The Skinny: Details of Consolation’s Mysteriously Itchy Skin Issue
I swear it’s a curse. Every spring, I seem to have some issue that prevents me from participating in the season’s first endurance rides. This year it was Consolation’s mystery itch — the undiagnosed skin condition on her back that made her utterly unable to tolerate being ridden.
Well. I’m pleased to report that we finally (after 6 weeks of trying) seem to have reached resolution. I’m going to post the details of her symptoms and attempted treatments here in the hope that someone else will find it useful one day. Why? Because in all my googling — and believe me, I did a LOT — I found not a single condition whose description matched Consolation’s presentation.
Week 1: Horse restless under saddle, beginning with tail switching and refusal to maintain trot, escalating to bucking and head-slinging regardless of gait. Behavior persisted when ridden or in tacked-up in hand. Horse was obviously extremely itchy under the entire saddle area from withers to loin. No other symptoms. Attempted another ride next day with similar results. Horse unable to settle into any gait. Sweat pattern was wet on off side and dry on near side, apparently from horse traveling very crooked due to discomfort.
Treatement Attempt: At this point, the bucking/head-slinging/inability to maintain gait (which was completely new behavior for this horse) seemed more likely to be a pain issue than a skin condition. The itchiness, while intense, was believed secondary. Horse was adjusted by equine chiropractor, who is also her vet. Suggestion made and followed to back up toes and lower heels to improve foot and shoulder comfort. Decision made to postpone further conditioning until new, custom saddle arrived.
Week 2: Horse resting, still itchy when rubbed by handler, but not in apparent discomfort in paddock. No excessive rolling or scratching at liberty. Shedding winter coat appeared somewhat thinner over affected area, but not so obviously that it caused further concern.
Treatment Attempt: None.
Week 3: New saddle arrived and appeared to be an excellent fit. However, attempts to test ride resulted in same behavior, but worse. Skin still itchy but not heated or inflamed. No sign of flaking, leisions, bumps, bites, swelling, or alopecia, though coat did still appear somewhat thinner in affected area. (I realized later that the coat was not actually thinner, but was raised so it only appeared thin.) Use of shedding blade revealed that skin was dirty and oily from winter. During one bath, small bumps, like mosquito bites, were barely detectable on withers. These disappeared quickly and did not return.
Treatment Attempt: Bathed 2x on different days with Selsun Blue medicated shampoo (active ingredient pyrithione zinc). Soaked affected area daily with 50:50 Listerine:water dilute. The original, amber-colored Listerine has long been used as a home remedy for sweet itch (reaction to mites) and various skin fungi. All brushes and tack disinfected with bleach dilute after each use.
Week 4: Horse still itchy with thin-appearing (raised) hair over affected saddle area of back. Still unable to tolerate tack. Scraping with shedding blade after application of Listerine sometimes removes gray/black specks that seem moist. Uncertain whether these were dirt, dandruff, or insect-related.
Treatment Attempt: Continued with Listerine application. Double-dosed with Ivermectin in case issue was caused by lice or mites, though this did not appear to be the case. Dusted 3x on different days with livestock flea dust, also as precaution to cover the bases.
Progress: Horse’s discomfort appeared reduced (was less itchy when rubbed by handler, and behavior improved significantly on a test ride). I realized later that this was because the skin condition had mostly resolved along the topline, but had “slid” down the horse’s sides in a characteristic drip pattern. Discomfort resumed within a day.
Week 5: Topline now returned to apparent normalcy, with itchiness gone and haircoat no longer raised. However, new affected patches appeared lower along the sides and loin, as though the condition had dripped down in the same pattern that water would cascade off the back. These patches showed raised hair and swelling. After a couple days, they felt hot to the touch. Horse again unable to tolerate tack. Even saddle blanket causes extreme “cringe” reaction, particularly when horse is in motion. The inflamed patches appear increasingly more tender and less itchy.
Here’s what the coat looked like at this point. Note gray areas that appear thin, but are actually raised.
Treatment Attempt: Applied Vetricyn to affected area but saw no change over 2 days of repeated use. Following phone call with vet, began 2x daily applications of over-the-counter athletes foot creams. These come with various active ingredients and cost about $4 per o.5-oz tube. Over the course of several days, applied creams with broad-spectrum antifungals clotrimazole and tolnaftate with no apparent results except increased inflammation in affected areas. Switched to a third broad-spectrum antifungal, miconazole (found in over-the-counter vaginal yeast infection medication), as a last-ditch attempt before scheduling vet visit. Cost is similar at about $12 for 1.5 oz. Also added daily baths with medicated shampoo (active ingredient salycylic acid) and full-strength iodine rinses over affected and surrounding areas.
Progress: After 2 days of bath/iodine/miconazole treatements, inflammation and tenderness appeared reduced in area, but not intensity. After 4 days, inflammation and tenderness are nearly eliminated in both area and intensity. Inflammation is always lowest in morning, following iodine soak. Continue with iodine soaks 2x daily but eliminate baths (worried about overdrying skin; also, weather too chilly) and miconazole. Improvement continues. Affected area possibly weeps a little (iodine on the coat interferes with judgement here) and shows some black flecks again, just as the topline did shortly before returning to normal.
This morning, on Day 7 of iodine rinse treatement, no heat, swelling, itching, or other discomfort can be detected. Will continue treatment just in case and try saddling up tomorrow.
- I think the Listerine worked as well as the iodine.
- 2x daily treatment seems to have been important.
- Both iodine and Listerine took at least a week to resolve the issue.
- I should have treated a broader area to start with, in order to prevent spreading beyond the presently affected area.
- Mystery skin issues are really frustrating.
Dear Consolation: Next time you decide to cultivate a fungus, please select morels or truffles or something else worth selling to local chefs. Thank you.
UPDATE: It transpires that the skin issue was not resolved, after all. Details here.