Permanent Cosmetics to Protect Your Horses Eyes From Damaging UV Rays

Tattooing or eyelining - A permanent and accepted alternative to eye protection for bald-faced horses who’s eyes water or tear excessively from the sun rays or snow glare.

Think of a football player who wears the black smudge of eyeliner under both eyes during a game? Have you ever wondered why they were wearing such “stuff”? It reduces glare from the sun and florescent lighting while playing in indoor and outdoor stadiums.

The sun can irritate, burn, and swell sensitive tissue around the eyes. With prolonged exposure, some horses can develop chronic uveitis and squamous cell carcinoma. Another complication with constant tear production is the increased probability of attracting flies which can increase the chance of infection.

APHA accepted the procedure after their first request in the 1980’s from someone in the Bahama’s. The documentation process is easy and simply involves sending the horse’s papers in with photographs of the horse after being tattooed. The association stamps the papers under “Remarks” and it simply states, “Both eyes tattooed”. There is no charge for this service and no other paperwork or documentation is required.

I recommended finding a certified tattoo artist to perform the procedure, preferably someone who has experience working on humans and animals. The tattoo equipment is different from animal vs. humans - a human tattoo gun will achieve finer more detailed lines. After only a few calls I found such an artist who not only tattooed people, but also dogs, cats and other species for permanent identification purposes. It’s important for the tattooist to know that a horses skin meaning it’s texture, thickness and ability to absorb ink are different from human skin. There are several types of ink used in tattooing and some work better for this purpose than others. You will also need a licensed vet to perform sedation and close monitoring of vital signs.

The first horse I had tattooed we anesthetized and laid him down on a clean mat and soft footing in the arena. A catheter was placed so constant anesthesia was maintained. The tissue around the eyes were cleansed, lidocaine (a numbing agent) was injected to reduce the blink reflex, and ointment was applied to the eyes as a protection before the tattooing process began. The entire process took about an hour and a half. The second horse I tattooed we actually kept standing in the stall with his head facing out of the stall door. He was sedated and prepped the same as the first horse. With several helpers we supported the horse against the stall wall. We stacked 3 bales of hay with a clean sheet placed over them so the horse could rest his head at eye level which made it much easier for the tattoo artist to eyeline the eyes.

After the procedure swelling and drainage are minimal, but the horse should be monitored closely for any signs of infection or reaction to the ink. I apply a antibacterial ointment to the eye or eyes for 4-5 days after the procedure as a precaution. After a week or two the tattoo is completely healed. Tip - Request the tattoo artist apply two layers of ink to reduce fading and to achieve a rich deep black color.

Since both procedures I have noticed decreased irritation from the suns rays and fly irritation. A added benefit (in my opinion), the overall appearance of the horse is more aesthetically pleasing!

Cost of the procedure varies from area to area, but in Wisconsin it will cost you around $850 which includes the vet fees. A good tattoo artist will guarantee their work, meaning a re-application for free if the color lightens more than expected.

Important Notes - Make sure you check your breed associations rules for permanent cosmetics before proceeding.

Horses can react negatively or suffer complications from anesthesia. Make sure you provide a complete medical history as well as breeding information to your vet before getting started!

Our thanks to featured advertiser Tina Langness for contributing this article for us. Tina is the owner/trainer at Tina Langness Performance Horses. Check them out on line at