Summer is a wonderful time of year, but it poses several risks for our equine friends. Dehydration and heat stress are only some of the problems our horses can suffer with in summertime, and I discussed this in a previous article. The sun and hard ground can also create some challenges.
Horses can develop sunburn from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. You will see the characteristic red, tender, and swollen skin that may crack and bleed. It’s usually on the pink skin of the muzzle and face, but it also can occur on non-pigmented skin over the body such as the shoulders, neck or hips. To prevent sunburn, apply zinc oxide sunscreen or use a UV protective fly mask with a nose flap or body sheet. If your horse does get sunburned, you can apply desitin or a silver sulfadiazine cream to keep the skin moisturized and minimize exposure of the burned area to the sun until healed.
Photosensitization may also occur in summertime and shouldn’t be confused with sunburn. This will typically present as painful skin blisters that will form tight and crusted scabs over the pink skinned areas on your horse, including those covered by hair. Photosensitization is caused by photodynamic compounds in the bloodstream that react with UV light. If you suspect that your horse has this condition, bring it into a darkened stable and call your veterinarian.
Another issue for horses in the summer is the hard ground. Blunt trauma from exercising on firm footing or stamping feet because of flies causes small blood vessels to rupture. This can lead to bruising of the soles. If a horse has bruised feet, you may notice it is reluctant to walk or they limp, especially on firm ground. The bruise can compromise the foot permitting bacteria to make its way in through cracks and allowing abscesses to form. Hoof abscess can cause severe lameness and needs to be drained for the lameness to resolve. You can help prevent bruises by using fly wraps or bands to help keep flies away from legs and avoiding or limiting exercise on hard ground. If your horse is prone to bruised feet, you can discuss using hoof pads or shoes with your farrier.