“DID YOU INCLUDE her bits and pieces?”
That’s the question fellow rider Kim Bues asked when I explained I rub Lacey’s undercarriage with Vaseline to help combat the Sweet Itch she gets every summer. Sweet Itch is an allergic reaction to bites from mosquitos and midges, or gnats around their mane and tail, ears, belly and legs.
Lacey primarily gets it on her belly, lower legs and most definitely on her bits and pieces — her nether regions — known as her udders and teats. During the summer months she can get quite aggressive when she wants me to scratch her undercarriage. Admittedly, in the past, when I had multiple horses, I didn’t indulge her desire to be scratched there very much. But then she had a pasture full of bushes she could satisfy her itch on.
Not so since moving to Happy Valley in 2016 and a pasture with grass, weeds and only a few small shrubs. Now, when she sees me in her pasture and feed area, she’ll block me with her body to get me to rub her underside with my hand. And she’s very particular as to which area she wants at the moment. When I hit the right spot she’ll go into a state of utter bliss: She’ll stretch her neck, turn her head a bit sideways and then her upper lip will start flapping and quivering. A back leg will tremble, too. It’s hilarious to watch.
If I’m not stroking the spot she wants she’ll pin her ears back, tilt her head toward me and wave it up and down. Last year she took her bad attitude to the extreme. I’ve often said Lacey is persnickety. She’s an absolute dream to ride, and an extremely talented and athletic horse.
On the ground, she tends to be a bit aloof toward people, and fussy about what she likes or dislikes, but never dangerous. Overall, she’s very well-mannered.
However, last summer, after I’d fed her and was finished rubbing her belly (her belly button is a favorite spot), I stood to rest with my arm over her rear end and to look at the sunset when she suddenly raised her back leg and gave me a shove that sent me rolling. She just wasn’t happy I’d stopped scratching.
Another time I was standing a few feet behind her and started daydreaming. She actually backed her rear end up to me and gave, what I think she felt was a nudge, but to me a soft kick in the butt with both back legs, that sent me rolling head over heal. Bad girl! She got corrected, and I’ve been more cautious.
This year, in her spoiled state, a couple of times she attempted to bite me! I reacted by giving her butt a quick swat, looking her in the eye, pointing at her and giving her several low, and loud, “No!” and then walking away. She quickly learned that wasn’t the way to get what she wanted, nor was pinning her ears back. I’ve also walked away when she did so aggressively.
I’ve also spent the past few years experimenting with ways to repel the bugs, along with soothing her skin. I’ve concluded that any type of food grade oil supplies a barrier that keeps the bugs away, or they get stuck in it and it kills them, plus soothes the skin. Take note: I am not a veterinarian. This is what I’ve found works for me, and I only use it on the undercarriage, including the bits and pieces — the skin between the butt checks, udder and teats; in males the penis and surrounding areas — applying a thin, smooth coating. You don’t want an oily mess that drips off them when it’s hot.
For a while I was softening coconut oil and adding a few drops of eucalyptus oil. That worked well, but then I decided I didn’t like the hard flakes of coconut oil that stuck to her hair when it dried. Later I mixed the coconut oil with olive oil to leave it in a fluid state.
This year I opted for the easier route with less preparation — Vaseline petroleum jelly. And she loves it when I rub it all over under her belly. I avoided it in the past because isn’t petrol the crude oil that’s turned into vehicle fuel? Surely that must be too toxic to use on the skin, right? That would be true if it were processed to become fuel. It is not. Petroleum jelly goes through a vacuum filtration process followed by filtration through bone char to become petroleum jelly. Vaseline is the only petroleum jelly product with a triple-purification seal that includes distillation, de-aeration and filtration.
As such dermatologists recommend using it in ways that include relieving dry skin, chapped lips and to even help injured skin heal after cleaning it.
I’ve also tried all sorts and types of fly and mosquito repellents, from traditional, to natural and to the ultra-natural of making my own using essential oils. I’ve found my home-made solutions would barely last a day. I was okay with spraying my horses down twice day with it, until my health took a nose-dive and I didn’t have the energy to keep making the solution and spraying it.
Through more though research on Google (ignoring the advertising sites) about the pros and cons of both traditional and natural sprays, and water-based or oil-based I narrowed the list down to the ones that fit my now strict budget.
I encourage all to do their own research and come to their own conclusion as to what to use on your horse, because often it comes down to personal choice and trial and error to see which works best on each horse.
I’m now using clear Swat around the eyes and Farman’s Original Wipe in the green bottle. I use it sparingly and find one application can last up to three days, less in hotter weather. It’s been very effective and Lacey hasn’t experienced any reactions. You know it’s toxic though, because it states use gloves when applying, keep the applicator in a sealed container when not in use and to stay away from the eyes.
Lacey’s son Indy used to adversely affect with Sweet Itch on his face and neck, often causing open sores. Relief came for him by using Eqyss Micro-Tek equine spray.
Adding Omega 3 oils can help combat the itchy skin, too. Flax seed can be bought in bulk at most feed stores, but needs to be crushed to be effective. Chia seeds, too, and they don’t need to be crushed first.
Further relief can come from bathing the horse using an antimicrobial medicated shampoo (I use the Mane ‘n Tail brand. It’s important to get your horse used to touching their genitals, because those areas need an occasional cleaning.
On males, it’s important to clean their penile sheath to remove any built-up mineral salts from urine, dirt sweat, and smegma, a lubricating secretion that fills the inside of the sheath. All combined form a bean in the opening on the tip of the penis. A bean looks and feels like a small gray pebble.
Learning how to remove bean is important because it aids in preventing urinary obstructions. Admittedly, it took me years of horse ownership — and calling the veterinarian after my Shetland pony, Snowball, got an obviously painful infection at the tip — before I learned what a bean was and the importance of removing it.
Before attempting to do it, learn all you can about performing the task safely and thoroughly. When cleaning, it’s safest to use a mild cleansing product made just for that purpose, like Excaliber.
Recently, I learned mares can have a small bean build up stuck in the folds of skin around their vaginal area, specifically in the lower part of the labia. You can remove those by gently turning the skin inside out to remove them after cleaning the area first with a clean sponge, warm water and mild soap, and rinse it.
I knew to gently clean and remove regularly the crud between their udders. Just using a baby wipe will do it.
Get veterinary help for vaginal infections, and NEVER try to put any fluids inside her vaginal tract! The easiest time to clean these sensitive areas is after they’ve been sedated, such as when floating teeth. And now all you non-horsey readers have learned more than you ever wanted to know about horse ownership!
Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Saturday of each month.
If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at email@example.com at least two weeks in advance. You can also call her at 360-460-6299.