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Can You Ride a Horse with Rain Rot? Plus How to Treat It.

Last updated: December 28, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

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Have you ever faced the dilemma of deciding whether to ride your horse when it’s suffering from rain rot? This common yet perplexing issue confronts many horse owners, especially during wet seasons. Rain rot, also known as dermatophilosis, is not just a superficial skin problem; it can significantly impact your horse’s health and comfort.

In this comprehensive guide, I delve into the crucial aspects of understanding rain rot, including its causes, symptoms, and effective treatment methods. I also address the critical question: Is it safe to ride a horse with rain rot? Join me, an avid equestrian and racehorse owner, as I explore the best practices for managing this condition, ensuring your horse remains healthy and happy.

Picture of a horse with rain rot.
Rain rot on a horse I rescued.

Don’t ride a horse with active rain rot.

The location of the rain rot is essential in deciding if you should ride a horse. It is also necessary to determine the stage of the infection, is the infection active, inflamed, if so then don’t ride?

Rain rot that has been treated and is healed, other than the remaining sparse hair, is ok to ride. It’s still critical to wash and thoroughly dry your horse after riding. If your horse is still showing signs of inflammation and the rain rot is located where the saddle pad rests, you should not ride the horse.

The area will be tender and itchy. Give your horse time to heal. Saddle pads trap moisture, and the horses’ body creates heat. Humidity and high temperature make a perfect environment to grow the bacteria that cause and promote the growth of rain rot. Riding a horse with rain rot is not a good idea.

Picture of the topside of a horse with rain rot.
This horse is still having complications after treatment for a week.

Rain rot typically only affects a horse’s topside.

The bacterial infection typically affects the top side of a horse, the portion exposed to rain; this area includes the back, rump, withers, and shoulders. Because rain rot commonly damages the area where the saddle rests, it’s critical to evaluate the severity of the infection before saddling the horse for a ride.

The same bacterial infection on the legs is “mud fever.” Early symptoms of rain rot are matted hair and lesions on the skin. Equine skin diseases can become serious. These lesions may appear scaly and patchy but will grow and combine, affecting more extensive areas. Eventually, the wounds will develop a crust with puss oozing from below the surface.

If you gently rub the infected area with your hand, you will feel a lot of small bumps. The hair comes off easily when washing, rubbing, or brushing. In most cases, the infection is not painful; however, in extreme cases, it can lead to a distressing situation. In this case, consult with a veterinarian.

Stephen D.White DVM, Diplomate ACVDA, studies equine bacterial diseases and documented some interesting information. You can read about his findings in this report: Equine Bacterial and Fungal Diseases: A Diagnostic and Therapeutic Update.

Rain rot is painful in some horses.

We bought two colts that were suffering rain rot. The one pictured above had it the worse and it was painful for him. However, after a week of treatment, it doesn’t seem to bother him anymore. Most minor cases of rain rot are not painful and don’t itch.

As stated previously, early detection and treatment can control the disease without much effort. However, if left untreated, rain rot can develop into a severe and painful skin condition. When horses are in this stage, they definitely should not be ridden.

What causes rain rot?

Do you know what rain rot is? If you don’t, you’re not alone. Rain rot is a fairly common skin infection that can affect horses of all ages. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including wet weather, poor hygiene, and exposure to parasites.

Rain rot is characterized by skin lesions that may be raised or flat, red or white in color, with a scaly appearance. The most common symptom of rain rot in horses is sores on their tails and topside, as well as peeling away from the body.

The technical term is Dermatophilus, a chronic bacterial skin disease in animals characterized by crustiness and seeping blood accumulating at the base of the hair. A vet easily diagnoses it. This bacterial infection can look bad but is not too difficult to treat when caught early.

However, there’s a lot of valuable information you need to know about treating rain rot. To recap, rain rot is a skin infection caused by a build-up of harmful bacteria on the skin. The particular bacteria that causes the disease is Dermatophilus congolensis.

The same bacterial infection causes “mud fever.”

Dermatophilus congolensis bacteria is also the cause of mud fever and skin diseases in cattle, sheep, and humans — the result of the bacteria on the skin manifests in crusty scabs. Dermatophilus congolensis, like other bacteria, reproduces on its own. The bacteria attacks compromised areas of the skin and spread outward, causing inflammation and scabs on the surface.

Skin acts as a barrier to disease. A breach of the skin, such as lesions, exposes an animal to serious adverse health consequences. Prompt attention to rain rot is paramount to preventing illness and contamination.

Is rain rot contagious?

