Horses Get Sunburned Too

Get out the sun block.

A sunburn on a horse can really be a bad thing as the more severe burns will blister. These blisters are very painful to the horse and it is not uncommon for them to cause a horse to become head shy.

During the summer months, put spf 30 or higher sun block on horses with bald (white) faces and on those who have white on their face and nose with pink skin. The nose is the most sensitive place and more susceptible to sunburn, however, horses can be sunburned in other areas too. Foals, weanlings and yearlings are especially sensitive to sunburn. Pink skinned horses can have issues with skin cancer (squamous cell carcinoma).

Putting sun block on a horse is not always the easiest thing to do. Please remember, you do not need to rub it in. In fact, it will give better protection if put on thick, so it shows white. Also, trying to rub it in can be irritating to the horse and give more headaches to you than necessary.

Try to make sun block application a 'non-event' by doing it quickly and without a lot of fuss. Keep it in a warm place so it does not feel cold going on. Do not slap it on the horse's nose as that will create a negative memory that may stay with the horse a long time. Remember, it doesn't have to be perfect when they are out in a pasture - they don't care what they look like.

It is also suggested that you completely untie your horse before applying sunscreen - if the horse has a problem with the application, it could easily turn into a panic pull (which is dangerous to you and them).

At Risk Horses
Some horses - primarily bald faced horses - get severely sunburned and blister all over because they have a sensitivity to the sun. Much like some people, some horses sunburn easily and need added protection.

If you have a horse that has a history of bad sunburns, or your horse has a severe burn (blisters, healing blisters) - this horse should be kept in the shade during the summer daytime hours between about 9am - 3:00pm. This is the easiest way to prevent further burning, if you have this option available. If you do not have a way to pen in or stable a horse during the day, then a full faced mask is necessary for healing.

Facial sunburn is tough on horses because we (humans) often want to put things on their head to handle and ride them. When that becomes a painful experience, it can be one the horse carries with them for a long time - in some cases for life.

If you are keeping your horse in during the day and also applying sunscreen before turn out (even late-day turn out) and your horse is still blistering, this could be an allergic reaction, or other bacteria or virus, and then the best thing to do is call your vet for further investigation.

Keep in mind, horses with a sensitivity to sun may actually have photosensitivity (not uncommon), which is related to liver disease. This can be caused by mold infected clover (increased risk this year).

Horse owners need to make sure to evaluate their pastures, remove horses if they see the mold on clover (only clover - not grasses) and keep horses inside (out of UV light) for 24-48 hours after exposure to lessen injury. For complete information on photosensitivity and this year’s high risk, please see:

Bottom line: Protect your horses from the sun. A horse with a sunburn that does not readily heal should be assessed by a veterinarian.

This article brought to you by the MN Horse Council Education Committee. Please direct questions or comments to

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