A close up of two brown ponies called treacle and candy in purple and blue reins, eating grass in a field

Skin conditions in horses

There are many different equine skin conditions that can affect your horse.

The earlier you spot a skin condition on your horse, the easier it is to treat, so remember to check your horse daily for signs of skin conditions.


If you're worried about your horse's skin, contact your vet for advice. They will be able to help you manage your horse's condition.


Ringworm is a contagious infection of the skin caused by a type of fungus that can be found in soil. It is often spread between horses, but your horse can also be exposed to it when rolling on the ground or lying down. It can also spread by contact with contaminated objects such as fencing or grooming equipment.

Ringworm is highly contagious to other horses and people, so strict hygiene measures must be put in place.

Symptoms of ringworm

Ringworm shows initially as tufts of raised hair, which eventually fall off, leaving weeping wounds. The weeping wounds are often circular in shape, but they can vary in size and density.

Ringworm can appear anywhere on your horse's body, but will usually affect their head, neck, saddle and girth regions.

If you think your horse is suffering with ringworm, isolate them from other horses and contact your vet.

Treating ringworm

It's important to begin treatment for ringworm as soon as possible to prevent it from spreading. Depending on your horse's condition, your vet may recommended an antifungal shampoo, spray or cream.

If you think you have caught ringworm from your horse, speak to your local pharmacist for advice.


Remember to wear disposable gloves when treating your horse to protect yourself from ringworm.

Preventing ringworm from spreading

Ringworm spreads through direct and indirect contact, either from horse to horse, or through your horse's equipment. If your horse is suffering from ringworm, you should adhere to strict hygiene measures by:

  • isolating your horse from other horses to prevent direct contact
  • wearing protective clothing and gloves to protect yourself
  • not sharing rugs between horses
  • not grooming your horse to prevent ringworm spreading through equipment
  • avoiding riding your horse to prevent the tack from rubbing the sores
  • destroying any bedding material within your horse's stable
  • thoroughly cleaning your horse's stable, tack and equipment with a fungicidal disinfectant

Sweet itch

Sweet itch, otherwise known as summer seasonal recurrent dermatitis, is an allergic reaction of the skin caused by the saliva of midge and mosquito bites.

Sweet itch can cause problems for your horse between March and November, as this is when the biting insects are most active.

Horses who are susceptible often develop the condition when they're young. Once it has occurred, they will usually continue to suffer from it each year.

Symptoms of sweet itch

In most cases, sweet itch will cause your horse to become itchy along their back, mane and tail. In extreme cases, your horse can rub themselves raw trying to relieve the itching.

If your horse is suffering from sweet itch, they may show signs such as:

  • hair loss or rubbing of their mane or tail
  • crusty, broken or sore skin around their neck, back and dock areas
  • excessive tail swishing to keep midges away
  • biting at their skin to relieve itching
  • bald spots across their back
  • excessive mutual grooming with a companion horse
  • a change in your horse's behaviour, such as irritation, lethargy or difficulty concentrating when riding

If you suspect your horse is suffering from sweet itch, book an appointment with your vet. They will be able to determine whether sweet itch is the cause of your horse's itching.

Managing sweet itch in horses

There is currently no cure for sweet itch, but your vet will be able to advise on the best treatment. There are also some measures you can put in place to help manage your horse's condition.

  • Use a sweet itch rug – special sweet itch rugs can be used to cover your horse from poll to tail and stop midges getting access to your horse's skin. These rugs are useful as they can be worn in or out of the stable.
  • Apply an insect repellent regularly – insect repellent can help to deter midges, but remember that repellents are not suitable if your horse's skin is sore or broken
  • Keep your horse in a stable or under shelter at dawn and dusk, and on mild, humid days – this is when midges are most active, so keeping your horse sheltered during these times can help to minimise biting
  • Use electric fans in stables – midges struggle to fly against strong wind, so if it's safe to do so, place an electric fan in your horse's stable to deter them
  • Graze your horse in dry, open areas – midges are attracted to areas near water or woodland, so it's best to graze your horse in a dry, open field
  • Pick up poo regularly – midges are drawn to warm and moist environments, such as your horse's droppings, so clear poo from your horse's area regularly
  • Use anti-itching shampoo – soothing shampoos can help to relieve your horse's itching. Speak to your vet to discuss which shampoo or topical treatment is best for your horse's condition.

Lice and mites

Mites and lice are a common cause for itching in horses. If your horse is showing signs of itching, it's best to rule out lice or mites as a possibility.