Many horse owners are familiar with rain rot, a skin condition that is caused by a fungus. But what many people don’t know is that rain rot is contagious. I recently noticed that every horse in my neighbor’s pasture has rain rot.

When I pointed it out to him, he thought it strange that they all developed the condition about the same time. When I informed him that rain rot is contagious, he was shocked.

Rain rot is contagious to humans and horses. Because it is contagious, you must keep an infected animal in a well-ventilated dry area when the disease is active and can be transmitted. Wash your tools and hands after each grooming or doctoring of your horse.

Flies, mosquitoes, and ticks spread the bacterial infection. Proper insect control is vital to preventing the spread of rain rot. You can read our article on horse flies and get some tips on how ways to control these pests here.

Rain rot is not only contagious to humans; it is contagious to other animals as well. That is why it is essential to take control of the situation early. Rain rot, when caught soon enough, is easy to control. If you groom your horse twice weekly, you should notice early signs of the disease.

When you notice rain rot, wash all saddle blankets and clean all grooming tools. Any items that you use on multiple horses must be sterilized so you don’t pass the bacteria from horse to horse. To read a study on the transmission of rain rot between animals, click here.

A good tip to prevent the spread of rain rot is to have grooming tools for each horse you own and label the equipment with each horse’s name.

Confirm rain rot with your veterinarian.

Notify your veterinarian of the skin condition and have him confirm your horse is suffering from rain rot. He can advise you on treatment plans and steps you need to take to avoid spreading the bacteria to other horses.

Picture of rain rot on a horse.
Picture of rain rot after about a week of treatment

Treat rain rot with 5 easy steps.

To treat rain rot, remove any loose hair and clip the hair around the affected area as safely as possible. Wash with antibacterial shampoo, apply betadine, and towel dry. Coat the area with an antibiotic salve on the raw skin to reduce the pain.  

Treating rain rot isn’t complicated and can be done sufficiently well at your home or barn. If you are sure the condition is rain rot, trim the hair around the infection, wash, remove scabs, dry, and treat with topical ointment.

1. Trim and remove the hair affected by the rain rot

When you rub your hand over rain rot a lot of loose hair comes off without difficulty. The hair that doesn’t remove should be trimmed so the affected area is exposed as much as possible.

Removing loose hair and cutting the hair allow air to the skin and promote drying. Hair traps moisture without the hair in your way, so you can apply a topical salve more effectively.

2. Wash the affected area with an antibacterial shampoo.

Use an effective antibacterial shampoo and thoroughly wash your horse. Get a good lather, then repeat the process to ensure the rain rot section is clean.

3. Remove any scabs and dried skin while washing the horse.

When you are washing your horse, remove scabs, if possible, without hurting your horse. Don’t pull scabs off that may cause bleeding. It is recommended to use an antibacterial shampoo.

We researched different antibacterial soaps to find the best one. Here is a link to Amazon customer reviews for E3 shampoo so you can read what other horseman has to say:

4. After washing, dry the area thoroughly.

Dry the affected area thoroughly. If you were not able to trim the hair, use a blow drier to ensure proper drying in the area.

5. Apply a topical ointment to the area.

A topical solution can be applied for soothing or protection if the horse is going to be turned out, and a greasy topical solution to provide moisture protection. Absorbine Fungasol Ointment has a vaseline consistency that works well to prevent moisture from penetrating the infection.

More than 35 Amazon customers have written reviews on this ointment and have rated it an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars. Here is a link to their reviews: Absorbine Fungasol Ointment: customer reviews.

rain rot,

Does M-T-G work on rain rot?

Some products get passed down from one generation of horse owners to the next because they work, like Thrush Buster, Wonder, and MTG. MTG was originally designed for humans but soon became a standard treatment for equine skin irritations like pastern dermatitis and rain rot. For best results, strictly follow the instructions.

We’ve found MTG to work well on all our horses, but some of my acquaintances swear it doesn’t work for them. The only reason I can think of that it wouldn’t work is because they don’t use it correctly. To be effective, you have to let it set on the infected area for a long time; we don’t rinse it off but rather let it stay put.

You also have to shake the bottle to mix the ingredients before applying it. I recommend MTG for treating rain rot. You can click here to check it out and read the reviews of other customers on Amazon’s website.

Pickture of healthycoat supplement

How long does rain rot take to heal?

After we treated our neighbor’s horse for rain rot, it looked pretty rough, with exposed scabs and missing hair. The horse’s coat was in bad shape, and this made me wonder how long it would take for the horse to heal from this condition, so I did some research to find out.

