I wrote last week about true Sweet Itch.  I used that word ‘true’ purposefully.

However, I think it was overlooked a bit…

You see, I received about a zillion emails about all the different horsey skin ailments those photos could have been as well as many treatment and remedies.

All good.

So, even though I was speaking about true Sweet Itch, let’s talk about when horses rub their tails or skin like crazy…


(First and foremost… if your horse is rubbing and you cannot fix it promptly and easily, please call the vet.)

OK, so true sweet itch is when a horse is bitten by a midge and the saliva irritates the horse’s skin.  Sometimes, this irritation can stimulate an immuno response which then causes an allergic reaction.  Those are the bad cases.

But, as many of you readers suggested, there are loads of other reasons why horses rub.

Of course, I am not a veterinarian.  And, I don’t know why your horse may rub itself.  But, here are some ideas…

My mare, Tess, does this every summer. I clean her udder every few days and put Not So Sweet Itch on her dock. She loves it! Mares can sweat and get dirt all balled up between the udders and that is itchy!

1)  Unclean or itchy udders/sheaths.

Yup.  Mares often rub out their tails because their udders are itchy.  My mare, Tess, loooooves to have her udders cleaned.  She doesn’t care if I go up there with my fingers or a warm cloth or whatever.   She just loves it.

Not all mares love this.

Same with geldings.

So, be careful.

However, as with anything, patience and sensible applications can get it done.  For sensitive mares, don’t have anything dripping or cold running down their legs.

Geldings tend to like a good clean, if you use very gentle cleanser and warm water.

I use EquiSpa Sheath and Udder cleaner.

(Your vet can clean a sheath so don’t put yourself in harm’s way if you feel uncomfortable…)

Sheath cleaning.

2)  Food allergies

This seems like a no-brainer but truthfully, this can happen to any of us.

We’ve all been there.  We feed hay or grain that was sold to us from a reputable feed store.   You think it must be good for all horses because it was packaged for horses and someone sold it to you.

But horses are just like people.  Not all of us can eat all things.  And, some of us are more sensitive than others.


I’ve been there.  Especially with dog food.  You purchase a new brand and your dog forms hot spots or itchy areas.

Anyway, back to horses – the same thing happens.

Sometimes the hay or feed doesn’t have the vitamins they need, or has an ingredient that irritates them.

What to do?

–You can have the hay you are feeding tested.  I know this sounds like a drag… and perhaps your broker already has that information.

–Also, you can read the label of the grain you are feeding and see what is in it that may not be in other grains or in what you’ve served previously.

–Or, you can start with the basics and only feed pure oats or pure soaked beet pulp pellets.  In this way, there are no other ingredients and you can add individual ingredients as you go along.  Then, by default, you may find out what ingredient is irritating the horse.

For me, I only serve basic grains or beet pulp.  It is easier for me to control what they ingest.  And, I can add pure supplements so I know exactly what is going in…

Soaked Beet Pulp pellets are a great, basic feed. High in fiber and easy to digest.


3)  Dandruff/ Dry skin due to low nutrition absorption

Sometimes the issue is that the horse is not benefiting from his food.  For some reason, he is not absorbing enough of the nutrition from his food.

This happened with Remi when I first brought her home from the feedlot.  The stress levels from wherever she came – and the lack of food – put her gut into a tailspin.  She had ulcers.  Her gut was inflamed and not doing its job.

For her extreme case, I gave her Biotic 8 and Equion.

–For everyday gut absorption, I’ve been using the same supplement for years (Equion).  Its entire purpose is to aid digestion and help the horse assimilate its food.  Basically, if the horse is using and gaining from the food he eats, he will stay healthier and his skin will be less apt to be irritated.

I find that when I sprinkle the supplement  on their feed, they all look and act so much healthier.  So, I know it fills in the gaps and helps the gut absorb.

A great, no frills products that really helps absorption and overall health.

4)  Body Chemistry – Lacking in salts and minerals

Every nutrient the horse is missing will show up in his coat and feet.  Since domestic horses are stuck eating only what we give them, we have to give them what they need.  And, often certain hays grown in certain areas may lack certain minerals.

This brings us to The ol’ salt block issue…

A salt block gives one mineral.  Unless you get the mineral salt block which is made for cows and gives cow minerals.  That’s OK.  Mostly they work… until you get a horse who likes the taste of mineral blocks and eats the whole thing.

Some of mine do that.

And then there is the salt block debate.  People go ’round and ’round about all the different types of salt blocks available.

For me, I got tired of not having a block created for only horses and I knew I was in need of supplementing the local hays and grains.

(I was also tired of certain horses sucking the block like it was a sucker…).

So, I changed methods and decided to give them free-feed minerals instead.  I give them Dry Creek Mineralsand they eat what they want, when they want.  (

It works.  They don’t even touch the salt block anymore.

For me, giving them free choice minerals gives them more of a balance and can potentially supplement what is missing in whatever hay you may have purchased from a broker – who may not disclose to you where the hay was grown and what the mineral/protein contents are for each stack.

Mineral salt blocks like this one are made for cattle or “all livestock”. I think free choice minerals made for horses are a better idea.

5)  Parasites.


Lots of worms will make a horse itch.  A wormy horse will most likely rub out his/her tail.

Depending upon the type of parasite, you probably know how to tend to the horse.  If you’d like, you could have his manure tested (very easy) via Horsemen’s Lab.

Mites or lice will make a horse itch.  You can use lice dust – but the healthier way I have found is to use a mane cream that makes the lice lose their grip.  The greasier the better.  I’ve written about equine mane/tail lice previously here.

6)  Stress

Just like people, horses create behaviors to minimize stress.

So, if you have ruled out health, nutrition, cleanliness and parasites… it could be nerves.

Add some play or some change of scenery.  Maybe check the horse’s neighbors and make sure everyone gets along.

Or, my favorite, attach them to yourself and walk around for an hour or so.  Or, read with them.  I find that when I let them hang with me for a time and we just do whatever, they feel special and part of the herd of two.


Horses love a good scratch from their human. Attention is good.


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HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth... if you like this, please pass it around!

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