Equine care question: Can horses sunburn?

Should horse owners take precautions to prevent equine sunburn?

Sunny days bring welcome outdoor excursions for equestrians and their horses. What could be more appealing to an equine than the great out of doors? However, for many horses, this bright blessing of nature may come with an increased risk – a sore sunburn.

Is sunburn a danger for horses?

Sunburn can certainly be a threat to horses, causing discomfort and even skin cancer (in the most serious cases). Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer found in horses, and this may frequently be traced to severe sunburns from ultraviolet (UV) exposure in sunlight.

Cremello Horse - public domain photo

What sorts of horses are most likely to experience sunburn?

Usually, light-colored horses are most susceptible to sunburn. Appaloosas, Cremello Horses, Paint Horses, Perlino Horses, Pinto Horses and other pale horses can burn easily in the sun.

Any horse with white markings or patches may be at risk of sunburn, particularly with lengthy sun exposure. Horses may have white markings (with pink skin underneath their hair) on their faces, legs, backs, bellies or anywhere on their bodies. These light-colored regions are most susceptible to sun damage, as they carry minimal skin pigmentation.

Dark-haired horses (and dark patches on multi-hued horses) carry considerably more skin pigmentation, which protects them from the sunlight far more than their lighter-colored equine counterparts. However, horses with dark hair (such as bay horses, black horses and chestnut horses) may experience some fading or dappling of their coats with lengthy exposure to the sun. This is not physiologically harmful, but it can change the appearance of these equines.

Graphic created by this user. All rights reserved.

What additional risk factors may increase sunburn in horses?

Extended exposure to sunlight is the most prominent risk factor, leading to a horse’s vulnerability to sunburn. An equine that spends many hours (or all day) in a bright and sunny pasture without shade options may be most likely to experience sunburn – particularly if he or she has light coloring.

Additionally, some weeds can increase a horse’s risk of developing sunburn by raising his or her photosensitivity (or sensitivity to the sun’s ultraviolet rays), if the horse ingests these weeds. These plants include bindweed, buckwheat, certain clovers, ragwort, rye, St. John’s Wort and more.

Equines suffering from liver disease (or those taking antibiotic and certain other medications) may also be extra photosensitive, putting them at increased risk of sunburn.

What are the symptoms of sunburn in horses?

Sunburned horses will usually have pink or reddish skin, which may be peeling, blistering or even oozing. A horse with sunburn may also have flaking or cracking skin, scabs or swollen areas.

If a horse becomes sunburned on his or her back or withers, the horse may not be able to carry a saddle or rider comfortably until the sunburned area has healed.

Of course, horses can be protected from sunburn by the use of sunscreen products, summer horse garments (such as fly masks and light sheets) and strategic use of pasturing (including shade offerings).

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Book Review: Totally Buzzed

A Miller Sisters Mystery by Gale Borger

Buzz Miller is quite a character. The spunky retired police detective of rural White Bass Lake, Wisconsin, carries an almost uncanny ability to attract missteps and mishaps, even murder and mayhem, as Totally Buzzed: A Miller Sisters Mystery, by Gale Borger, details.

Totally Buzzed: A Miller Sisters Mystery is a comical mystery (or perhaps a mysterious comedy), with more than 80,000 words of racing dialogue, colorful description and somewhat circuitous action. The tangled plot holds readers’ interest, right from the intriguing and wholly surprising first few pages.

The story line of Totally Buzzed: A Miller Sisters Mystery begins with a start, as Buzz Miller and her sister Mag (The Maggot) Miller discover a neighbor’s corpse under their own mother’s house. Within a few pages, Buzz and Mag are trailing smugglers, horse murderers, international drug traffickers and other unsavory sorts – all while trying to stay alive.

Reviewer’s Note:
This book reviewer received a complimentary copy of the book described and evaluated here, although the reviewer has no prior or existing relationship (either familial or professional) with the author or publisher.

This wise-cracking, but action-filled novel does not aim at literary circles. Instead, it is a worthy reading endeavor for popular-level readers. Although much of the plot of Totally Buzzed: A Miller Sisters Mystery focuses on equestrian stables and rural town settings, the mystery novel holds interest for general interest readers as well. The book includes adventure, comedy, intrigue, romance and satire.

Gale Borger’s extensive first-hand experience in detective work, forensic sciences, and police procedure is evident in the content of Totally Buzzed: A Miller Sisters Mystery. Although significant technical vocabulary is included in some sections of the book, readers need not be experts to follow the content.

Overall, this is a quick read and a most entertaining one. It is easy to see, based on her debut novel, why friends and colleagues have tagged Gale Borger as a lively companion and an engaging storyteller.

