I guess I’ve always been lucky, because my horses and ponies have always had pretty tough skin. It’s probably the Welsh in them, but I’ve not needed sun cream, suffered with rug rubs, or really put a second thought to sensitive skin.
Now however, I know a lot of horses with thin skin, who are very sensitive and it’s made me realise how many problems can occur.
Firstly, the risk of tack rubs is far higher. And it’s not just the fact they get a rub from the girth, it’s the fact they go from perfectly intact skin to red raw in an instant. On Otis, and many others I know, it’s a longer process with a couple of warning signs which allows you to protect the area. Dirty tack, particularly saddle cloths, can cause irritation to the skin.
So to accessorise your tack, horses with sensitive skin usually need a girth sleeve, sheepskin pads for nosebands and other areas; and saddle cloths need washing more frequently so the hard, dirty areas won’t rub. If you`re horse is prone to girth galls then rubbing surgical spirit into the area to help harden the skin. Girths that are a cutaway style can be beneficial, as can the smoother, softer materials because that reduces the friction between girth and skin (as well as washing them frequently).
Even the softest leather, or best fitting tack can cause random sores and hair loss. Which makes it really hard if you need to keep a headcollar on in the field!
Other tack issues you may encounter are rubs from brushing boots, or bandage rubs.
Horses with sensitive skin are also less tolerant of poor post-exercise care. Any dried on sweat is more likely to irritate cause sores. However, a sensitive skinned horse may also be less tolerant of being washed, particularly with cold water. After I ride the Diva, and he`s sweaty, I wash him off well, but each time the sponge touches him he shivers and fidgets. Think of someone dipping their toe into the swimming pool on a hot day! You also cant get away with not grooming your horse before riding because any grain of mud will be sure to get under the tack…
Rugs are more likely to cause rubs, even with the most careful of fitting, or with vests. And the rubs can be anywhere – point of shoulder, withers, shoulder blade… – you couldn’t go away and leave your horse’s rug on, it would need checking and adjusting every day. On a side note, fly masks also tend to rub sensitive skin, even when they have fleecy edgings.
Thin skinned horses are also more sensitive to flies, which means they need to wear a fly rug … cue the problems above. And whilst being ridden they tend to get more disgruntled due to flies. Sometimes they are more sensitive to rashes if you pass nettles or other prickly undergrowth on hacks.
Going back to the summer months (we were on them when we talked about flies); horses who have sensitive skin, and are grey, are at risk of sun burn. Which along with increased sensitivity to flies, means that their eyes often have discharge and they need to wear fly masks that have a nose net.
I`m sure I could go on, but working with some horses with sensitive skin made me really appreciate Otis and his tough exterior!
Does anyone have any management tips for those who own sensitive skinned horses?