What to Do About Your Horse’s Summer Skin Issues

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

BY JESS CLAWSON

We’re getting into summer weather now, and with no end to the rain in at least half the country, we’re all going to have to be keeping a close eye on our horses’ skin. 

The downside of giving your horses’ lots of turnout during this time of year are damp legs in the grass, getting ticks in his tail, and just dealing with general summer itchy skin stuff. Here’s what I do to keep my horse looking gorgeous and feeling great during the summer months:

Bugs

I take a two-pronged approach to insect prevention. In addition to just pulling ticks off when I find them, I really like the Freedom 45 Spot On Fly Control treatment. You just follow the instructions to apply it to various parts of the horse every two weeks. When I keep up with this, I find no ticks on my horse. He doesn’t seem to get those big, itchy bug bites either.

To keep flies off us when we’re riding, I love the Ecovet. Though I try to get our sweaty conditioning rides out in the fields done early in the morning during the summer, that’s not always possible. Ecovet keeps the bugs and the gnats off both of us, and makes those rides much more fun.

There are always the trusty bug control feed-throughs as well. Springtime Supplements makes Bug Off Garlic to keep the flies off all the time!

Leg Crud

We all know this one: those weird scabs on their cannon bones that look gross. My horse also gets an extra dose of scabs all over his hind pasterns and heels. I have to stay on top of it basically from when the last of the snow melts until the first hard freeze. 

One of the most important things we can do to keep the skin of their hind legs healthy is to keep them clean and dry. I never clip legs because the hair gives an extra layer of protection against the fungus and bacteria that causes the skin problems. I try not to get his hind legs wet when it can be avoided, but when I do have to wash his legs I towel dry them thoroughly. If he’s gotten his legs wet and dirty—like if we’ve been through a water jump or splashed in puddles—I’ll wash his legs with a gentle shampoo like Effol Ocean Star Spray Shampoo.

Your local drug store has a lot to help with prevention and treatment. There’s nothing on earth better than Desitin to keep the legs protected from moisture. I smear it on his heels before turnout if it’s going to be damp outside, and will often do that when we go cross country schooling and will be spending a lot of time in the water jumps. It’s also useful if the horse has a scrape on his leg somewhere that I’ll have to put a boot over. 

I also learned that the very best cure for rain rot and leg gunk is simple, inexpensive and available anywhere. Mix ¾ of a bottle of baby oil with ¼ chlorhexidine (also often called Nolvasan). Shake it up, and rub into affected parts of the leg and body. The chlorhexidine kills the bacteria and fungus that causes skin issues, and the baby oil softens the scabs so they’ll come off without causing the horse discomfort. Be aware that this combination will make them very photosensitive, so I don’t do this before I turn them out in the sun. It’s also fine to put Desitin right over it.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

Summer Itchies

A variety of things can make the horse itchy in the summer: the last of the spring coat shedding, bug bites, feeling sticky in the humidity. I think it’s important to run your hands over your horse a lot in the summer to make sure there aren’t any ticks or bug bites that might need your attention. Rinsing sweat off (don’t forget between the hind legs under the tail) helps a lot. Don’t neglect to wipe your horse’s face off with a damp rag and then dry it after riding to help keep their faces from getting itchy.

Effol makes a Skin Lotion that helps calm down itchy spots and thus promotes hair regrowth. Some medicated shampoos can help if the horse is having an allergic reaction to bugs or plants or something else, but if you’re planning to use another topical treatment on the skin, just make sure they won’t interact and cause further irritation.

Being diligent with your horse’s skin over the summer can avoid a lot of headaches for them and you. I hope everyone’s horses have a summer of happy skin and happy riding!