Why Does My Horse Have Bald Spots & What To Do About It?

I can 100% relate when it comes to worrying about your horse’s health especially when something totally unexpected starts happening like patches of your horse’s hair coming out. You suddenly start asking all your friends and googling “Why does my horse have bald spots??” in 10 different ways.

When this kind of thing happens to me, I start worrying about a million things at once:

  • Is it something dangerous? Is my horse going to be okay?
  • Is it painful or irritating?
  • Is it contagious?
  • Is it my fault? Did I do something wrong?
  • Is it permanent?
  • The vet’s going to cost me a fortune

Thankfully for your horse and your nerves, it is most likely is nothing! But just to be sure let’s go through some probable causes that you can check for and fix yourself.

If it turns out that it’s not one of the usual causes, then there’s still no reason to panic. I’ll list the differential diagnoses (all the possibilities) just so that you’re aware and the rest you’ll have to put in the hands of your local vet.

Why does my horse have bald spots and what to do about it

Alopecia has Different Causes, Including Shedding!


The condition where your horse is missing patches of hair – aka having bald spots – goes by the fancy name “Alopecia.”

This condition can be caused by a wide variety of things and as I mentioned above, the most likely causes have super easy fixes.

Cause 1: Shedding

The most common cause of bald spots in horses is shedding
From pinterest.com/lcottrell41/

A very likely cause is simply shedding! If you notice that the bald spots are seasonal then it’s probably just your horse shedding.

If your horse is shedding his coat unevenly, then you can try different things to try and fix it:

  • Coat supplements (think omega-3 fatty acids).
  • Routine grooming, but not over-grooming (here’s a refresher on how to groom your horse).
  • Changing your horse’s shampoo or conditioner (here’s a refresher on how to bathe your horse).

Note: Sometimes seasonal bald spots – especially located in certain regions of your horse’s body – can also be related to a melatonin issue if the pineal gland is overly active. It has been suggested that this may be due to fluorescent and other artificial lighting in the winter months.

Cause 2: Rubbing

Another very common cause is a rubbing sore from the equipment you’re using.

My dad always wears those standard socks that cover his ankles and the lower part of his shin/calf. He’s been wearing them that way as long as I can remember (even with sandals and shorts…). And he now has significantly less hair where his socks sit, especially at the back of his leg.

The material has actually worn off the hair!

The same thing can happen to your horse. A consistently worn blanket might rub them in certain spots. Their saddle pad may not protect them properly from the saddle. Or even frequent wearing of a halter could be to blame.

Anything that consistently rubs the same spot has the potential to rub away their coat.

You can easily fix this by getting a different saddle pad, blanket or halter specifically designed to prevent rubbing. Or in terms of things like a halter, you can simply not use one when your horse is stalled unless there is a specific reason to use it.

Choose a halter that prevents rubbing

Cause 3: Bitting, Kicking & Injuries

The final most common cause of Alopecia is injuries. If your horse has been injured then – just like us – they’ll scar. The scarred area may not regrow hair.

My sister hit my brother over the head with a shovel one day when we were young, because he was annoying her. Since then, my brother has had a crescent shaped scar on his head, and no hair grows there. I should note – my sister has calmed down slightly in her adulthood, but not by much!

Kicking and biting could be causing bald spots in your horse

So if your horse may have been kicked, bitten, or sustained some other injury when they were turned out, then these spots may no longer be able to grow hair.

If your horse’s bald spots are caused by injuries, then you should be aware of these as they occur so that you can make sure they are being avoided in the future and properly treated.

It’s difficult to prevent some minor kicking and biting, especially when introducing a new horse into your home. This is a natural process to develop hierarchy among the herd. But do watch for excessive aggression, and try to curb it.

Some horses that are overly aggressive need to be worked with and could benefit from separation from the rest of the horses until you can work through their issues.

Furthermore, another thing you can do is make sure that there are no areas of your fencing that are sharp or sticking out. Your horse may have tried to scratch or got close to a sharp piece by accident and cut themselves instead.

Check Your Horse’s Diet


Something that’s not quite as likely but possible is that there is something in your horse’s diet that causing them to lose hair. Try changing your horse’s feed for a while and see if there is any difference.

Chances are, however, it’s what he’s eating out in the fields rather than in the barn…

Cause 4: Selenium Toxicity

Selenium is a chemical that is present in a variety of plants.

All herbivores – and therefore your horse too! – eat it pretty frequently. In fact, it’s actually essential for good immune and fertility function, among other things.

Problems can arise, however, if your horse starts eating too much. If there are plants accessible to him that are very high in selenium content, he may develop poisoning.

One of the symptoms is hair loss especially of the mane and tail. Others include fear and nervousness at first and then weakness, diarrhea, fever, loss of appetite and respiratory distress.

