Tips to Protect Your Horse’s Skin In All Kinds of Weather

Posted on
October 28, 2019
a black horse running in a field
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Living in an area with changing seasons means we have to adapt to the cold, the warm, and everything in between. When temperatures drop, our skin needs a little extra TLC, as the dry air just seems to suck out the moisture. The same goes for our hair-- whether we’re outside battling cold wind or inside in a dry, heated office, our hair and skin can pay a price. The warm weather offers its own challenges as well-- extra moisture in the air can cause oily skin to overreact and cause blemishes. We also have to protect our skin from the powerful summer sun that can really leave a burn if we don’t apply an appropriate amount of sunblock.

Our horses are no different, and their skin and coats react to the changes in temperatures, humidity levels, and seasons as well. You want to make sure your horse is comfortable no matter what the season, so keep reading to learn:

  • Why do horses need seasonal protection?
  • Best ways to help your horse’s skin in the summer
  • How to keep your horse’s skin and coat feel good in the winter

horse in the pasture
Horses’ skin and coats can be prone to issues, so make sure you are keeping them well groomed and their stall clean.

Do Horses’ Skin Need Protection?

Horses have sensitive skin too!

In short, yes, horses need protection for their skin just like humans do. When the seasons change, it can bring about new challenges for horse owners to help their horses’ skin looking and feeling their best. But not all skin issues stem from the changes in temperature. Before we examine the ways to best protect your horse’s skin from season challenges, let’s first take a look at skin issues that can pop up and require treatment no matter what time of year it is.

Rain Rot

All horses are susceptible to this skin disorder regardless of whether or not they have sensitive skin. This is a painful skin issue that is caused by the bacterium dermatophilus congolensis that can lay dormant in some horses. Those horses that are carriers can then develop rain rot where there has been skin trauma as well as consistently over-wet fields/pastures or stall bedding. Lesions will begin to appear along with matted hair typically along the back and rump of your horse. 

Horses are not likely to develop rain rot when there is good drainage in place in stalls, fields, and paddocks. Always ensure there is a dry place available for your horse if you turn them out to pasture-- it’s a good idea to have a run in shed for this purpose. But even outdoor stabling can be prone to dampness. Ensure that the run in shed does not collect water, and if there is any bedding area, that it is also regularly cleaned and kept dry.

If your horse does develop rain rot, you’ll need to bathe them with gentle, antibacterial shampoo as well as enlist the help of your vet to clear up this skin issue.


Ringworm is a highly contagious skin problem that can affect horses and typically shows up as circular patches of bald or scaly skin. The best protection for this issue is prevention, so ensure that you are regularly cleaning and disinfecting grooming tools. This is very necessary even if there are no cases of ringworm in your stable. Any tools that touch the hair and skin of your horse should be soaked in a very mild bleach solution to prevent ringworm from starting and spreading.

If your horse does contract ringworm, your vet will recommend rinsing the areas with anti-fungal solution to stop its spread. This can take over a week and should be monitored daily. Once the spread of the lesions stops, the skin should start to look healthy again and hair should begin to grow back.


Because horses are often outside for long periods of time, they can also be subjected to the bites of insects-- which can prove to be very irritating to their skin. Some insects that may bite your horse produce a saliva that can irritate their skin and even cause an allergic reaction. Swelling and extreme itchiness are usually the reactions horses have to insect bites, which can cause them to go to extremes to alleviate the itch. To prevent your horse from rubbing their skin raw, make sure you apply an effective insect repellent to keep these problem insects away from your horse. 

It is also recommended that you keep your horse indoors at dawn and dusk, as these are the most common times for bothersome insects to feed. Ensure that your stable is also equipped with screens over windows to prevent excess insects. If the problem is still there even after the other precautions are in place, utilize a fly sheet for when your horse is outdoors.

horse laying down
Image courtesy of Horse Health Products. Horses love to soak up the sun, just make sure they’re protected while doing so.

Best Ways to Protect Your Horse’s Skin in the Summer

Sun issues

When the warmer weather comes back, horses seem to know. They can’t wait to get outside to their pastures in order to run and graze freely. They also like to take some time for much needed back scratches in the dirt, along with some lazy sunshine napping. These are all great things for your horse, and they are encouraged, but just be aware of some of the problems that can arise when it comes to the summer sun. Because the rays and intensity of the sun are stronger during these months, you’re going to need to take some precautions.

The most obvious problem, just like in humans, is the chance that your horse could get sunburn. This is especially true for horses with sensitive skin or who have lighter colored coats (e.g. grays, Appaloosas, or paints). Overexposure to the sun can cause their skin to turn red, blister, peel, or become very sensitive. In order to prevent this, it is important to apply a high SPF sunscreen to lighter colored areas as well as sensitive areas around the eyes and muzzle. Having a spray with zinc in it that will not come off when your horse rolls is another good way to prevent some uncomfortable burns.


Another issue that involves too much sun exposure is photosensitization, which causes skin sensitivity to UV light. If a horse ingests plants that have photodynamic pigments, these pigments eventually make it to the horse’s coat, where sunlight activates the problem. Photosensitization can also occur in horses when there is liver damage, which can cause a build up of photosensitive toxins.

To prevent photosensitization, limit the amount of time your horse is outdoors, and always ensure there is adequate shade available. It is also crucial that you manage the type of plants in the pasture for your horse to graze on, and ensure it is free of those plants that can cause photosensitization.

horses grazing in winter
Even in cold weather, horses need exercise and can benefit from turn out time.

How to Protect Your Horse's Skin in the Winter

Cold weather problems

Just because the weather is colder doesn’t mean your horse wants to stay inside all day! The issues that can affect your horse’s skin during the cold winter months are mostly due to the cold weather drying out your horse’s skin, as well as the longer coats they grow as a protection. Horses can be afflicted by dandruff and dry skin just like people can, so it is important to maintain a good grooming schedule regardless of the temperatures. If your horse’s skin looks particularly irritated, consider a warm bath to help soothe their dry and alleviate dandruff.

Although mentioned above, ringworm and rain rot can especially be a problem during the winter months. When the weather is colder, horses are typically stalled for a greater portion of the day, which can lead to some of these skin issues. Ensure that your stalls are always clean and dry, and do not allow a build up of moisture. Ringworm is very contagious, and when one horse is affected, it is very easy to spread to another.

Lice and dermatitis

Lice is another concern among horse owners in the winter months. As the cold weather sets in, horses can grow a longer winter coat that is good for insulating their bodies against the cold. However, the longer hair can provide a good breeding ground for lice. Consider keeping their tails and manes trimmed, and always ensure your horse receives a good curry groom throughout the winter. Some horse owners also choose to trim sections of the horses coat as well, in order to break it up and prevent lice or the spread of lice.

Soiled bedding or common areas can cause your horse’s skin to develop a dermatitis that is referred to as bed itch. Usually this problem occurs on the thighs and elbows of a horse. It is imperative that their stall and grooming tools are kept clean and dry, and you are diligent about ensuring they are always well groomed.

Horses can be subjected to various kinds of seasonal skin issues, just like people. It is important that you as an owner are responsible for the diligent upkeep of the cleanliness of your barn, and ensure that your horses’ needs are well looked after-- regardless of the temperatures outside. Follow these tips to keep your horse’s skin happy in all weather!

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Posted on
October 28, 2019

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