It is no secret that the sun is strong in South Africa, and that any part of your horse’s skin that is not pigmented – these are areas of pink skin, such as pink noses and heels – can easily become burnt and will need protection. Horses with a lot of pink skin, such as cremellos and coloured horses are at additional risk of sunburn, and any horse that is clipped frequently, will need added protection.
Another related problem is photosensitisation. This happens when areas of lightly or unpigmented skin react abnormally to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. This reaction is caused by compounds that react with light being deposited in the skin. Causes of photosensitisation include some medications and plants like St John’s Wort. The symptoms include swelling, scab formation, bleeding and lots of pain.
To prevent both sunburn and photosensitisation you must use high-factor sunblock on pink skinned areas daily in the morning before turn-out. There are a few horse specific ones on the market, or one suitable for babies or children should be fine. If your horses skin is already inflamed use a zinc and castor oil-based nappy rash cream. The zinc oxide blocks the sun and also helps healing, but it can be sticky and messy to apply. Masks and sun shields are also available, and these can really help to protect the most vulnerable areas from the sun, but it is still a good idea to apply sunscreen. Sunscreen will also need to be applied for riding.
If you are concerned that your horse may be affected by photosensitisation, call your vet to ask them to come and examine, and keep the affected areas out of the sunlight. This is important as areas of photosensitisation can become infected secondarily, and this may need treatment with antibiotics or other suitable agents.
TOP TIP: When applying suncream, spread it over the palm of your hand first – this warms it to body heat, so it can be applied evenly and more effectively. It is also best to use waterproof sunscreen so that it does not come off his muzzle when he drinks water.