A very indicative sign of selenium poisoning is hoof cracking and deformities.

Selenium toxicity and horse hoof
Click to enlarge

If you notice severe horizontal cracks in your horse’s hooves, like the above, call your vet immediately. Acute selenium toxicity is extremely dangerous!

Below are some plants that require a high selenium content in the soil to grow (from igrow.org). You can do a sweep of your pastures to see if there’s big sections of any of them around.

Plants that need high Selenium content in the soil
Click to enlarge

Also do a quick Google search of your area and see if selenium poisoning is common in your area. 

Along the stretch of the Rocky Mountains and slightly east of them are the most commonly affected areas in North America.

Is Your Horse Itching Excessively?


Is your horse itching excessively
From deviantart.com

If you’ve ruled out everything above, then try observing your horse closely for the next few days. Are they bitting at and itching against anything they can find at the spots that are loosing hair often?

This behaviour may give you insight into what’s causing the issue.

You might have already guessed that there’s actually a fancy name for this excessive itching as well and it is “pruritus.” It’s essentially caused by a variety of different bugs that your horse doesn’t like. These are covered in causes 5 to 7 below.

Cause 5: Gnats

Think of dog fleas. On horses, instead of fleas, you get gnats. It’s also important to note that some horses may be more sensitive to the bites than others.

All you can really do is try and keep your horse away from insects as much as possible. Maybe turn them out at a different time or get some insect repellent for them.

I’ve even seen some gnat-specific spray that you can get. A quick Google search should turn up a few options.

Here’s a Youtube video promoting a homemade remedy.

I don’t have any experience with this homemade product so I’m not recommending or advising against. I just think this is a nice video to show you what the effects look like:

Cause 6: Mange

This is extremely unlikely for your horse to have if you live in North America. It’s basically an infestation of tiny insects called mites that burrow deep into your horse’s skin and are thus very hard to detect.

Example of mange in horses
Click to enlarge

All you can do is call your vet for treatment options. But I would recommend giving your horse a big treat, because they’re probably in a lot of discomfort!

Cause 7: Lice

Yes unfortunately your horse can get lice as well! So think back to when you were in grade school and you had to shampoo your head a million times with gross-smelling chemicals to get rid of them.

Example of lice in horses
Click to enlarge

Lice especially like to live in horses with thicker, long hair such as draft horses. You can spread apart your horse’s hair to look for lice. You should see them moving around if you’re attentive. The image above was obtained from pet-informed-veterinary-advice-online.com.

Don’t worry! These lice are equine specific so they can’t infect you.

In order to treat this, you’ll need to get into the same disciplined regiment you did as a kid. Bathing, disinfecting and making sure that nothing contaminated comes into contact with your horse again for several weeks. This includes tack and other equipment.

Others: Rain Rot, Scald, Ring Worm and Lesions


The more serious conditions are also the ones that are the most unlikely, especially if you take care of your horse well. Since you’re here reading this, it’s pretty clear that you’re dedicated to making sure your horse is as happy and healthy as possible.

I’ve listed them below with a brief description, an image of what the disease looks like and some further reading. If you at all suspect it’s one of these, it’s time to call the vet pronto.

Cause 8: Rain Rot or Scald

Rain rot is caused by consistent exposure to excess moisture. So if a horse is left outside in rainy and wet conditions for too long without any stall time, grooming or a blanket.

The horse is infected with an organism (behaves like a mix of bacteria and fungus) called dermatophilus congolensis. One of the symptoms of this is loss of hair in patches.

Example of rain rot or scald in horses
Click to enlarge

Above is an example photo (from caribuhorsewear.com.au).

Usually keeping your horse clean and dry can solve the issue but if it’s a severe infection, then antibiotics may be needed.

What to do:

  • Call your vet.
  • Keep your horse dry:
    • Scrape off water after bathing.
    • Provide shelter if it rains or stall them more.
    • Invest in a light, breathable but waterproof blanket (check out my review on WeatherBeeta’s blankets).
  • Keep your horse clean:
    • Shampoo with an antimicrobial shampoo.
    • If you want to avoid chemicals, you can use silver-based products.
  • Isolate your horse from other horses.
  • Don’t ride your horse, especially if there’s lesions on their back.
  • Apply bug spray.

You can also learn more here and here!

Cause 9: Ring Worm

If your horse has a case of ring worm, you’ll see hair loss in patches and scaly, dry skin in it’s place in a ring-like formation. The image below is an example.

Example of ringworm in horses
Click to enlarge

This infection is transferred from other animals such as cattle or other horses or even humans (although that’s very rare).

This is essentially a fungal infection and if minor can be treated quickly and easily. If it’s more severe, then treatment may need to be more drastic especially if there’s an underlying condition.