Published in August 2010 by Echlon Press, Gale Borger’s Totally Buzzed: A Miller Sisters Mystery is available in eBook and trade paperback formats.

Gale Borger’s additional titles include

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Book Review: Playing with Lukas

Playing with Lukas: How a Woman and a Horse Found a Private World of Animal Intelligence and Themselves, by Karen Murdock

Who is the world’s smartest horse?

For at least a century, horse lovers have pointed to Jim Key, the clever trick horse of Civil War veteran William Key, D.V.M., as the smartest horse ever. Today, however, a chestnut thoroughbred gelding named Lukas (registered as “Just Ask Mike”), may have challenged Jim Key’s longstanding status for equine intelligence. 

Playing with Lukas, by Karen Murdock, offers an inside look at a remarkable partnership between a human and a horse. Lukas, a discarded retired racehorse, was labeled unmanageable and unfit for jumping, dressage or any other equestrian discipline. With two bowed tendons and an unimpressive racing record, the horse was headed for a most uncertain future.

However, Karen Murdock, a determined horsewoman and former psychiatric nurse, saw a potential in the off-the-track thoroughbred (OTTB) and rescued him. With plenty of time, careful observation, training and patient interaction, Karen Murdock and Lukas actually rescued one another, forming an astonishing alliance through trick training and horse play. The retired racehorse, once deemed distrusting and dangerous, surprised Karen Murdock and the equestrian world with his ability to balance such physical challenges as the passage and Spanish walk with such cognitive achievements as matching colors, shapes and numbers.

In her 2010 book, racehorse rescuer and trainer Karen Murdock outlines this process, sharing her personal experience with her now treasured equine companion. What is Karen Murdock’s secret, as she works with a challenging off-the-track thoroughbred? “A genuine sense of appreciation and enthusiasm go a long way in training – and in life,” she writes. Perhaps herein lies a lesson for us all.

Karen Murdock’s book, which began as a collection of training tips, actually offers more of a personal memoir. The opening pages of Playing with Lukas, by Karen Murdock, include dozens of quotations and endorsements from diverse equestrian leaders and animal lovers. Playing with Lukas is filled with personal anecdotes and memorable musings from the author, who traces her seven-year initial relationship with Lukas, as he learned to trust her and to perform far beyond anyone’s expectations.

“When your training is correct,” Karen Murdock says, “the tricks are only a by-product and happen in an almost effortless, uncalculated way.” The author confesses that she does not even own a horse whip.

Included in Playing with Lukas, by Karen Murdock, is plenty of the author’s own biography, setting the stage for her compassionate friendship with her special rescue horse. With a difficult childhood and few long-term relationships, the author’s own personal transformation of trust is as amazing as that of her beloved Lukas.

Early in her story, Karen Murdock pens this most telling statement about Lukas, her equine companion and project: “I now knew that I wouldn’t give up on him the way I had been cast off. I was determined to find a way through.”

Available in paperback and Kindle formats, Playing with Lukas is an intriguing and heart-warming read for anyone who loves horses or simply a feel-good story. The book displays penetrating insights into the possibilities of human-to-animal friendships. Could it be that animals (such as horses) are smarter than humans may have suspected?

The author’s technical training tips may prove useful to equestrians. Many horseback riding enthusiasts may be surprised to discover how much of the horse training and equestrian recreation may occur on the ground, rather than under saddle. What’s more, Karen Murdock’s transparent tracing of her own personal development make Playing with Lukas a gripping read, filled with hope and potential.

Reviewer’s Note:
This book reviewer received a complimentary copy of the book described and evaluated here, although the reviewer has no prior or existing relationship (either familial or professional) with the author or publisher.

Lukas quickly became a darling of the equestrian world, thanks to owner/trainer/author Karen Murdock and her compassionate network of horse-lovers. Major media outlets (such as ABC, CBS, CNN, HLN, NBC and RFD), major media (such as the Associated Press, American Horse Publications, Blood Horse Magazine, The Mane Point and The Horse) and internet sites (such as EquiSearch and Equine Connection) have featured Karen Murdock and Lukas, tagging him the world’s smartest horse.

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What happens to racehorses, once they are no longer fit to race? Beyond the Homestretch, by Lynn Reardon, traces the development of a racehorse rescue program. Beyond the Homestretch is a worthy read for anyone who loves horses.
Credit: Beyond the Homestretch: What I've Learned from Saving Racehorses, by Lynn Reardon  |  © Cover photo from press packet
About the Author: Karen Murdock

Karen Murdock, author of Playing with Lukas, is a retired nurse who has spent more than three decades working with difficult horses. Throughout her equine experience, Karen Murdock has employed clicker training, liberty exercises and positive reinforcement to build confidence and willing compliance with her horses. Karen Murdock is based in Walnut, California.

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