This Product
EQyss Premier Equine Shampoo
EQyss Premier Equine Shampoo intensifies colors and adds a high-gloss shine to coats, manes, and tails. This gentle horse shampoo is designed to restore moisture, balance, and strength to your horse's coat for a shiny and radiant appearance.Shop This Product
Become a fly sheet fan, and outfit your horse with the latest styles of sheets, masks, and boots. This mesh barrier helps with the bugs, and as a bonus, your horse won't be as muddy. He'll still get dirty, just not as much.
Some fly sprays also help reduce the likely hood of biting flies and midges annoying your horse. Read the instructions carefully, and apply to your horse after thorough grooming.
Ecovet All-Natural Fly Repellent
With an innovative formula featuring natural, insect-repelling fatty acids, Ecovet Fly Repellent is excellent for livestock and pets with sensitive skin. Tested and endorsed by veterinarians, this natural alternative to pesticides and toxic sprays protects horses from flies while also helping to soothe irritated skin.Shop This Product
Farnam Endure Sweat Resistant Fly Spray
The innovative Farnam Endure Sweat Resistant Fly Spray combines insect repellent with coat conditioner for your horse's comfort. This horse spray provides lasting protection from flies, gnats, mosquitoes, ticks, and lice, and it won't come off with sweat or rain.Shop This Product
More Tips for Your Horse's Healthy Skin and Coat
Brush off the hair from dry saddle pads and launder them frequently. Crusty saddle pads are irritating and harbor bacteria looking for a new home. Keep fly sheets clean, too!
Use your fingers to feel your horse's skin for bumps, bites, hives, and ticks. Insects LOVE to live in those tiny nooks and crannies around sheats, udders, butt cheeks, ears, elbows, and in the mane and tail.
Be proactive about calling your vet when you spot something that may be a skin problem brewing. Take photos to track the progression of things, and log start and stop dates of treatments and meds. This data will help determine what works and what doesn't!
Use clean grooming tools. No good comes from spreading dirt and dander and dried sweat around. It's also a good idea to keep a set of grooming tools for each horse in the barn.
Shop All Corro Grooming Supplies