What to do:

  • Call your vet.
  • Get rid of all hair near the area.
  • Spot wash the affected area with anti fungal scrub.
  • Apply anti-fungal cream.
  • Apply anti fungal dressing.
  • Dispose of all clipped hair.
  • Disinfect all equipment that came into contact with the horse.
  • Wash the towels separately and very well or simply throw them away.
  • Wash yourself and all animals.

If you do the above, you should see an improvement within a few weeks.

If you want to learn more, try here and here!

Cause 10: Sarcoid

This is usually a benign lesion or tumour – essentially it’s known as skin cancer for horses but it’s generally not systemically harmful. Its exact cause is unknown although there is some speculation that it can be transferred from cattle who have bovine papillomavirus (BVP).

Why does my horse have bald spots: Example of sarcoid in horses
Click to enlarge

The image above is just one example but sarcoid can look many different ways as it evolves.

In very rare cases, the tumour is not benign (it is malignant) and can transfer to the lymphatic system and invade the horse’s system.

What to do:

  • Call your vet.
  • Give your horse a treat for being so brave!

You can learn more here and here.

Don’t Hesitate to Call the Vet, or at Least an Expert


I understand vets can be expensive and time consuming but I can’t stress how important it is to call one if you’re not sure what’s going on or you’re dealing with a condition that you can’t treat properly on your own.

Why does my horse have bald spots: Vet bills can be expensive
From thehorse.com

If you really can’t afford a vet or you don’t want to jump the gun on diagnosing your horse with something life-threatening when it’s actually nothing, then at least call someone who you know that’s an expert. Someone who has had plenty of horse experience and has faced this problem themselves.

I really hope this has been helpful for you and as always, don’t hesitate to comment below and share your experiences with everyone! Have you and your horse ever had to deal with any of these conditions before?

Hope to hear from you soon and happy riding!

Martina


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Why Does My Horse Have Bald Spots & What To Do About It?

8 thoughts on “Why Does My Horse Have Bald Spots & What To Do About It?”

  1. Thanks for this great information. I was very worried when my horse started showing bald spots but in the end it turned out to be just shedding unevenly. I did call the vet though because I didn’t want to take any chances. Now I can bookmark your website and use it as a resource for valuable information. Thanks so much! Hannah and Chance.

    Reply
    • Hey Hannah,

      So happy to hear that it was just shedding! Normally that is what it ends up being but us horse gals can’t help getting all worked up 🙂

      And yes – good call, always best to call the vet just incase. No problem – let me know if ever have any other questions!

      Reply
  2. Thank you so much for providing a very useful guide on what causes the bald spots as well as how to deal with them. I just got my horse and I am trying to learn what should be done in order to properly take care of him. Prevention is better than cure but it also is equally important to know the cure as a lot of things is inevitable nowadays.

    Reply
    • Hey Pitin!

      I noticed you commented on my other post as well 🙂 Seems like you’re trying to brush up on your horse knowledge with your new buddy. That’s wonderful I really hope that everything goes as smoothly as possible with you two. Also yes prevention is key! So make sure to keep your horse dry, watch what he’s eating and don’t expose him too too much to insects if you can help it. Also keep him away from cattle or chickens and other farm animals if you breed those

      Reply
  3. I think that I am going to wear socks permanently from now on then I won’t need to shave my legs lol.

    We used to have horses on our farm but they lived outdoors and grazed on the fields. They were mostly wild. One of the older ones had bald patches here and there on the side of his tummy. We thought it was just old age. Nice to know there are other causes as well. Never thought of moulting, as thought they usually moulted evenly.

    Reply
    • Hi Michel!

      I’ve tried – unfortunately it takes far too long haha

      Some horses tend to shed in patches, especially during the springtime. Although they don’t completely display “bald spots” as they appear when an infection is present (you may not actually see the skin – although in some cases you can), they still can have a patchy appearance that seem like bald spots. This is the most common out of all the other causes I mention above! Also, as I mentioned certain light sources have been speculated to be the cause of patchy shedding (which would most likely show up in the winter) but this would then be a health issue related to melatonin.

      Reply
  4. Thanks for this! A few weeks ago I was really worried when my Quarter mare started to have a few bald spots, I had her checked for parasites and she came back clear. It turned out she was rubbing on the fabric gate because she was itchy with bug bites, but I couldn’t get her to stop itching! Luckily, my friend had a jar of this stuff called coat defense, she swore by it so I thought, why not? It worked PERFECTLY! Not only did she stop itching, but the hair was back within’ a week! If anyone has any of the issues listed above, be sure to give them a try!

    https://www.coatdefense.com/products/

    Reply
    • Hey Anne,

      Thanks for the recommendation 🙂

      Yes, chronic itching in the same spots can definitely cause bald patches and you gotta make sure your horses stops to keep them from becoming permanent.

      Reply

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