Minor episodes begin to improve within a few days of treatment and typically heal in a few weeks after you mitigate the causes of the rain rot. However, because of horse’s hair grows slowly, the bald spot will be noticeable much longer. Severe cases may take two months or longer to fully heal.

During the treatment of your horses’ try to determine why they contracted the infection in the first place and take steps to prevent it from reoccurring. For example, I find that you can boost your horse’s coat with feed supplements such as Healthy Coat.

Picture of our horse after fully recovering from rain rot.
Our horse fully recovered from rain rot.

Does rain rot go away by itself?

I thought I had it all figured out when my friend with horses told me he lets rain rot run its course and doesn’t treat the infection. This prompted me to research if he was right. Does rain rot go away on its own?

Rain rot can heal on its own over time. The infection is created from a combination of moisture and bacteria. The disease will heal after the environment, which allows the bacteria to grow, is eliminated. (Click here to read a research study on this issue.)

After bathing, dry your horse before turning it out; scrapers make excess water removal fast and easy. Next, clean all tack that touches the horse’s body. These steps will not only speed up recovery but help to prevent the spread of bacterial infection.

If you keep your horse in a pasture, provide him access to dry shelter during rainy periods. Don’t cover him with material that traps moisture. If you frequently use a fly-sheet, make sure it is made of breathable material.

There are effective home remedies for rain rot.

There are home remedies that have proven effective for the treatment of rain rot. Before you apply the home remedies, remove loose hair and wash the area with an antibacterial shampoo.

Listerine: Mix equal parts of Listerine with baby oil, coconut oil, or something similar. Apply after each wash. (Many equestrians use this mixture.)

Apple Cider Vinegar: Mix 3 part apple cider vinegar with 1 part baby oil. Apply after each wash for at least three consecutive days.

Bleach: Mix one part bleach with three parts bleach. Pour mixture over a rag and pat on the affected area of the horse. This is an old-school method to kill the bacteria that cause rain rot.

A fellow horse lover posted some home remedies on the website She also rescues horses and provides some helpful information in her article. Below are her home remedies for rain rot that I think are useful.

Rain Rot Salve

  • A large tub of cocoa butter Vaseline (I buy regular Vaseline and add natural cocoa butter, but both ways work)
  • Powdered Sulfur (Lowes or Home Depot in the garden center) Lily Miller is the brand I use, and it is about $5 for one pound, which will last you forever!
  • Tea tree oil (Dollar General sells it in the hair care aisle for 3 dollars)
  • Rosemary Oil


  1. Take your tub of Vaseline and put the contents in a glass bowl that can be microwaved.
  2. Add 2 teaspoons of sulfur (just enough to turn the mix pale yellow) A
  3. Add 10 drops of tea tree oil and 10 drops of rosemary oil
  4. Heat until soft, and mix together with a spatula. (It should now be soft enough to pour back into your tub.)
  5. Use this ointment for faces and any spot that needs better coverage than the oil version I will also give you. This will also heal small wounds and even large wounds like you would not believe. The tea tree has anti-fungal properties as well as the rosemary. Rosemary also promotes hair growth. Sulfur does most of the work. For years, Sulfur has been a go-to for many ailments. Why not use what has worked so well for centuries!? Sulfur is one of the main ingredients in MTG!

Rain Rot Liquid Version (similar to MTG)

  • A large bottle of baby oil
  • Powdered Sulfur
  • Tea tree oil
  • Rosemary oil


  1. You can mix this right in the baby oil bottle or use a bigger bottle with a sprayer on it. Whatever works well for you.
  2. You want to add ten drops of both oils like before and just enough sulfur to have about half an inch in the bottom of your oil when it settles. 
  3. Shake well and apply where needed.

This works well for larger areas that need more coverage!

Rain Rot Home Remedies – Of Horse.

Can Dogs Get Rain Rot Like Horses?

When I learned rain rot was contagious, I began to wonder if my dogs could contract the infection. So, I decided I needed to do some research to find out.

Dogs can get rain rot. However, it is uncommon for dogs to contract the disease. Rain rot is a contagious bacterial infection. It thrives in humid, hot conditions and invades the skin of horses and most other hoofed animals.

Why are dogs not as susceptible to contracting rain rot as some other animals? I don’t know the answer.

YouTube video


Can rain rot kill a horse?

Rain rot won’t kill a horse, but it can be painful and stubborn. This is a bacterial disease that is typically easy to treat, and most horses make a full recovery.

Does rain rot hurt horses?

Rain rot can be very painful for a horse, depending on the severity of the condition. In some cases, the infected area is inflamed, and the skin is cracked and bleeding.