As the largest organ, the horse’s skin is designed to protect all other organs and body systems within. The skin is a matrix of multiple layers of cells, containing sweat glands, blood vessels, nerve endings, touch receptors, pores, hair and other structures. The skin has to withstand viral, bacterial, parasitic and fungal intrusions, bites, stings, wounds, bruising and chemical applications. Most of these promote uncomfortable, itchy skin in the horse.
Most ailments resulting in the desire to rub and scratch are due to problems caused by small, wriggling creatures, even smaller irritating organisms, or contact with substances to which the animal is allergic.
Amongst the creatures are mites, lice and midges. Mites most commonly affect only the lower limbs up to the knees and hocks in horses. Heel mites are microscopic and quite hard to diagnose even under the microscope. They occur commonly in heavily feathered horses/ponies. Horses with itchy legs normally stamp their feet, scratch their legs with the opposite limb, or bite at their legs. Scratching and biting can cause secondary bacterial problems which are often mistaken for uncomfortable mud issues. A horse which appears to have mud issues in dry weather is likely to have heel mites. Balding of the mane and tail including around the head and face could be caused by bird mite. Swallows and sparrows nesting in the stable can transmit these mites onto the horse causing itching that may be mistaken for other causes. Neem oil can be used neat and massaged into problem areas or sprayed liberally.
As with humans, skin problems in horses are hugely varied. A common scenario might be finding your horse covered in small bumps but seemingly unbothered by them. No action is taken and, in a few hours, the bumps subside and are soon forgotten - although possibly a new bottle of shampoo is thrown away!
It's not always so simple. For reasons that are not fully understood, in some horses something triggers the release of prostaglandins and other substances. The results can be itchiness and rubbing, patchy hair loss, bumps and crusting. This can be long-term, frustrating (for horse and owner!) and potentially debilitating, but, when a horse's is obviously unhappy, action needs to be taken.
Aloe vera has long since been recognized to help in the healing process of minor wound care and to soothe irritated skin. Researchers have identified a glycoprotein in it that promotes cell growth. When combined with aloe’s gel-like binding quality, an environment conducive to growth and healing is created. The effect is significant acceleration of minor wound healing and scar reduction. Applied to areas Aloe vera can help cool itchy, distressed skin tissue. Aloe should always be at hand to soothe sunburn mostly found on delicate pink skin of a horse’s nostrils and ears. Application of Pro-Equine’s Lavender Sunblock protects from sun damage.
Arnica is derived from a yellow mountain daisy that grows in Europe also known as leopard’s bane. Arnica has traditionally been used for bruising as it works on the circulation by encouraging white blood cell activity and influencing the healing time. Aloe and Arnica gel can be used for muscle and tendon trauma and should be applied after an event to promote speedy recovery of damaged capillaries and haematoma dispersion. Often it is difficult to see a bruise on a horse’s body due to the horse’s coat. More frequently, you can detect a bruise by heat radiating from the area and a reaction when you touch it. Bruises found in the hoof sole are easier to notice due to heat and colouring and the horse being unsound.