Olivia   September 7, 2017   45 Comments on Itchy

I’ve mentioned a few times lately that Levi has been really itchy. Well, there’s a reason for that.

When your horse decides that free walk would be a good time to scratch his itches. #horsesofinstagram #blmmustang #dressage #horseshow

A post shared by Olivia @ DIY Horse Ownership (@diyhorseownership) on

Readers may also have noticed that I shaved Levi’s mane off a few weeks ago. A few people have even commented on how great he looks without the mane (thank you), but it wasn’t actually something I wanted to do. I really liked his long, flowing mane. Unfortunately, he basically itched so much of it off that I had to roach it.

Actual footage of Levi itching himself, obv.

After our trip in July, I returned to find that Levi had ripped a few chunks of his mane out. I was upset, but figured the missing sections were small enough, I could braid around them and let it grow back.

Unfortunately, time wasn’t helping it grow back in. Instead, it was getting worse. I started finding chunks of mane ripped off in his pasture.

He was also getting increasingly freaked out about having his mane or neck or even his body touched. He would whirl around while tied up and try to attack his body if a fly dared to touch him. When I first brought him home, he had a similar reaction to flies, but he has calmed down considerably over time. The reaction to me touching him was new. He started seeming really miserable. Like his entire body itched and everything just sucked for him.

It turns out his entire body did itch and everything really did suck for him. Poor guy has Sweet Itch, which is an allergic reaction to the bites of Culicoides midges. These midges aren’t flies and they’re not effected by fly spray or any of the fly prevention methods our barn uses. They prefer to breed near water and our barn is across the street from a reservoir so there’s no escaping them.

Once I knew what the problem was, I could actually work to solve it. I got him some special Sweet Itch cream, added allergy medication to his feed, added Omega Oil to his feed, upped his BugLyte, and started spraying him with OFF and Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent Spray – both of which only work a little bit on the midges, but are better than the zero effect fly spray has.

Sadly, it took me so long to figure out what was happening that he’d already destroyed too much of his mane to save it. I could no longer braid around the missing sections and parts were sticking up unevenly. I decided to roach him.

While the roaching really made me sad – I loved his long mane – it did have the added benefit of making treating the itch a lot easier. I could shampoo and scrub his neck easily and rub the cream into his scalp without it getting stuck in the hair. It took a few days, but he went from freaking out about anything even touching him to loving having me treat his mane since I would itch it for him while scrubbing in the shampoo and cream.

He’s still itchy, but he’s getting a lot better. Hopefully the coming cold will kill all the damned midges and he can recover over the winter. Apparently Sweet Itch is a lot easier to treat if you catch it early. You can’t really cure it, but you can prevent the symptoms if you can keep the midges from bothering them. So next spring we will be on top of it. I’ll probably order him a sweet itch sheet even though I am sure he’ll destroy it just like he destroyed all of his blankets over the winter. And we’ll be pre-emptively treating with allergy medication, feed additives, and sprays that actually keep the midges off.

If I’m really lucky, he’ll regrow his pretty locks… a few years from now.

Has anyone else ever had a horse with Sweet Itch? Any treatments you tried that worked especially well? Although he’s doing a lot better, I’m open to new ideas.

45 thoughts on “Itchy

  1. Teresa

    Oh poor Levi. A friend of mine had a horse that was allergic to basically any fly bite- including the midges. It was a sin because he was so miserable. They kept him in a lot during the day to reduce fly exposure.

    1. Olivia Post author

      That sounds even worse. We don’t have stalls or electricity so I can’t keep him in, which is one of the suggestions for Sweet Itch too.

  2. Dom

    Poor guy! He must be so miserable. I’m glad he’s getting relief and lots of scratches. I’m super sad about his mane, though 🙁 It looks good roached, but I loved it long. Hopefully, he’ll realize he feels better with the sheet on and *won’t* destroy it. Fingers crossed!

    1. Olivia Post author

      If there was any logic in enjoying something because it protects you, he wouldn’t have destroyed 4 different blankets last winter. I’m also pretty sure if Levi doesn’t destroy it, Eugene will.

  3. Leah

    Awww poor Levi. He is rocking that roach though! And at least you figured out the problem and can be on top of it for next year 🙂 My guys have all been rubbing their tails this summer, and I’m at a loss. They’re on a regular deworming protocol and I try to shampoo/condition tails *somewhat* regularly, but nothing has stopped the rubbing. Cinna’s tail is so nasty and bushy…. UGH.