There are two different varieties of lice in horses – bloodsucking and biting. Both types of louse are brown, wingless and extremely small, but they do not affect people.

  1. Bloodsucking louse are often found in your horse's mane or tail, where their eggs are visible
  2. Biting louse prefer to burrow onto your horse's skin and are harder to spot. They can affect the whole of your horse's body, but will mostly be found along their back and sides.

Signs of lice on your horse

If your horse has lice, they may show signs such as:

  • restlessness
  • dull coat
  • scratching or biting at their fur
  • lice or eggs visible to the eye
  • bald spots from overgrooming

Treating lice in horses

Your vet will be able to help you choose the best treatment option for your horse. This can involve using a spray, shampoo or powder to kill the lice. Treatment will usually need to be repeated after three weeks to prevent further eggs from hatching.

As lice are usually spread through direct contact between horses, your vet may advise temporarily isolating your horse.


If your horse has lice or mites, you will need to thoroughly disinfect their environment and equipment to prevent the mites or lice from returning.

Feather mites

Feather mites, known as chorioptic mites, are a parasite that can live in the hair around your horse's lower legs. They are most common in horses with long, feathered hair around their hooves, but they can be found on any horse.

Signs of feather mites

Feather mites cannot be seen by the naked eye, but they can cause flakes of dry skin to appear in your horse's feathers, which are often referred to as walking dandruff. Your horse may also show signs such as:

  • excessively stamping their hooves
  • reluctance to having their feet picked up, or fidgeting
  • rubbing or biting at their legs
  • scruffy, flaky skin

If left untreated, feather mites can cause extreme discomfort for your horse and scabs on their skin, so it's important to seek veterinary treatment as early as possible.

Treating feather mites

To treat feather mites, your vet may recommend a topical treatment (treatments that are applied to the skin), an injectable wormer or an oral ivermectin paste.

Clipping your horse's feathers can also help, as this will allow topical treatments to be more effective.

Mud fever

Mud fever is a non-contagious skin condition that affects your horse's lower legs.

It's usually associated with the winter months, because the bacteria that causes mud fever flourishes in wet and muddy conditions. When the bacteria enters waterlogged skin, it causes scabs to form, leading to infection.

Symptoms of mud fever

Mud fever will typically affect your horse's lower legs – specifically the area just above their hooves or on their heels – and causes painful, crusty scabs. Other signs include:

  • a thick yellow, white or green discharge between the scabs and the skin
  • broken or cracked skin
  • matted hair with sores underneath
  • legs that are painful to the touch
  • heat in the lower leg
  • swelling in the lower leg in severe cases

In extreme cases, mud fever can spread up your horse’s legs and onto their tummy. Horses with white legs may also be more prone to the condition.

Treating mud fever

If your horse is showing signs of mud fever, your vet will help you develop a treatment plan. This could involve removing the scabs where appropriate to allow access to the wound, daily cleansing or, in severe cases, a prescription cream.

In the meantime, take your horse out of any wet, muddy conditions and keep their legs clean and dry.


It's easier to prevent mud fever and rain scald than it is to treat it. For tips on preventing these conditions, take a look at our advice on caring for your horse in wet weather.

Rain scald

Rain scald is caused by the same bacteria that causes mud fever. It's a bacterial skin infection that can affect your horse's neck, back and hindquarters.

Like mud fever, it is non-contagious and caused when your horse's coat becomes consistently wet, causing their skin to soften. It can also be caused by over-rugging. Horses are more at risk of rain scald if:

  • they have a weakened immunity
  • they lack the natural grease in their coat to keep warm and dry
  • leaking or non-breathable turnout rugs are used, causing poor air circulation under the rug. As a result, your horse’s back can become constantly wet from rain or sweat.

Read more about rugging your horse.

Symptoms of rain scald

Rain scald causes small painful scabs to form on your horse's neck, back and hindquarters. These scabs often look like your horse has been scalded by drops of water. The scabs may also come away from your horse's skin with small tufts of hair.

Rain scald treatment

If rain scald is suspected, your vet will first want to carry out tests to rule out contagious infections such as ringworm.

Treatment for rain scald can consist of daily cleansing of the affected area, using a diluted antibacterial solution. Your vet may also prescribe a suitable cream, or if the rain scald is severe, antibiotics could be needed.

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• 5 October 2023

Next review

• 5 October 2026

Approved by
Ruth Court

Horse Welfare Manager