    1. Brianna

      Mares or geldings? Have you tried cleaning sheaths and/or teats? I know it sounds weird, but when my mare had a weird tail rubbing phase and we tried everything else, that was what worked!

    2. Olivia Post author

      Levi started rubbing his tail too from the Sweet Itch. It’s part of what made me realize it wasn’t just random neck itchiness. I mentioned it to my barn owner and she told me it was Sweet Itch. One of her previous horse had it bad and she knew the signs.

  4. Emma

    Ugh I’m sorry, sweet itch sounds miserable !! Glad your approach is helping him tho! T from Oh Gingersnap has written a little about sweet itch in her mare Bridget I think

  5. Megan

    that sucks about his mane, although he does look REALLY COOL with it roached. most people i know whose horses have sweet itch just roach the mane. it’s so much more comfortable for the horse.

    hopefully winter will buy him some relief!

  6. Fig

    Oh noooooo!!! Fetti’s sister has this, and the Haffie gelding did too. We keep a fly sheet on her full-time spring to fall with neck and belly cover too, aggressively flyspray, SWAT mixed with.. something? Maybe flyspray? on her midline where she has the worst of it. The feedthrough supp we used to use was discontinued but C swapped to a new one I think – I’ll ask her later this week what she’d suggest.

  7. julesatthebarn

    I had a horse for 8 years with sweet itch. The vet said it was The worst case she ever saw. He self mutilated, he was so angry at the discomfort he was biting down on his chest and pulling hard, leaving scarred patches everywhere. It’s a protein in the judge’s saliva that causes the allergy. They go in the mane & upper tail area bc the hairs are more broad and rooted farther apart than their coat, so the midges get to the bare skin easier. My pony got progressively worse every year to the point where he was stalled all day during the hottest months with a fan going full blast. As far as sprays, Mosquito Halt seemed to work best for me. Finally had to sell him to someone around Raleigh where midges werent as bad as here on the coast. Im more than happy to try and help w/any other questions. Shires makes a sweet itch sheet with the queen’s seal of approval btw

    1. Olivia Post author

      That sucks. I’m really hoping he gets better with preventative treatment. Stalls and fans aren’t an option here 🙁 Levi was also biting at himself in anger, but that’s gone away. The sheet is on my list for next year.

  8. martidoll123

    i had a mare who had this horrible (quite a few years ago). She was on some feed through vet powder
    (Smelled like cake batter mix can’t remember the name LOL) during the bad months and wrapped up in everything under the sun when she was outdoors. UGH. it was bad. Hopefully by next year you will have all the cures and supplements ready to go and be on top of it. That is a lot of mane for him to be pulling out. Poor Levi.

    My whole thing was omg no mane what do i grab onto 🙂 HA but he looks good roached (Some horses cant pull it off)!

    1. Olivia Post author

      I had to add a neck strap because I also don’t like not having a mane to grab onto. And the neck strap really isn’t the same.

  9. Stacie Seidman

    Ugh the poor guy! I just learned that midges are a type of noseeum, and those little jerks are the worst! I’m glad you figured out the culprit of Levi’s itchiness, but what a bummer it’s not something you could cure. I’m sure his mane will grow back faster thank you expect.

  10. Sarah (threechestnuts)

    Poor guy! I hope he’s feeling a little less itchy! My guys get hives but haven’t gotten that itchy. Batty has pulled out his mane, but that’s been more due to over enthusiastic hay feeder antics vs anything else. He can definitely pull off the roached look, but I can’t imagine no mane! Grab straps just aren’t the same!

  11. Kara Thomson

    Good you found a solution! I agree with you on the mane, I love long flowing manes. His was beautiful. My horses mane is wavey and strawberry blonde, so pretty but not as thick or long as Levi’s. However my ponies is a hot mess, thick and frizzy. He is clearly my relation!

    1. Olivia Post author

      I read about neem oil as an option. I got some special british cream and it seems to be helping though I might try neem next year

  12. Amanda

    Aw, poor guy. I used to lease a horse who had a whole variety of bug allergies, and the only thing that helped him out was steroid shots through the season, like they do for humans.

    Tristan gets hives in the summer, and he’s on 500mg of cetirizine through July & August. It’s not cheap, but this summer *knock wood* he hasn’t gotten any.

  13. rooth

    UGH poor guy! I get bitten by EVERYTHING so I feel his pain. I think a roached mane looks SO good so I personally prefer it to long flowing locks.

    1. Olivia Post author

      I sympathize as well as I am one of those people who will itch myself raw if I have a bug bite or rash. But I just wish he hadn’t scratched out his mane.

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